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Department of

Theology and Religious Studies

Norbert J. Rigali, S.J.

Professor Emeritus, Theology and Religious Studies

Prior to his retirement in 1999, Norbert J. Rigali, S.J., had a distinguished career of twenty-seven years at the University of San Diego teaching and writing in his specialty, Roman Catholic fundamental moral theology.  His publication record includes more than seventy articles (in English and German), published in the finest theological journals in the United States and Europe.  This body of work earned him a place as one of the most widely respected thinkers in his field over the last two generations. The department and its students were fortunate that Father Rigali was willing, after his official retirement, to stay on in the classroom on a part-time basis for some ten years, until his “re-retirement” in May, 2009.


Ph.D., University of Munich, Germany
S.T.L., University of Innsbruck, Austria
M.A., Gonzaga University
A.B., Gonzaga University

Scholarly and Creative Work

Rigali's recent publications include "Moral Theology and the Church’s Response to Sexual Abuse" (Horizons, Fall 2007), "The Ecclesial Responsibilities of Theologians, Forty Years after Vatican II" (Horizons, Fall 2006),"From 'Moral Theology' to the 'Theology of the Christian Life': An Overview” (Origins, June 2004), and "On Theology of the Christian Life," in Moral Theology: New Directions and Fundamental Issues (Paulist Press, 2004).

In his writings, Rigali has probed the central question of Roman Catholic fundamental moral theology in the post-Vatican II era: what does it mean to retrieve the received tradition of Catholic fundamental moral theology—its terms, definitions, and axioms—through the prism of historical consciousness that defines our age? His work is exemplary in all the ways scholars hold dear: clarity of expression, rigor of argument, thorough acquaintance with the historical tradition, ability to make distinctions persuasively, a mastery of the current literature on the state of the question, and, above all, that elusive quality of insight into the issue(s) at stake.

In 1999, the year of his retirement, a festschrift* in honor of Rigali’s cumulative career was published. The list of contributors to the volume reads like a “Who’s Who” of contemporary Roman Catholic moral theology.  Equally significant, the volume is was edited by an alumnus of the department and former student of  Rigali’s, Professor Todd Salzman, now chair of the Department of Theology at Creighton University.

Rigali’s research agenda has not noticeably slackened in retirement. The College Theology Society, one of the leading associations for academic theology in the United States, honored him with an award for Best Article of 2007 for his article "Moral Theology and Church Responses to Sexual Abuse" (Horizons, Fall 2007). Presented at the society's annual meeting in May, 2008, the award cites Rigali for his career-long contributions to the "continuing reform of moral theology in the Church."

*Todd A. Salzman, ed., Method and Catholic Moral Theology, The Ongoing Reconstruction: Festschrift for Norbert J. Rigali, S.J. (Omaha, Nebraska: Creighton University Press, 1999).

Teaching Interests

Rigali is a specialist in Roman Catholic fundamental moral theology.  During his career at the University of San Diego, he taught a wide variety of courses, including Foundations of Christian Ethics and Catholic Social Thought.


Career and Legacy

Norbert Rigali arrived at the University of San Diego in 1972 when Mgsr. John Portman was chair of the department.  According to Portman, "Recommending that the University hire Norbert was one of the best decisions of my entire life."  Rigali’s colleagues today acknowledge they have a debt of gratitude to Mgsr. Portman for his wise decision. Rigali served the university with distinction and with integrity. He taught thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. He sustained a substantial, enviable, and truly world-class publication record even though the teaching load was four-four for the bulk of his career. He consistently rendered service to the department, to the college, and to the university in a variety of offices, committees and task-forces, including four terms as chair of the department.