Pope Francis has given his stamp of approval to a growing international political movement that has the potential to act as a significant counterweight to the anti-life policies of a substantial number of world governments.
In a private audience with the influential Institute for Human Dignity on Dec. 7, the pontiff warned there is “no lack of powers and forces” that are producing a “throwaway culture” whose victims are “precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings.”
“The unborn, the poorest people, sick, elderly people, gravely disabled people [are] in danger of being ‘thrown out’,” he said. “This false model of man and society embodies a practical atheism, de facto negating the word of God that says: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”
The Pope thanked the Institute for Human Dignity, which is establishing a number of parliamentary working groups of politicians around the world to defend all persons on the basis they are born in the image and likeness of God.
Otherwise known as the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), the Pope said the five year old organisation is a force in helping others rediscover the “ethical and social importance of the principle of human dignity, which is the root of liberty and justice.”
Francis reminded those present that the dignity of every man and woman “cannot be suppressed” and “cannot be touched by any power or ideology.”
“Unfortunately, in our epoch, so rich in many accomplishments and hopes, there is no lack of powers and forces that end up producing a throwaway culture and this threatens to become the dominant mentality,” he said. But he stressed that if, instead, man allows himself to be “interrogated” by the word of God, letting it “question” conscience and “shake up our discussions . . . then things can change.”
Recognizing man as created in the image and likeness of God, he added, “poses limits” on those wishing to abuse the rights and dignity of others. It also gives “hope and consolation” to those who “do not have access to the intellectual and practical means to affirm the value of their suffering, of their rights, of their life,” he said.
Although founded by Catholics, the DHI works with “all people of goodwill,” according to the Institute’s president, Italian Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino.
The Pope encouraged the Institute to continue in this vein, reaching out “with sincerity and intellectual honesty” to all those who “at least share — if not the faith — a similar vision of man and society and its ethical consequences.”
“There are not a few Christians and non-believers, who are convinced that the human person must always be an end and never a means,” he said.
Speaking after the audience, Nirj Deva, a member of the European parliament and one of DHI’s original members, told Newsmax that politicians are not leaders, they are followers of prevailing cultural mores.
He therefore believes the priority of the Institute and other such organisations must be to evangelise the culture by informing the media, non-Christians and others, and engaging them in proper debate. Politicians, he says, will then follow suit.
Although he underlines the teaching that man is created in the image and likeness of God, Deva believes that to engage the prevailing secular humanist culture, he favors another approach. “If you say, Do you want your disabled child to be euthanized and killed? [secular humanists] will say no. If you say, Do you want your blind mother to be terminated, or a mother with dementia to be terminated, knocked off and put in a box? they’ll say no.
“If we come together and look at what sort of society we’re creating, and ask ourselves where will all this lead to in 100 or 50 years, they themselves will say, Oh my gosh, is this really what we want? It’s much better that way than us just banging on with something they may not understand.”
Still, Deva is keen that the underlying principle of the DHI remains central to their work. That principle is detailed in the Institute’s “Universal Declaration of Human Dignity,” a document which, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, offers a blueprint for politicians on upholding a concept of human dignity based on the “image and likeness of God” teaching.
Deva said the “great virtue” of the declaration is that it “helps to put the spine back into Christian democracy.”
Benjamin Harnwell, DHI’s founder, said the Institute takes a traditionally Catholic position on all the hot button social issues. But he believes if these views are shared in a “moderate and reasonable way, with respect and tolerance for those who differ, we have a chance of changing the culture for the better.”
Looking ahead, the Institute wants to expand by establishing more parliamentary working groups on human dignity in Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but particularly in countries in Northern Europe. To give a couple of examples, Deva notes that Belgium is moving closer to passing a law on euthanizing children, while in Latvia he says there are 800 abortions out of every 1,000 births.
As with many institutes of this kind, funding is a constant need. Last week’s papal audience has given the institute a much needed boost, but to really make a difference, it needs proper resources. Deva recalled how President Obama managed to raise $300 million by simply asking Americans to donate a dollar or two. “We should look at doing the same,” he said.
Despite the significant challenges ahead of them, Harnwell took comfort in the fact that after five years of hard work, the papal audience showed the Institute “is by no means alone.”
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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