ADDRESS OF HIS
HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE
Saturday, 24 February 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is a true joy for me to receive the Members of the Pontifical Academy for
Life in this Audience, held on the occasion of the 13th General Assembly, and
those who are participating at this Congress on the theme: "The Christian
conscience in support of the right to life".
I greet Cardinal Javier Lozano
Barragán, the Archbishops and Bishops present, brother priests, the Congress
speakers and all of you, gathered from various countries. I greet in particular,
Archbishop Elio Sgreccia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, whom I
thank for the kind words addressed to me and for the work he does together with
the Vice-President, the Chancellor and the Board of Directors who carry out the
delicate and vast tasks of the Pontifical Academy.
The theme to which you have
called the participants' attention, and therefore also that of the Ecclesial
Community and of public opinion, is very significant: the Christian
conscience, in fact, has an internal need to nourish and strengthen itself with
the multiple and profound motivations that work in favour of the right to life.
It is a right that must be
sustained by all, because it is the first fundamental right of all human rights.
The Encyclical Evangelium Vitae strongly affirms this: "Even in the midst
of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and
goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to
recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2: 14-15) the sacred
value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the
right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest
degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the
political community itself are founded" (n. 2).
The same Encyclical recalls
that "believers in Christ must defend and promote this right, aware as they are
of the wonderful truth recalled by the Second Vatican Council: "By his
Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every human
being' (Gaudium et Spes, n. 22). This saving event reveals to humanity not only
the boundless love of God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son' (Jn
3: 16), but also the incomparable value of every human person" (ibid.).
Therefore, the Christian is continually called to be ever alert in order to
face the multiple attacks to which the right to life is exposed. In this he
knows that he can count on motives that are deeply rooted in the natural law and
that can therefore be shared by every person of upright conscience.
In this perspective, above all
after the publication of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, much has been done to
make the subject matter of these motivations better known in the Christian
community and in civil society, but it must be admitted that the attacks on the
right to life throughout the world have broadened and multiplied, also assuming
The pressures to legalize abortion are increasing in Latin American countries
and in developing countries, also with recourse to the liberalization of new
forms of chemical abortion under the pretext of safeguarding reproductive
health: policies for demographic control are on the rise, notwithstanding
that they are already recognized as dangerous also on the economic and social
At the same time, the interest in more refined biotechnological research is
growing in the more developed countries in order to establish subtle and
extensive eugenic methods, even to obsessive research for the "perfect child",
with the spread of artificial procreation and various forms of diagnosis tending
to ensure good selection.
A new wave of discriminatory eugenics finds consensus in the name of the
presumed well-being of the individual, and laws are promoted especially in the
economically progressive world for the legalization of euthanasia.
All of this comes about while, on another front, efforts are multiplying to
legalize cohabitation as an alternative to matrimony and closed to natural
In these situations the conscience, sometimes overwhelmed by the powerful
collective media, is insufficiently vigilant concerning the gravity of the
problems at play, and the power of the strongest weakens and seems to paralyze
even people of good will.
For this reason it is necessary to appeal to the conscience, and in
particular, to the Christian conscience. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
tells us, "Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person
recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is
in the process of performing or has already completed. In all he says and does,
man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right" (n.
From this definition it emerges that the moral conscience, to be able to
judge human conduct rightly, above all must be based on the solid foundation of
truth, that is, it must be enlightened to know the true value of actions and the
solid criteria for evaluation. Therefore, it must be able to distinguish good
from evil, even where the social environment, pluralistic culture and
superimposed interests do not help it do so.
The formation of a true conscience, because it is founded on the truth, and
upright, because it is determined to follow its dictates without contradictions,
without betrayal and without compromises, is a difficult and delicate
undertaking today, but indispensable.
Unfortunately, many factors hinder this undertaking. In the first place, in
the current phase of secularization, called post-modern and marked by disputable
forms of tolerance, not only is the rejection of Christian tradition growing,
but distrust for the capacity of reason to perceive the truth also distances us
from the taste for reflection.
