• James F Keenan Boston College


In my previous essay, “Theological Ethics out of Latin America,
Africa, and Asia,”1 I examined how, in many ways the three
“southern” continents – Latin America, Africa, and Asia – have
developed a contextual ethics specific to their continents. In this essay
I turn to describe developments from my own country, the United
Because of its geographical proximity and more importantly its deep
historical (and often oppressive) involvement in Latin America,
United States’ citizens were deeply affected by the irruption of
liberation theology onto the theological scene. Soon, central premises
from liberation theology became incorporated by North American theologians into the overall theological foundations of Catholic
theological ethics, especially the notions of social sin,3 and the option
for the poor.

Author Biography

James F Keenan, Boston College

Fr. James F. Keenan, SJ, is the Founders Professor of Theology at Boston College.
His books include: Goodness and Rightness in Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae,
Virtues for Ordinary Christians, Commandments of Compassion, Jesus and Virtue Ethics
(with Dan Harrington), Moral Wisdom, Toward a Global Vision of Catholic Moral
Theology, and The Works of Mercy and A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the
Twentieth Century: From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences. He edited Practice
What You Preach and Catholic Ethicists on HIV/AIDS Prevention. He chaired the First
and Second International Cross-cultural Conference for Catholic Theological Ethicists
in July 2006 in Padua and in July 2010 in Trento, Italy and edited the plenary papers:
Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church. He has published over 300 essays,
articles and reviews. He has been a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies at
The University of Edinburgh (1994), the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton
(1995, 1996), and the Istituto Trentino di Cultura (2007, 2008). He has been adjunct
professor at the Gregorian University in Rome (2000, 2002), Loyola School of
Theology in Manila (2001, 2003), and Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram in Bangalore
(2007). He held the Tuohy Chair at John Carroll University, Cleveland (1999) and the
Gasson Chair at Boston College (2003-2005). E-mail:


Asian Horizons 4.1 (2010).

James F. Keenan, A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century: From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences, New York: Continuum, 2010.

Peter Henriot, “The Concept of Social Sin,” Catholic Mind (1973) 38-53; Kenneth Himes, “Social Sin and the Role of the Individual,” Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics (1986).

Mark O'Keefe, What Are they Saying about Social Sin?, New York: Paulist Press, 1990); Margaret Pfiel, “Doctrinal Implications of Magisterial Use of the Language of Social Sin,” Louvain Studies 27 (2002).

Donal Dorr, Option for the Poor: A Hundred Years of Vatican Social Teaching, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1983.

James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1969, 1987.

Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1970.

Cone, The God of the Oppressed, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1987.

Copeland, “Doing Black Catholic Theology: Rhythm, Structure, and Aesthetics,” Chicago Studies 42.2 (Summer 2003).

Copeland, “Tradition and the Traditions of African American Catholicism,” TS 61 (2000).

Copeland, “Method in Emerging Black Catholic Theology,” Diana Hayes and Cyprian Davis, ed., Taking Down Our Harps, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998.

Copeland, “The Interaction of Racism, Sexism and Classism in Women's Exploitation,” Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, ed., Women, Work, and Poverty, New York: Orbis, 1987.

“Race,” Gareth Jones, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Modern Theology, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2003.

Copeland, “The Church Is Marked by Suffering,” William Madges and Michael J. Daley, ed., The Many Marks of the Church, New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2006.

Copeland, “'Wading Through Many Sorrows: Toward a Theology of Suffering in a Womanist Perspective,” Charles Curran, Margaret Farley and Richard McCormick, ed., Feminist Ethics and the Catholic Moral Tradition, Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1996.

Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008.

Bryan Massingale, The Social Dimensions of Sin and Reconciliation in the Theologies of James Cone and Gustavo Gutierrez, Rome: Academina Alphonsiana, 1991.

Bryan Massingale, “The African American Experience and U.S. Roman Catholic Ethics: ‘Strangers and Aliens No Longer’?” in Black and Catholic: The Challenge and Gift of Black Folk: Contributions of African American Experience and World View to Catholic Theology, ed. Jamie Phelps, Milwaukee: Marquette University, 1997.

