Benedict XVI's Address to Plenary Assembly of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

«The Rights and Duties Do Not Have as their Sole and Exclusive Foundation the Social Conscience of Peoples, but Depend Primarily on the Natural Moral Law»

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 5, 2012 ( Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address to participants of the 27th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Apostolic Palace on Monday.

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Lord Cardinals,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I am happy to welcome you on the occasion of your Plenary Assembly. I greet the Cardinal President, whom I thank for the courteous words he addressed to me, as well as Monsignor Secretary, the officials of the dicastery and all of you, Members and Consultors, gathered for this important moment of reflection and planning. Your Assembly is being held in the Year of Faith, after the Synod dedicated to the New Evangelization, as well as — already mentioned — the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II and, in a few months, of the encyclical Pacem in terris of Blessed Pope John XXIII. It is a context that, in itself, offers many stimuli.

The Social Doctrine, as Blessed Pope John Paul II taught us, is an integral part of the evangelizing mission of the Church (cf. Encyclical Centesimus annus, 54), and all the more reason why is it considered important for the New Evangelization (cf. Ibid., 5; Encyclical Caritas in Veritatis, 15). By accepting Jesus Christ and his Gospel, in addition to in our personal life also in our social relations, we become bearers of a vision of man, of his dignity, of his liberty and relatedness, which is marked by transcendence, be it in the horizontal be it in the vertical sense. The foundation and meaning of human rights and duties depend on the integral anthropology that derives from Revelation and from the exercise of natural reason, as Blessed John XXIII reminds us, in fact, in Pacem in terris (cf. n. 9). In fact, the rights and duties do not have as their sole and exclusive foundation the social conscience of peoples, but depend primarily on the natural moral law — inscribed by God on the conscience of every person — and, hence, ultimately, on the truth about man and society.  

Although the defense of rights has made great progress in our time, today’s culture, characterized among other things by a utilitarian individualism and a technocratic economism, tends to devalue theperson. The latter is conceived as a “fluid” being, without permanent consistency. Despite being immersed in an infinite network of relations and communications, the man of today often appears paradoxically as an isolated being, because he is indifferent to the constitutive relation of his being with God, which is at the root of all other relations. The man of today is considered in a prevailingly biological key as “human capital,” “resource,” part of a productive and financial mechanism that surpasses him. If on one hand, we continue to proclaim the dignity of the person, on the other, new ideologies — such as the hedonistic and egotistic one of sexual and reproductive rights, or that of an immoderate financial capitalism that prevails over politics and alters the structure of the real economy –, contribute to consider the worker dependent and his work as “minor” goods and to undermine the natural foundations of society, especially the family. In reality, the human being, constitutively transcendent in relation to other earthly beings and goods, enjoys a real primacy which makes him responsible for himself and for creation. Concretely, for Christianity, work is a fundamental good for man, in view of his personalization, of his socialization, of the formation of a family, of the contribution to the common good and to peace. In fact, because of this, the objective of access to work for all is always a priority, also in periods of economic recession (cf. Caritas in veritate, 32).

A new humanism and a renewed cultural and planned commitment could derive from a New Evangelization of the social context. It would help to dethrone the modern idols, to replace individualism, materialistic consumerism and technocracy, with the culture of fraternity and gratuitousness, of solidaristic love. Jesus Christ summarized and gave fulfillment to the precepts in a new commandment: “love one another; even as I have loved you” (John 13:34); herein lies the secret of every fully human and peaceful social life, as well as the renewal of politics and of national and world institutions. Blessed Pope John XXIII motivated the commitment for the building of a world community, with a corresponding authority, moved in fact by love, and precisely from love for the common good of the human family. We read thus in Pacem in terris: “There is an intrinsic relation between the historical contents of the common good on one hand and the configuration of public powers on the other. The moral order, that is, as the public authority exacts in the coexistence for carrying out the common good, consequently also  exacts that the authority be effective for that purpose” (n. 71).

The Church certainly does not have the task to suggest  — from the juridical and political point of view –, the concrete configuration f such an international order, but offers those who have the responsibility those principles of reflection, criteria of judgment and practical guidelines that can guarantee the anthropological and ethical framework around the common good (cf. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, 67). Hence, it must be kept present, in the reflection, that a superpower must not be imagined, concentrated in the hands of a few, which would dominate over all peoples, exploiting the weakest, but that all authority must be understood, first of all, as a moral force, with the faculty of influencing according to reason (cf. Pacem in terris, 27), that is as a shared, limited authority by competence and by right.

I thank the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace because, together with the Pontifical Institutions, it has resolved to reflect further on the guidelines that I offered in Caritas in veritate. And this, be it through reflections for a reform of the international financial and monetary system, be it through the Plenary of these days and the International Seminar on Pacem in terris of next year.

May the Virgin Mary, she who with faith and love received in herself the Savior to give him to the world, guide us in the proclamation and witness of the Social Doctrine of the Church, to render the New Evangelization more effective. With this hope, I very gladly impart t each of you the Apostolic Blessing.

Thank you.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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