Prompted by the teachings of Pope Francis conveyed through such writings as the Evangelii gaudium and Laudato si’, the symposium—titled The Teachings of Pope Francis: Towards a Vision of Social Justice and Sustainable Capitalism?—brought an impressive and diverse array of interdisciplinary scholars to Seattle University School of Law in February 2017. Speakers included economists, law professors, and theologians with a wide array of expertise on daunting policy issues facing the Global South and North. Fittingly, a Jesuit law school with a diverse faculty hosted the symposium centering, critiquing, and expanding the teachings of the first Jesuit Pope. Many of our law students, and those elsewhere, enter law school, in part, to use and transform law toward the betterment of society. As a law school with a social justice mission at its core, Seattle University was a natural choice for a conference examining the social justice lessons of a Pope who so well embodies the Jesuits’ own attention to social justice imperatives. The symposium speakers connected the Pope’s teachings to law and legal outcomes, answering questions of what changes in law would further the Pope’s social justice vision, and whether and how those changes were feasible in the face of entrenched interests. Relatedly, the symposium participants situated the Pope’s teachings within disciplines outside, but often allied with, the law by asking and answering such questions as whether the Pope’s teachings were consistent with established Catholic social teachings and whether the Pope was anticapitalist or instead merely seeking to reform that economic system. Before introducing the seven articles in this written symposium that well represent the larger group of scholars who participated in the oral symposium, I offer my own comments and critique of the teachings of Pope Francis from the perspective of a U.S. law scholar who writes critically in the genre of outsider jurisprudence. Initially, I identify the transnational thread that links the social justice issues at the symposium’s center, and compare the nationalist “teachings” of Donald Trump. Next, I offer some suggestions for enacting the Pope’s teachings into U.S. law, and more generally for achieving enduring and fundamental change for vulnerable populations. At the same time, I examine how the Church might better serve as a catalyst and partner for some of the allied social change sought by critical legal scholars.
Steven W. Bender, The Teachings of Pope Francis Symposium: Toward a Common Good for Our Common Home, 40 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1167 (2017).