Massingale, “James Cone and Recent Catholic Episcopal Teaching on Racism” TS 61 (2000).

Massingale, Poverty and Racism: Overlapping Threats to the Common Good, Washington, DC: Catholic Charities USA, 2008.

Massingale, “The Scandal of Poverty: ‘Cultural Indifference’ and the Option for the Poor Post-Katrina,” Journal of Religion and Society Supplement Series 4 (2008).

Massingale, “Racial Reconciliation in Christian Ethics: Toward Starting a Conversation,” Journal of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium 2 (2008).

Massingale, “Beyond Revision: A Younger Moralist looks at Charles E. Curran,” A Call to Fidelity 253-272, at 267-8.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response May 3, 1983

Thomas Nairn, ed., The Seamless Garment: Writings on the Consistent Ethic of Life, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 2008.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All, November 13, 1986;

David Hollenbach, Claims in Conflict: Retrieving and Renewing the Catholic Human Rights Tradition, Mahwah: Paulist Press 1979.

David Hollenbach, Nuclear Ethics: A Christian Moral Argument, Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1983.

David Hollenbach, The Common Good and Christian Ethics, New York: Cambridge UP, 2002.

David Hollenbach, Justice, Peace, and Human Rights: American Catholic Social Ethics in a Pluralistic World, New York: Crossroads, 1988.

David Hollenbach, The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights, and Christian Faith, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 2003.

Hollenbach, ed., Refugee Rights: Ethics, Advocacy, and Africa, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 2008.

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Marilyn Martone, “Ethical Issues in Rehabilitation in the Home-Care Setting,” Journal of Clinical Ethics (Winter 2004).

Marilyn Martone, “Making Health Care Decisions without a Prognosis: Life in a Brain Trauma Unit,” Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics 20 (2000).

Anne E. Patrick, Liberating Conscience: Feminist Explorations in Catholic Moral Theology, New York: Continuum, 1996.

Maria Cimperman, When God’s People Have HIV/AIDS: An Approach to Ethics, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2005.

Mary Jo Iozzio, ed., Calling for Justice throughout the World: Catholic Women Theologians on the HIV/AIDS Pandemic, New York: Continuum, 2008.

Edward Vacek, “Feminism and the Vatican,” TS 66 (2005).

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “Feminist Theology as a Critical Theology of Liberation,” TS 36 (1975).

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “Discipleship and Patriarchy,” Feminist Ethics 33- 65, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, New York: Crossroads, 1992.

Margaret Farley, “Feminist Ethics,” Feminist Ethics 5-10; “A Feminist Respect of Persons, Ibid., 164-183.

Susan Ross, “Feminist Theology: A Review of Literature,” Feminist Ethics 11-31.

Lisa Sowle Cahill, “Feminist Ethics, Differences, and Common Ground,” Ibid.,184-205.

Barbara Andolsen, “Whose Sexuality? Whose Tradition? Women, Experience, and Roman Catholic Sexual Ethics,” Ibid., 207-239.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God Talk, Boston: Beacon, 1983.

Anne Carr, Transforming Grace: Christian Tradition and Women's Experience, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

Sandra Schneiders, Beyond Patching: Faith and Feminism in the Catholic Church, Mahwah: Paulist, 1991.

Elisabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Discourse, New York: Crossroads, 1992.

Christine Gudorf, The Body Sex and Pleasure, Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1994.

Patricia Beattie Jung, ed., Sexual Diversity and Catholicism: Toward the Development of Moral Theology, Collegeville: Liturgical, 2001.

Aline Kalbian, Sexing the Church: Gender, Power, and Ethics in Contemporary Catholicism, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2005.

Anne Patrick, “Toward Renewing 'The Life and Culture of Fallen Man:' Gaudium et Spes as Catalyst for Catholic Feminist Theology,” Feminist Ethics, 483-510.

Christine Firer Hinze, “Social and Economic Ethics,” TS 70 (2009) 159-177; ibid., “Bridge Discourse on Wage Justice: Roma Catholic and Feminist Perspectives o the

Family Living Wage, Feminist Ethics.

