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Pope Urges Judges to make Social Rights Their Priority

Full Text of Holy Father’s Address to Pan-American Judges’ Summit

Pope Francis on June 4, 2019, urged judges to make social rights a priority, noting that we are in a time of crisis for the most vulnerable in society.

His remarks came in an address to the Pan-American Judges’ Summit, organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, held June 2-4, in the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV on the subject: “Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine.”

“We are living in a historical period of changes, where the soul of our peoples is at stake,” Pope Francis said. “A time of crisis — of dangers and opportunities — in which a paradox is verified: on one hand, a phenomenal normative development, and on the other, deterioration in the effective enjoyment of rights consecrated globally.

“What’s more, increasingly and with greater frequency, societies adopt in fact anomic forms, especially in relation to the laws that regulate Social Rights, and they do so with different arguments — budgetary shortages, the impossibility of generalizing benefits or the programmatic more than the operative character of the same –. It worries me to see that voices are raised, especially of some ‘doctrinarians,’ who try to ‘explain’ that Social Rights are ‘old,’ they are no longer fashionable and have nothing to contribute to our societies.”

The Holy Father lamented that these attitudes allow the adoption of economic and social policies that attempt to justify inequality and indignity. He noted:

“The injustice and the lack of tangible and concrete opportunities behind so much analysis, incapable of putting itself in the other’s feet — I don’t say shoes, because in many cases those persons don’t have any –, is also a way of generating violence: silent, but violence in the end.”

The Pope noted that the judges faced challenges in defending social rights. He endorsed the efforts of those present to offer mutual support to overcome the “solitude in the judiciary” that can make it hard to challenge the political power structure.

“This reminds us that, in not a few cases, the defense or prioritization of Social Rights over other types of interest, will lead you to confront not only an unjust system but also a powerful communicational system of power, which will frequently distort the breadth of your decisions, will put their honesty in doubt and also their probity,” Francis said.  It’s an asymmetrical and erosive battle in which, to win, not only strength must be maintained but also creativity and an appropriate elasticity. How many times men and women judges face alone the walls of defamation and reproach! One certainly needs great integrity to be able to cope with them.”

*  * *

The Holy Father’s Address

It’s a joy and hope for me to be able to meet with you in this Summit where you have come together and which is not limited only to you, but which recalls the work done jointly with lawyers, advisers, attorneys, defenders, functionaries, and which also recalls your peoples with the desire and sincere search to guarantee that justice, and especially social justice, can reach all. Your mission, noble and weighty, asks you to consecrate yourselves to the service of justice and the common good with the constant appeal that the rights of persons and especially of the most vulnerable, be respected and guaranteed. Thus you help States not to renounce their most sublime and primary function: to take charge of the common good of their people. “Experience teaches that — John XXIII pointed out — when an appropriate action is lacking the public powers in the economic, political or cultural <realm>, it causes among the citizens, especially in our time, a greater number of inequalities in ever wider sectors, with the result that the rights and duties of the human person lack all practical efficacy” (Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, 63).

I celebrate this initiative of coming together, as well as that held last year in the city of Buenos Aires, in which more than 300 magistrates and judicial functionaries deliberated on Social Rights in the light of Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’ and the address to the Popular Movements in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. An interesting whole of vectors issued from there for the development of the mission you have in your hands. This reminds us of the importance and, why not, of the necessity of meeting to address the underlying problems that your societies are going through and that, as we know, cannot be resolved simply by isolated action or the wilful acts of a person or country, but calls for the generation of a new atmosphere, namely, a culture marked by shared and courageous leadership, which are able to involve other persons and groups until they fructify in important historical events (Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 223) capable of opening paths to the present generations  and also the future ones, sowing conditions to overcome the dynamics of exclusion and  segregation, so that inequity doesn’t have the last word (Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 53.164). Our peoples call for this type of initiatives that will help to leave aside every sort of passive or spectator attitude as if the present and future history must be determined and told by all.