According to some, for individual conscience to be unbiased it must free
itself both from references to tradition and those based on human reason.
Hence, the conscience, which as an act of reason aims at the truth of things,
ceases to be light and becomes a simple screen upon which the society of the
media projects the most contradictory images and impulses.
One must be re-educated to the desire to know authentic truth, to defend
one's own freedom of choice in regard to mass behaviour and the lures of
propaganda, to nourish passion for moral beauty and a clear conscience. This is
the delicate duty of parents and educators who assist them; and it is the duty
of the Christian community with regard to its faithful.
Concerning the Christian conscience, its growth and nourishment, one cannot
be content with fleeting contact with the principal truths of faith in infancy,
but a programme of accompaniment is necessary along the various stages of life,
opening the mind and the heart to welcome the fundamental duties upon which the
existence of the individual and the community rest.
Only in this way will it be possible to prepare youth to comprehend the
values of life, love, marriage and the family. Only in this way can they be
brought to appreciate the beauty and the sanctity of the love, joy and
responsibility of being parents and collaborators of God in giving life.
In the absence of a continuous and qualified formation, the capacity for
judgment of the problems posed by biomedicine in the areas of sexuality,
new-born life, procreation, and also in the way to treat and care for patients
and the weaker sectors of society, becomes even more problematic.
It is certainly necessary to speak about the moral criteria that regard these
themes with professionals, doctors and lawyers, to engage them to elaborate a
competent judgment of conscience, and if need be, also a courageous objection of
conscience, but an equal need rises from the basic level for families and parish
communities in the process of the formation of youth and adults.
Under this aspect, next to Christian formation, whose aim is the knowledge of
the Person of Christ, of his Word and Sacraments in the itinerary of faith of
children and adolescents, one must consistently fuse the discourse on moral
values that regard the body, sexuality, human love, procreation, respect for
life at every moment, at the same time with valid and precise motives, reporting
behaviour contrary to these primary values.
In this specific field the work of priests must be opportunely flanked by the
commitment of lay educators, also specialists, dedicated to the duty to guide
the ecclesial reality with their knowledge enlightened by faith.
Therefore, I ask the Lord to send among you, dear brothers and sisters, and
among those dedicated to science, medicine, law and politics, witnesses endowed
with true and upright consciences in order to defend and promote the "splendour
of the truth" and to sustain the gift and mystery of life.
I trust in your help dearest professionals, philosophers, theologians,
scientists and doctors. In a society at times chaotic and violent, with your
cultural qualifications, by teaching and by example, you can contribute to
awakening in many hearts the eloquent and clear voice of conscience.
The Second Vatican Council teaches us that "man has in his heart a law
inscribed by God. His dignity lies in observing this law, and by it he will be
judged" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 16). The Council has offered wise directives so
that "the faithful should learn to distinguish carefully between the rights and
the duties which they have as belonging to the Church and those which fall to
them as members of the human society", and "they will strive to unite the two
harmoniously, remembering that in every temporal affair they are to be guided by
a Christian conscience, since not even in temporal business may any human
activity be withdrawn from God's dominion" (Lumen Gentium, n. 36).
For this very reason the Council exhorts lay believers to welcome "what is
decided by the Pastors as teachers and rulers of the Church", and then
recommends that "Pastors... should recognize and promote the dignity and
responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their
prudent advice" and concludes that "[m]any benefits for the Church are to be
expected from this familiar relationship between the laity and the Pastors" (cf.
Lumen Gentium, n. 37).
When the value of human life is at stake, this harmony between the
magisterial function and the committed laity becomes singularly important:
life is the first good received from God and is fundamental to all others; to
guarantee the right to life for all and in an equal manner for all is the duty
upon which the future of humanity depends. The importance of your study meeting
emerges also from this perspective.
I entrust the work and the results to the intercession of the Virgin Mary,
whom the Christian tradition hails as the true "Mother of all the living". May
she assist and guide you! To seal this wish I willingly impart to all of you, to
your families and collaborators, the Apostolic Blessing.