Mary Elsbernd, “Social Ethics,” TS 66 (2005).

Elsbernd and Reimund Bieringer, When Love is Not Enough: A Theo- Ethic of Justice, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2002.

Maura Ryan, “Beyond a Western Ethics,” TS 65 (2004).

Maura Ryan, “The Argument for Unlimited Procreative Liberty: A Feminist Critique,” Feminist Ethics.

Cahill, Between the Sexes: Toward a Christian Ethics of Sexuality, Fortress and Paulist Presses, l985.

Cahill, “Sexual Ethics: A Feminist Biblical Perspective,” Interpretation 49 (Jan 1995).

Cahill, Women and Sexuality, Mahwah: Paulist, 1992.

Cahill, Sex, Gender and Christian Ethics, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Cahill, “Community and Universals: A Misplaced Debate in Christian Ethics,” Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics 18 (1998).

Cahill, Family: A Christian Social Perspective, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.

Cahill, “Marriage: Developments in Catholic Theology and Ethics, “TS 64: 78-105 (2003).

“Equality in Marriage: The Biblical Challenge,” Todd A. Salzman, Thomas M. Kelly, and John J. O’Keefe, eds., Marriage in the Catholic Tradition: Scripture, Tradition, and Experience, New York: Crossroad, 2004.

Cahill, “On Being a Catholic Feminist,” Bannan Center for Jesuit Education, Santa Clara University, 2003.

Cahill, “Catholic Sexual Ethics and the Dignity of the Person: A Double Message.” TS 50 (Mar 1989.

Cahill, “Feminist ethics,” TS 51 (Mar 1990).

Cahill, Bioethics and the Common Good, Marquette Univ. Press, 2003.

Cahill, ed., Genetics, Theology, Ethics; “Bioethics,” TS 67 (2006).

Cahill, “Realigning Catholic Priorities: Bioethics and the Common Good,” America, September 13, 11-13 (2004).

Cahill, “Women’s Health and Human Flourishing,” Elio Sgreccia, ed., Women’s Health Issues, Rome: Società Editrice Universo, 2003.

Cahill, “Bioethics, Theology, and Social Change,” Journal of Religious Ethics 31/3 (2003).

Cahill, “Biotech and Justice: Catching Up with the Real World Order,” Hastings Center Report 34/4 (2003).

Cahill, Theological Bioethics: Participation, Justice and Change, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 2005.

Cahill, “Moral Theology: From Evolutionary to Revolutionary Change,” CTEWC 221-227, at 223.

Charles Curran, The Catholic Moral Tradition Today: A Synthesis, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1999.

Margaret Farley, “Ethics, Ecclesiology, and the Grace of Self-Doubt,” James J. Walter, Timothy E. O’Connell, and Thomas A. Shannon, ed., A Call to Fidelity, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2002.

James Gustafson, “Charles Curran: Ecumenical Moral Theologian Par Excellence,” A Call to Fidelity, 211-234, at 214-15.

Raphael Gallagher, “Curran’s Fundamental Moral Theology in Comparison with European Catholic Approaches,” A Call to Fidelity, 235-252, at 247.

Curran, The Origins of Moral Theology in the United States, (1997).

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Margaret Pfeil, “Transparent Mediation: The Vocation of the Theologian as Disciple,” Ibid., 67-76, at 73.

Christopher Steck, “Saintly Voyeurism: A Methodological Necessity for the Christian Ethicist?” New Wine, 25-44, at 40.

Richard Gula, The Call to Holiness: Embracing a Fully Christian Life, Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2003.

Christopher Vogt, “Finding a Place at the Heart of the Church,” New Wine 45-65, at 52.

Vogt, “Recognizing the Addict as Neighbor: Christian Hospitality and the Establishment of Safe Injection Facilities in Canada,” Theoforum 35 (2004).

How to Cite
Keenan, J. F. (2010). THEOLOGICAL ETHICS OUT OF THE UNITED STATES. Asian Horizons, 4(02), 391-400. Retrieved from