John Paul II, the Law and Human Rights

Bernard Dobranski on John Paul II’s Impact

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ANN ARBOR, Michigan, APRIL 21, 2005 ( Pope John Paul II’s passionate devotion to defending the dignity of the human person was far-reaching, especially in the fields of law and human rights.

So says Bernard Dobranski, who is president, dean and professor at Ave Maria School of Law.

Dobranski spoke with ZENIT about the late pontiff’s legacy of defending individuals and the common good, and the challenges Pope Benedict XVI may face.

Q: As a lawyer, what do you think the important legacy of John Paul II will be, in relation to the law and human rights?

Dobranski: I think his legacy in both fields is the importance of the human person — that all people have inherent dignity simply because they were born. The importance of protecting the dignity of the human person forms a thread through all of John Paul’s thought that influenced law and human rights.

For the legal system, a rule of law can’t work unless it is grounded in something outside of itself — natural law — and must be designed to protect the dignity of individuals.

The worth of a person also involves a correct understanding of human nature; what the Pope wrote and said was designed to protect human nature as we know it and understand it properly.

Q: Did he have any impact on the vocabulary of public discourse in the world?

Dobranski: He did. I’m not sure how much is original to him — different people at different times have said the same things.

But he popularized the terms and ideas of the «culture of death,» the «culture of life,» the «sanctity of life» and the «common good.»

Although some of these terms are not new, he gave them a renewed emphasis and stressed the important of protecting or realizing them.

Q: What would John Paul II have said are the most serious problems in capitalism today, as practiced in the world?

Dobranski: He understood the importance of capitalism — or free markets — and that only free markets allow for true freedom of individuals.

He also recognized that free markets are means to the ultimate end, not ends in themselves. When consumerism, materialism and greed take over, the system is not working as it should.

The Pope understood that the free market is a means of achieving human needs and satisfying legitimate wants. I think he may have been the first Pope to recognize the value of the free market and freedom — properly understood — that it allows. He saw that socialism saps the human spirit and prevents true freedom.

But he was not blind to capitalism’s excesses; he was constructively critical of them.

Q: What are the two or three biggest challenges Pope Benedict XVI might face immediately?

Dobranski: I think one is the developments occurring in biotechnology and other sciences, much of which is a direct assault on human nature. Pope Benedict must be as vigilant and attentive to the problem as John Paul II was.

I think that the rise of Islam is an important challenge, particularly the issues of radical Islam and terrorism. The dialogue that the Pope began needs to continue with the reasonable and moderate forces inside the Muslim world that share an interest in peace and appreciate the worth of the human person.

Another challenge will be the management of the Church, its internal structure and governance. His successor needs to resist calls from the West to liberalize Church’s bureaucracy, to move toward decentralization and to vest more power in the bishops’ conferences.

Also, there is the troublesome situation of an increasingly more secularized Europe. Western Europe has cut itself off from its Christian roots and it is in a state of decline; serious issues such as the declining birthrate have to be addressed.

Europe is the cradle of Western civilization; so much of what we have comes from that culture, and we are in real danger of losing much of our cultural capital.

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