Human rights without God are fragile, says Pope
After greeting the president of the Academy, Prof Mary Ann Glendon, a former Harvard scholar, the Holy Father said that this year’s topic, “the central question of the dignity of the human person and human rights,” is “a point of encounter between the doctrine of the Church and contemporary society.”
However, the doctrine of human rights has been targeted in today’s world. There are some states that relativise its value in the name of specific cultural differences. Others, moving away from religious references, have created new rights that contradict natural law.
In a brief historical survey, the Pontiff noted that every religion and culture show some degree of respect for others (the famous “golden rule”). For its part the Church has always held “that fundamental rights, above and beyond the different ways in which they are formulated and the different degrees of importance they may have in various cultural contexts, are to be upheld and accorded universal recognition because they are inherent in the very nature of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God. [. . .] If all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, then they share a common nature that binds them together and calls for universal respect. The Church, assimilating the teaching of Christ, considers the person as ‘the worthiest of nature’.” Hence the Church has insisted on the right to life and on freedom of conscience and religion as central rights.
“Strictly speaking,” Benedict XVI, “these human rights are not truths of faith, even though they are discoverable—and indeed come to full light—in the message of Christ. [. . .] They receive further confirmation from faith. Yet it stands to reason that, living and acting in the physical world as spiritual beings, men and women ascertain the pervading presence of a logos which enables them to distinguish not only between true and false, but also good and evil, better and worse, and justice and injustice.”
The Pope explained however that the rise of universality highlights “a flagrant contrast between the equal attribution of rights and the unequal access to the means of attaining those rights”, saying that it is a “shameful tragedy that one-fifth of humanity still goes hungry.”
“Assuring an adequate food supply, like the protection of vital resources such as water and energy, requires all international leaders to collaborate in showing a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the natural law and promoting solidarity and subsidiarity with the weakest regions and peoples of the planet”.
This, for the Pontiff, is the “most effective strategy for eliminating social inequalities between countries and societies and for increasing global security.”
In concluding the Pontiff urged participants to be “be credible and consistent witnesses to the defence and promotion of these non-negotiable human rights which are founded in divine law”.