We are living in a historical period of changes, where the soul of our peoples is at stake. A time of crisis — of dangers and opportunities — in which a paradox is verified: on one hand, a phenomenal normative development, and on the other, deterioration in the effective enjoyment of rights consecrated globally. What’s more, increasingly and with greater frequency, societies adopt in fact anomic forms, especially in relation to the laws that regulate Social Rights, and they do so with different arguments — budgetary shortages, the impossibility of generalizing benefits or the programmatic more than the operative character of the same –. It worries me to see that voices are raised, especially of some “doctrinarians,” who try to “explain” that Social Rights are “old,” they are no longer fashionable and have nothing to contribute to our societies. Thus they confirm economic and social policies that lead our people to the acceptance and justification of inequality and indignity. The injustice and the lack of tangible and concrete opportunities behind so much analysis, incapable of putting itself in the other’s feet — I don’t say shoes, because in many cases those persons don’t have any –, is also a way of generating violence: silent, but violence in the end.

“Today we live in huge cities that are modern, proud and even vain.  Cities — proud of their technological and digital revolution –, which offer innumerable pleasures and wellbeing for a happy minority  . . . but a roof is denied to thousands of our neighbors and brothers, including children, and they are called, elegantly, “persons in a street situation.” It’s curious how euphemisms abound in the world of injustices (World Meeting of Popular Movements, October 28, 2014).  It would seem that Constitutional Guarantees and ratified International Treaties have no universal value in practice.

“Naturalized social injustice” and, therefore, made invisible, which we only remember or recognize when “some make noise on the streets” and are rapidly cataloged as dangerous and bothersome, ends by silencing a history of postponements and forgetfulness. Allow me to say it, this is one of the great obstacles, which the social pact meets and which weakens the democratic system. For its healthy development, a politico-economic system needs to guarantee that democracy is not just nominal, but that it’s molded in concrete actions that watch over the dignity of all its inhabitants, under the logic of the common good, in an appeal to solidarity and a preferential option for the poor (Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 158). This calls for the efforts of the highest Authorities, and certainly of the judicial power, to reduce the distance between the juridical recognition and practice of the same. There is no democracy with hunger, or development with poverty, or justice in inequity.

How many times the nominal equality of many of our declarations and actions does no more than hide and reproduce a real and underlying inequality and reveals that that one is before a possible fictional order. The economy of papers, the adjective democracy, and concentrated multi-media generate a bubble that conditions all the views and options from dawn to sunset.[1]Fictional order that makes equal in its virtuality but that, concretely, enlarges and increases the logic and the structures of exclusion-expulsion because it impedes contact and real commitment with the other. Not all begin from the same place when it comes to thinking of the social order. This questions us and calls us to think of new ways so that equality before the law doesn’t degenerate into the propensity of injustice. In a virtual world of changes and fragmentation, Social Rights cannot be solely exhortative or nominal appeals, but must be a beacon and compass for the way, because “the health of the institutions of a society has consequences on the environment and on the quality of human life” (Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 142).

We are asked for lucidity in the diagnosis and capacity of decision-making in face of conflict, not to let ourselves be dominated by inertia or by a sterile attitude as those that look at it, deny it or annul it and continue forward as if nothing was happening; they wash their hands to be able to go on with their lives. Others enter in such a way in the conflict that they remain prisoners, lose horizons and project on institutions their own confusions and dissatisfactions. The invitation is to look straight at the conflict, to suffer it and resolve it by transforming it into a link of a new process (Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 227).

By assuming the conflict, it becomes clear that our commitment is with our brothers, to give operability to the Social Rights with the commitment to seek to dis-articulate all the arguments that attempt against their concretion, and this through the application or creation of legislation capable raising persons in the recognition of their dignity.  The legal voids, both of adequate legislation as well as accessibility and compliance with the same, initiate vicious circles, which deprive persons and families of the necessary guarantees for their development and wellbeing. These voids are generators of corruption, which see in the poor and in the environment the first and principal affected ones.

