A Democracy Cannot Violate the Most Elementary Rights

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo

February 03, 2000

VATICAN CITY, FEB 3 (ZENIT).- Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, has spent 10 years traveling to proclaim to the four corners of the world the most elementary human message: life is the greatest gift of all, and the family is the best place for it to be received with love. Before coming to Rome in 1990, to take up his papal appointment to the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Lopez Trujillo had been president of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) and Archbishop of Medellin, Colombia. Having spent many exhausting years serving the cause of life, the Cardinal is in a privileged position to evaluate the current state of the most basic of human rights.

Today, 5 years after the publication of "Evangelium Vitae," Cardinal Lopez Trujillo painted a panorama of the world in which these issues are reflected, in an interview in "Alfa y Omega" magazine.

-- In "Evangelium Vitae," John Paul II speaks about a confrontation between the "culture of life" and "the culture of death." How do you define these?

-- CARDINAL LOPEZ TRUJILLO: Within the next few days, in the Vatican Synod Hall, we will celebrate 5 years since the publication of that encyclical. The celebration will be presided by the Holy Father, and it is being prepared jointly by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, and the Pontifical Academy for Life. The prophetic force of this encyclical is impressive. As is commonly known, an extraordinary consistory of Cardinals asked for this document in 1990. In a joyful announcement, the Holy Father embraced and launched with special vigor the good news of life and the admiration and respect it deserves. He also made appropriate denunciations of cases of violation of fundamental rights.

This proclamation, which fosters a deep-rooted awareness of the marvelous gift of life, is called the "culture of life." It is something that, although ... in man's being, needs to be cultivated. We must help to form our consciences, which have been silenced by the pressures, aggressions and manipulations of the "culture of death." A good part of the future of humanity is being decided in this struggle. It is also the test that will measure the degree and depth of real human quality.

The challenges are great, but much greater and much wider are the horizons of hope. This century must respect human dignity, which is threatened and violated. Something very strange is happening, as we have seen in several international congresses organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family. When we reflect on the wealth of the defense of human rights and, specifically, on the U.N. 1948 Declaration, it is quite a victory, and yet we are struck by the contrast in the widespread negation of fundamental rights, especially the most fundamental, which is the right to life, ratified in the third article of that Declaration.

It is a negation of the universality and integrity on which the right rests. The millions of victims of the crime of abortion (close to 50 million annually), the most defenseless and innocent, constitute a huge open wound in the heart of humanity. I am very surprised that some of the defenders of human rights and of the struggle for liberty do not include this specific priority in their programs. The unborn are the poorest of the poor, and nations must be respected and supported when they are subjected to pressures that try to make a crime appear as a right.

-- With extraordinary progress, day after day science demonstrates the marvel of human life from the moment of conception. Moreover, one is profoundly impressed by the unique relation that is created from the first moments between a woman and the child she carries in her womb. And yet, proposals for the legalization or extension of funding for abortions are there. In public opinion, abortion continues to be seen as something "normal." To what do you attribute this phenomenon?

-- CARDINAL LOPEZ TRUJILLO: The "legalization of abortion" is an incoherence that wounds the conscience and that will be, without a shadow of a doubt, a reason for shame in history. Just as today humanity is ashamed -- and with very good reason -- of slavery and discrimination in this area, in the same way, very soon, it will have to be ashamed of so much inhumanity, including everything else that is part of the culture of death, expressed in legislation that is iniquitous and permissive. This is legislation that contrasts with the very achievements and revelations of science itself.

These attitudes persist, the result of confusion and of plans that will be seen to be weak, and in some nations there is determination to aggravate the situation. It ends up by becoming a political game that impoverishes democracy. There is a desire to impose "a political truth" that is upheld by passing parliamentary majorities, which are truly contingent. A "discipline" is often imposed that replaces adequate information, dialogue, and is exalted as a new juridical order and new morality. In his famous U.N. address in 1995, the Pope pointed out the urgency of a grammar that is rooted in truths anchored in the nature of men, a grammar that will allow dialogue and convergence, in order to give humanity a new face.

Although there are new challenges and pressures, there are also conversions, even of politicians, and victories in different nations. There are cultural and life forces that are growing, getting stronger, and having more influence. It would be too long to list them all. Everyone knows the extremely happy news of the Congress of the United States' opposition to so-called "partial-birth" abortion, which is a terrible process of inhumanity and cruelty. However, the absolute will of the majority in Congress had no echo in President Bill Clinton…

Many politicians, scientists, etc., who were once pro-abortion no longer are; this is also true of Parliaments themselves. Of course, the struggle is not concentrated exclusively on abortion, or on other attempts against life, such as euthanasia. The problem of the culture of life refers to a natural institution that has life as the central mission -- the family. The mission of integral procreation, which means education, acceptance, respect and care of life, suffers a hard blow when the institution of matrimony is eroded, as happens in "de facto unions." This is another serious and terrible confusion, which would take more time to address properly.

The life of a child requires the gift of a stable home and today children are great victims in this respect. What is at stake, no more and no less, is the harmonious and integral development of the child who has the right to a real home.

-- Life is not only attacked in its first moments. It is also threatened by two chilling phenomena: the death penalty and euthanasia. The latter is not a new phenomenon. A few years ago very few people had the audacity to propose euthanasia, as they could be accused of being Nazis, since the practice was advocated by Hitler. How is it possible to be taking such a gigantic step backward?

-- CARDINAL LOPEZ TRUJILLO: The whole problem rests in whether or not one has a sound anthropology. The truth about the human person, his eminent dignity, is at stake. Human beings -- the unborn, the terminally ill -- if not thought of as persons in the image of God, as an end and not as a means, will not be treated with the respect they deserve. When this is missing, everything falls into the realm of the arbitrary. And there will be some who will grant themselves the right to decide whether or not a life is worth living! The same logic applies in all these areas. If the embryo is treated as a thing, not a person, it can be manipulated; the patient will also be treated as a thing and be denied the dignity of a person because his condition is considered unbearable.

When human life is in circumstances of greater limitation, it needs greater solidarity, care, and compassion. We cannot deny that some forms of conduct and legislation are so arbitrary and immoral that they appear to be the fruit of totalitarian societies.

Some think the defense of life is a "confessional" topic, reduced or limited to the concern of Catholics. But this isn't so! The values and fundamental truths that are implied refer to all men, to the whole of humanity. It is also a requirement of dialogue in truth. It is a dangerous precedent to "politicize" truth. Democracy should be the best "soil" for love, respect and recognition of life as the fundamental right.


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