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October 12, 2016

Two Students Chatting: A Conversation on Slavery and Catholic Social Thought

By Max Rosner

This Wednesday, the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life will be hosting an event, titled, “Georgetown, Slavery, and Catholic Social Thought.” In order to prepare the audience—and hopefully not the panelists—with some of the topics that may be discussed, I sat down and chatted with one of the members of the working group, Connor Maytnier. This is an excerpt of our conversation. 

The name of the working group is “Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation.” What does reconciliation mean to you?   

Plainly speaking, reconciliation is primarily understanding, and then using that understanding. You can never make things “right.” It’s about moving forward, and in a way that changes our understanding of our past. Reconciliation gets at this notion of, “Where do we go from here?” which stems from an understanding of where we were.     

There were the initial sins of both owning slaves and the selling of slaves. What do you think the social sins were after those actions, and can those be eliminated?   

We’re not trying to get rid of anything. You can never in any sense. Part of this is making sure we never lose sight of the sin. That’s an important part of this. When we talk about memory, that’s really what it is. You can almost rename memory, “Continual Awareness of Sin." The message we are tying to get at is that you can have that sin—arguably the worst kind of sin—but that does not mean at some point good cannot come out of this in some way. Here we are 200 years later with an almost entirely new population in a far different context in the world addressing these social sins.   

What’s the highest good, do you believe, can come out of this?   

What’s my biggest hope? Two pieces. One piece is that this will kick-start other initiatives. There is a lot of sin woven in the fabric of this country. I don’t think you have to confine to just slavery, and I believe President DeGioia discussed this in his speech. Very few initiatives have tried to address these sins, however, in a way Georgetown has. I hope others can take something from this and use this as motivation. I don’t know what’s right for other universities to do. That leads into the higher part of this: there is a manifestation of slavery in our current society and Georgetown is combatting this. All of a sudden, Georgetown has become a leader in our community for addressing these issues: the public health disparity in Washington, D.C., income inequality that has a racial dimension, a number of things. As an institution of higher learning, we are in a position to study that. We are in a position to lend our name, our resources, and the great people of this institution to making a difference in those places.

Max Rosner (C'18) is an undergraduate studying government and theology at Georgetown. Connor Maytnier (C'17) is an undergraduate studying government and sociology.