We know that a right is not only a law or norms but also a praxis that configures the links, which transforms them, in a certain way, into “makers” of the right every time they are confronted with persons and the reality. And this invites to mobilize the whole of the juridical imagination in order to rethink the institutions and to address the new social realities that are being lived.[2] In this connection, it’s very important that persons, who arrive at their desks and tables of work, feel that you got there before them, knowing them and understanding them in their particular situation, but especially acknowledging them in their full citizenship and in their potential to be agents of change and transformation. Let us never lose sight of the fact that the popular sectors are not, in the first place, a problem but an active part of the face of our communities and nations; they have every right to take part in the search for and construction of inclusive solutions. “The political and institutional framework doesn’t exist only to avoid bad practices, but also to encourage the best practices, to stimulate a creativity that seeks new ways, to facilitate personal and collective initiatives: (Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 177).

It’s important to stimulate that, from the beginning of professional formation, juridical operators can do so in real contact with the realities that they will one day serve, knowing them first hand and understanding the injustices for which they will have to act one day. It’s also necessary to seek all the means and mechanisms necessary, so that young people from situations of exclusion or marginalization can be trained to assume the necessary leadership. Much has been said about them; we also need to listen to them and to give them a voice in these meetings. Such measures will enable us to establish a culture of encounter  “because neither concepts nor ideas love one another [… .] Surrender, true surrender arises from love of men and women, children and elderly, peoples and communities . . . faces, faces and names that fill the heart” (II World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, July 9, 2015).

I take advantage of this opportunity of meeting with you to express to you my concern over a new form of exogenous intervention in the political scenarios of countries, through the undue use of legal procedures and judicial typifications. In addition to putting countries’ democracy seriously at risk, lawfare is generally used to undermine the emerging political processes and tends to the systematic violation of Social Rights. To guarantee the institutional quality of States, it’s essential to detect and neutralize this type of practices, which result from improper judicial activity in combination with parallel multi-media operations.

This reminds us that, in not a few cases, the defense or prioritization of Social Rights over other types of interest, will lead you to confront not only an unjust system but also a powerful communicational system of power, which will frequently distort the breadth of your decisions, will put their honesty in doubt and also their probity. It’s an asymmetrical and erosive battle in which, to win, not only strength must be maintained but also creativity and an appropriate elasticity. How many times men and women judges face alone the walls of defamation and reproach! One certainly needs great integrity to be able to cope with them. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness ‘ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10).  In this connection, I’m happy that one of the objectives of this meeting is the setting up of a Permanent Pan-American Committee of Men and Women Judges for Social Rights, which has among its objectives to overcome the solitude in the judiciary, giving mutual support and assistance to revitalize the exercise of their mission. True wisdom isn’t obtained with a mere accumulation of data,  — which ends up by saturating and clouding in a sort of environmental contamination –, but with reflection, dialogue, and the generous encounter between persons (Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 47).

In 2015 I said to the followers of the Popular Movements: You “have an essential role, not only demanding and claiming but fundamentally creating. You are social poets: creators of work, builders of homes, producers of food, especially for the discarded by the global market” (II World Meeting of the Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, July 9, 2015). Dear magistrates, you have an essential role, you are also social poets when you are not afraid “to be protagonists in the transformation of the judicial system, based on the value, on the justice and on the primacy of the dignity of the human person”[3] over any other sort of interest or justification. Allow me to say to you: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:6.9).

[1] Cf. Roberto Andres Gallardo, Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine, 14.

[2] Cf. Horacio Corti, Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine, 106.

[3] Nicolas Vargas, Social Rights and Franciscan Doctrine, 230.

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[Original text: Spanish]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

About Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a husband, father, grandfather, writer, and communications consultant. He also likes playing the piano and fishing. He writes from the Chicago area.

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