Race, Justice, and Catholicism

Jun 22, 2020
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Herschella ConyersUniversity of Chicago Law School

Vincent RougeauBoston College Law School

Eduardo PeñalverCornell Law School

Cosponsored by America Media, Boston College Law School, the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, and the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago.

The cry in the streets of “no justice, no peace” echoes the teaching of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI. The recent crises have again brought to the fore the reality that interracial justice has eluded America, despite the promise of the civil rights movement. Slavery, its original sin, has dogged it from its founding. Segregation and mass incarceration continue this shameful legacy. Efforts to call Americans to take responsibility for this often find resistance in an individualistic ideology counter to the Catholic vision. Catholics find themselves on both sides of this history.

The Gospel and Catholic social teaching clearly reject racism. Yet up to this moment, Catholic clergy and laity have often not lived up to this teaching, helping to sustain racism, rather than dismantle or reject it. If, as Pope Francis reminds us, we are all connected, then injustice anywhere is not only a threat to justice everywhere—it is injustice everywhere. 

Join us as a panel of distinguished legal scholars comes together to discuss our current moment and whether Catholicism can move from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution.

Herschella G. Conyers is a clinical professor of law and the Director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.  The clinic affords law students a supervised opportunity to provide direct client representation while working on juvenile justice issues including policy initiatives, legislation, and systemic litigation.  The clinic works with other institutional players to advance reforms in the criminal and juvenile justice arena. In recent years CJP has collaborated with the Illinois Judicial Council in presenting symposia on understanding juveniles involved in the system. In addition to her clinic, Professor Conyers also co-teaches the Intensive Trial Practice Workshop and a seminar called Life (and Death) in the Law. Before joining the law school faculty, Professor Conyers served as an assistant public defender in the First Municipal, Felony Trial and Multiple Defendants divisions of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office. During her time in MDD, she handled mostly capital cases. Before leaving the Public Defender’s Office, Professor Conyers also served as a Supervisor in the First Municipal Division and Deputy Chief of the Sixth District in Bridgeview. Professor Conyers is a graduate of both the University of Chicago’s College and Law School.

Vincent Rougeau  became Dean of Boston College Law School in July of 2011. He previously served as a professor of law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Notre Dame Law School. A vocal advocate for change in legal education, Dean Rougeau has led a reorganization in leadership structure at the law school that supports a more holistic approach to student services, expands the school’s national and international recruitment of a diverse student body, and enhances the school’s commitment to experiential learning and global engagement.  

Dean Rougeau is president-elect of the Association of American Law Schools and serves as a member of its executive committee.  He previously served a three-year term on the Council of the Boston Bar Association.   His teaching interests are in contract and real estate law, as well as in law and religion. 

An expert in Catholic social thought, Dean Rougeau’s current scholarly work considers the relationships among religious identity, citizenship, and membership in highly mobile and increasingly multicultural democratic societies. He serves as Senior Fellow at the Centre for Theology and Community in London, where he researches broad-based community organizing, migration and citizenship as part of the Just Communities Project.
In June, 2020, Dean Rougeau was named the inaugural director of the Boston College Forum on Racial Justice in America by university president William Leahy, S.J.

Eduardo M. Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law at Cornell Law School. He previously served as the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He holds a BA from Cornell University and a JD from Yale Law School. Between college and law school, he studied philosophy and theology as a Rhodes Scholar at Oriel College, Oxford. Dean Peñalver clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and at the Supreme Court for Justice John Paul Stevens. His scholarship focuses on property and land use, as well as law and religion. His work also explores the way in which the law mediates the interests of individuals and communities. Peñalver’s books include Property Outlaws (2010, co-authored with Sonia Katyal), which explores the vital role of disobedience within the evolution of property law, and most recently, An Introduction to Property Theory (2011, co-authored with Gregory Alexander).