Quest for Common Good Called a Remedy for Cynicism

Westminster Archbishop Honored With Doctorate

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BIRMINGHAM, England, FEB. 15, 2010 ( In a climate of distrust toward politics and finances, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster says there needs to be a new “project” or “vision” to which everyone can commit. He suggested that the pursuit for the common good could be just such a project.

Archbishop Nichols made this reflection today as he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Birmingham City University.

The London prelate served as archbishop of Birmingham from 2000 to 2009.

“Many today tell us that there is a crisis of trust in some of the institutions of this country,” the archbishop observed. “They point first to the Houses of Parliament and the political process itself. Then they may well include the financial institutions whose crises have brought such hardship and austerity to people all over the world.”

“In political terms,” Archbishop Nichols proposed, “this means that we have to refashion a project, a vision, to which all can be committed and which can help to overcome some of the corrosive cynicism of today.”

Working for the common good, rather than pursuing “sectional or individual interest,” he said, can be “one expression of such a project.”

Demanding and exciting

“We are not isolated individuals, who happen to live side by side, but people really dependent on one another, whose fulfillment lies in the quality of our relationships,” Archbishop Nichols affirmed. “Promoting the common good then, cannot be pursued by treating each individual separately and looking for the highest net benefit, in some kind of utilitarian addition.

“The pursuit of the common good is a demanding but also exciting project: It is the genuine service of all in society, to the exclusion of no one, no matter their abilities or circumstances. If that were to become our stated aim, our clear commitment, a restoration of public trust could follow.”

The Westminster prelate explained how seeing every person’s “innate and irreducible dignity” is at the base of this effort.

“This dignity of the human person alone is the foundation of their human rights. That is why human rights are so important. We are all equal in dignity, even if we all differ in many ways, which also have to be recognized,” he said.


Archbishop Nichols noted how rights are always accompanied by duties, and said these rights have “to be handled and developed in the complex procedures of law, as we see at present, and not without great difficulties, in our society.”

Religious freedom, he continued, is essential among these rights.

“This is so because the human person is essentially a spiritual being, with a longing for love, for truth, for beauty, for happiness,” the archbishop explained. “A reduction of the scope and role in our lives of the spiritual and the religious, which is the climbing frame of the spiritual, does little to serve the common good, of which they are, in fact, essential parts and contributors.”

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