Conference to offer sweeping overview of Catholic teachings, apostolates, social action

UNIONDALE — An address by nationally renowned Catholic scholar Robert George on “Conscience and Its Enemies” will be among the highlights of the 20th annual conference of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS), to be hosted by the Marianist community at Kellenberg Memorial High School here Oct. 26-27.  

The conference, which will feature a number of prominent speakers as well as over 70 competing panel sessions covering a wide variety of academic, moral and social issues, will celebrate the accomplishments of SCSS and its membership over the organization’s first 20 years, and will also provide a forum for authentic Catholic scholarship.

But it is more than just a gathering of scholars, Dr. Joseph Varacalli, professor of sociology at Nassau Community College and one of SCSS’s co-founders, told TLIC.

“We want to bring together various Catholic organizations, and organizations compatible with a Catholic worldview,” he explained. “We also want to bring Catholic ministries and apostolates into closer and more mutually supportive relationships. And we want to help foster closer cooperation between the Church’s ecclesiastical leadership, Catholic scholars, social policy experts, and social activists.”    

As such, the more than 200 panelists, presenters and participants have been drawn not just from the academic world, but from parish or other Church ministries, various Catholic lay apostolates, Catholic print, broadcast and “new” media representatives, and from the ranks of activists on moral and social issues.

Those who attend, SCSS co-founder and president Dr. Stephen Krason told TLIC, “will have the opportunity to pick from a whole range of topics” including “the new evangelization, Catholic ethical studies, Catholic writing, pro-life issues, bioethical questions, Catholic cinema,” and many others.   

Attendees will certainly learn more about Church teaching on current social issues, and about “ways to act upon them in the local setting,” said Msgr. Robert Batule, who served as the SCSS’s first national chaplain. But they may also “discover new apostolates,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to see and meet lay Catholics who are exercising apostolates that build up the Body of Christ in their parishes.”

Among the featured speakers will be Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of New York, who will give the Saturday evening dinner address. Bishop William Murphy will address a Saturday afternoon plenary session on “The Social Policy Initiatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Luncheon talks will be given on Friday by Dr. Paul Vitz of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Virginia, and on Saturday by Dr. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. David Gregory, who holds the Dorothy Day Chair at the St. John’s University School of Law, will be Friday night’s dinner speaker, while Peggy Clores of Catholic Writers of Long Island will be the main speaker at a Friday afternoon plenary session on “The New Evangelization of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”

Pricing for the conference is set at $20 per day, with additional costs for meals. Attendees can choose to attend one or both days, or to just pay separately to attend any of the lunches or dinners rather than the all day conference.

For further information, a complete listing of the conference program, or to register, go to www.scssconference.org; or mail to Society of Catholic Social Scientists Conference at Kellenberg Memorial High School, 1400 Glenn Curtiss Boulevard, Uniondale, New York 11553; or call (516)-292-0200, ext. 200.

Society strives to illuminate ‘the fullness of Catholic social teaching’

Twenty years after they formed to “keep alive the flame of Catholic social perspectives,” leaders of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS) see that flame burning more brightly, and believe they are contributing to the illumination of Catholic social teaching.

As the organization prepares for a major 20th anniversary conference — to be held here on Long Island at Kellenberg Memorial High School October 26-27 — SCSS president Stephen Krason pointed to what he called a “rejuvenation” of interest in Catholic social thought and its implications for contemporary social issues.

While “we can never be sure what level of influence we’ve had,” said Dr. Krason — a professor of political science at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio — he believes SCSS’s ongoing activities and publications have “helped to inspire” this renewed attention to — and understanding of — what he called “the fullness of Catholic social teaching.”

“Over 20 years, it has been impressive to see the growth of the Society,” agreed Msgr. Robert Batule, a Rockville Centre diocesan priest who served as the organization’s first national chaplain, “and to see the influence of its members felt in more circles all the time.”   

In addition, said Msgr. Batule  — currently serving on the faculty and as admissions director at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y. — SCSS members have been “a great source of encouragement for many of their colleagues” through their scholarship and mutual support.
Jane Gilroy, professor emerita of English at Molloy College and leader of the Long Island chapter of University Faculty for Life, agreed. Conference activities, she said, provide “a different atmosphere” and a “camaraderie. You’re among people who are treating important issues in a very rational way, with a Catholic perspective.”

SCSS’s Board of Bishops includes, among others, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, as well as Bishop William Murphy, Cardinal Edward Egan, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court.

 In addition to being a resource for the Church, “we wanted to create a dialogue between social science and Catholic social thought,” said Joseph Varacalli, professor of sociology and founder and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Nassau Community College, who co-founded SCSS with Krason. While it continues to be a challenging endeavor, Varacalli said, “our ability to bring a Catholic perspective to the social sciences is getting stronger.”

A most “encouraging development,” Krason told TLIC, has been an increasing awareness of the concept of “prudential judgment” in the application of  Catholic social teaching.

In the past, he said, narrow interpretations at times resulted in a “restricting of lay options” in terms of how those teachings were applied on given issues.

Now, SCSS is “in a position to challenge some of the confusion regarding Catholic social teaching and prudential judgment.” The principles of that teaching are clear and unambiguous, he explained, “but in how they are applied there is room for legitimate disagreement.”

Looking to the future, Krason sees SCSS making important contributions by sustaining and perhaps expanding some of the organization’s ongoing programs: annual conferences that enable Catholic scholars to present and discuss their research in the various social science disciplines; the Catholic Social Science Review, which publishes, annually, much of the new scholarship coming from society members; a summer institute hosted by The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; and a book series that has already produced publications from a Catholic perspective in such social science fields as economics, political science, sociology, and history. Krason hopes the series will soon produce a work on questions of law and Catholic social teaching.
Another ongoing SCSS project, the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science and Social Policy, is “a wonderful resource,” said Gilroy.

“We need to acknowledge,” said Msgr. Batule, “that there is much work to be done in terms of witnessing to society” the truths of Catholic social teaching. The Society of Catholic Social Scientists, he said, can create opportunities for all Catholics to learn those teachings more fully, so they can better “put their faith into practice in the public square.”