Pope Calls for Universal Recognition of the Natural Law as the Basis of Human Rights


Deacon Keith Fournier

  VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - In its own self description, “The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has the aim of promoting the study and progress of the social, economic, political and juridical sciences, and of thus offering the Church the elements which she can use in the study and development of her social doctrine. The Academy also reflects on the application of that doctrine in contemporary society.”

Mary Ann Glendon, the former US Ambassador to the Vatican, is the President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The members are currently gathered in the Vatican to discuss Catholic Social Doctrine and human rights. Ambassador Glendon recently made a substantial news splash when she respectfully declined to receive the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame. She has been an uncompromising advocate of the Right to Life for her entire life, exhibiting professionalism and fidelity in all of her efforts.

Pope Benedict XVI strongly reaffirmed the position of the Catholic Church that there is a Natural Law and that this Natural Law can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason. He affirmed that this Natural Law has also made known to all men and women the existence of fundamental human rights which are binding upon all Nations and for all time: “The Church has always affirmed that fundamental rights, above and beyond the different ways in which they are formulated and the different degrees of importance they may have in various cultural contexts, are to be upheld and accorded universal recognition because they are inherent in the very nature of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God. If all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, then they share a common nature that binds them together and calls for universal respect.”

The importance of this strong endorsement of the Natural Law as the basis of human rights by Pope Benedict comes at a critical time in the light of the current State of the West. In the U.S. and throughout much of Europe, there has been a denial of these Rights, beginning with the foundation of them all the Right to Life and including the Right to religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience. There has arisen a counterfeit “rights talk” which seeks to substitute judicially manufactured “rights” such as the counterfeit “right” to abortion. One can never have a “right” take innocent human life even if the positive law of a given State declares it, it violates the higher law.

Accompanying this counterfeit “rights talk” has been a growing misuse of the Police Power of the State to enforce these counterfeit “rights” with an iron hand. Further, that same Police Power is being increasingly misused to silence the proponents of true human rights such as the Right to Life and the Right to Religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience. This is an ominous trend in the West and a threat to authentic freedom.

Finally, there is a growing propaganda effort to infer that those who insist that the Right to Life is a universal human right which can be discerned by all because it is revealed in the Natural Law are actually taking a “religious” position which has no place in policy and political discourse. Further, that because such a position is “religious” it has no place in a secular public square and must be confined within the walls of the Church, literally and figuratively. This propaganda effort is being undertaken not only to silence the advocates of the Right to Life and the Right to Religious Freedom but to confuse people concerning the very reasonableness of the Natural Law position.

The Pope told the gathered leaders: “Strictly speaking, these human rights are not truths of faith, even though they are discoverable - and indeed come to full light - in the message of Christ who "reveals man to man himself" (Gaudium et Spes, 22). They receive further confirmation from faith….” However, he also insisted - as we must - that “The Church's action in promoting human rights is therefore supported by rational reflection, in such a way that these rights can be presented to all people of good will, independently of any religious affiliation they may have.”

Clearly the Pope has signaled the way for all of us who work to confront the growing culture of death and make a defense for the dignity of every human person and the fundamental right to life. The reasoning presented by the Pope is found in the body of moral teaching referred to as the “Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church”. What is desperately needed in our time is a new movement which develops the language of true human rights such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience within a Natural Law framework. This movement is needed not only to keep the doors open for the Church to do her work but in order to build a new and truly just society for all men and women and ensure a future of true freedom.

It is no accident that the President of The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is Mary Ann Glendon. Her lifetime of leadership on this important front was demonstrated in her recent courageous and humble decision to stand for the Right to Life and reject the highest honor given by the University of Notre Dame, the Laetare Medal. She did this when it became clear that she was about to be used as a kind of “prop” to infer that University was presenting “both sides” of the issue. Mary Ann Glendon has been, in the words of the Holy Father, a “consistent witnesses to the defense and promotion of these non-negotiable human rights which are founded in divine law”.

The greatest tribute we can give her act of heroism is to follow her lead. The Pope has called for Universal Recognition of the Natural Law as the Basis of Human Rights and we need to build a new movement which does the same.