Speeches 1998 - Sunday, 21 June 1998
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
1. My third Pastoral Visit to this beautiful land of Austria is coming to an end. The time to leave has arrived. With deep gratitude, I think back over the days that I have spent with you. I came as a pilgrim in the faith, as a servant of joy and as a co-worker in the truth. I now return to my episcopal see of Rome, having been richly blessed and carrying many beautiful impressions in my heart.
2. This moment of farewell is the occasion to offer everyone a sincere “God reward you”. First of all, my gratitude goes to God, giver of all good things, for these days of intense spiritual meetings, liturgical celebrations and moments of shared reflection for a new awakening of the Church in Austria.
A special word of gratitude goes to my beloved Brothers in the Episcopate, who in these very difficult times never cease to dedicate themselves with all their strength to the service of unity in truth and love. The invitation for this Pastoral Visit and the meeting with the Bishops’ Conference, which I was able to experience in the past few days, gave me consolation and encouragement, since they confirm that the Bishops, in communion with each other and with the Successor of Peter, are determined to build, together with the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful, the future of the Church in Austria.
My sincere gratitude goes also to you, Mr Federal President, to the public authorities and to all the citizens of this beloved country. Once again you have shown me such truly generous hospitality. I cannot fail to mention the numerous volunteers who for many weeks have been doing everything possible with great enthusiasm to guarantee a smooth visit, working even more than usual.
At this point, those who contributed in hidden ways to the success of my visit deserve to be mentioned: the public security and law enforcement authorities, the providers of first aid and the numerous men and women who worked behind the scenes.
3. With my visit I wished to show my esteem and appreciation to the Austrian Republic and to the Church of this country, while at the same time to indicate some prospects for its future progress. While in Salzburg we meditated on the theme of mission, in Sankt Pölten we reflected on the question of vocations. Finally, I was able this morning to enter into the book of the blessed the names of three servants of God from your land. During the impressive celebration in the “Heldenplatz” I was able to note once again that “the heroism of the Church” is her holiness. The “Church’s heroes” are not necessarily those who wrote significant pages of universal history according to human standards, but men and women who may seem insignificant in the eyes of many, but are great in God’s sight. Among the ranks of the powerful we search for them in vain, while in the book of life their names are written in capital letters.
4. The biographies of the saints and blesseds are believable documents that even the people of today can read and understand. This reflection is particularly significant in view of the historical and geographical openness of your country. The foundations of Austria were built by martyrs and confessors during the decline of the Roman Empire. Then came the Irish monks and Scottish missionaries from the Christian West. Sts Cyril and Methodius, apostles to the Slavs, brought their evangelizing work to the area around Vienna. Therefore, during my visit to your country, at the site where the Danube unites the West with the East — two worlds that were formerly divided — it was appropriate to speak about the Europe of the future.After the “velvet revolution” and the fall of the Iron Curtain, Europe was restored to us.
This gift is a challenge and an obligation. Europe needs a spiritual face. With all the political programmes and economic plans that dominate current discussions, we must not forget that Europe owes much to Christianity. But Christianity also has many reasons to thank Europe. In fact, Christianity was brought from Europe to many other parts of the world. Even today, Europe cannot and must not forget its spiritual responsibility. A prerequisite for this is a return to its Christian origins. Here is the great challenge that Christians of the future Europe must face.
5. I sum up all my thoughts and sentiments in an expression of gratitude that comes from my heart: “God reward you”. And I wish everyone: God bless you.
The good intentions in the reflection and planning: God bless them!
The good words in the meetings and dialogues: God bless them!
The commitment to fulfil the ideas and resolutions: God bless them!
God bless all the good in your country. May he bless the good that the Church does in Austria.
God bless each and every one of you. “God reward you”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am pleased to extend a cordial welcome to you all. I greet and thank the President in particular for the kind words he has just addressed to me on behalf of all those gathered here. I greet with esteem the members of the board of directors, the auditorial committee and the managers of the Central Institute of Co-operative Credit Banks.
With this visit, you intend to confirm your adherence to the principles which the social teaching of the Church has expounded on co-operation and the laws that govern economics and production. Generations of entrepreneurs have drawn abundantly from these guidelines and, while promoting economic progress, they have ever sought to uphold solidarity and the rights of the weakest segments of the population.
The institution you represent draws its inspiration precisely from the Church's fruitful Magisterium and is one of its most significant concrete achievements. In fact, the concept of co-operation and the tradition of solidarity in the sector of bank credit, firmly rooted in Italian society for more than a century, constitutes a stimulating experience of participation and, at the same time, an effective instrument for attaining a higher level of justice. While respecting entrepreneurial demands, your activity seeks to promote a real economic democracy with credit offered on a human scale.
2. Since the 1880s, the lively interest Catholics in Italy have taken in the problem of meeting the needs of the weakest segments of society is wellknown. They have done this by creating a network of Casse Rurale at the service of the local communities for the purpose of defending family savings, eliminating the scourge of usury and sustaining small- and medium-sized business ventures. In this regard, my venerable Predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Rerum novarum greatly encouraged Catholics to form associations hoping that such institutions might “bring their members as great as possible an increase in physical and spiritual wellbeing and access to property” (n. 42).
Here, how can we not remember, among many others, Fr Luigi Cerruti the priest of the Romagna region, who, through the development of the Institutes of Co-operative Credit, enabled many people to start and build up new enterprises for the benefit of the whole of society? His example was an effective incentive for other similar initiatives. Indeed, while the association of workers in co-operatives stemmed from the need to combat the negative effects of an industrialized society obsessed with financial gain, its goal has always been to meet the requirement of unity and solidarity. One is aware of the need to look beyond the mere economic dimensions of human labour, and to overcome the opposition of the inflexible laws of capital, to the urgent need to defend the dignity of the human person. These values must be safeguarded in a “market” that is always in danger of forgetting that “the goods of creation are meant for all. That which human industry produces ... with the contribution of work, must serve equally for the good of all” (Sollicitudo rei socialis SRS 39).
3. Co-operation, understood in this way, implies appreciating each individual’s role in the community, while safeguarding the legitimate interests of the person. In this perspective, I renew the hope, formulated in the Encyclical Laborem exercens, that intermediate social bodies may continue to enjoy “real autonomy with regard to the public powers, pursuing their specific aims in honest collaboration with each other and in subordination to the demands of the common good, and they would be living communities both in form and in substance, in the sense that the members of each body would be looked upon and treated as persons and encouraged to take an active part in the life of the body” (n. 14).
The very structure of the Co-operative Credit Banks, which is based on a society of persons and not on capital, suggests that the main objective is not profit, but the satisfaction of social needs. Moreover, the establishment of branches throughout the area permits members to know their mutual possibilities and capacities, as well as to intervene effectively in the local context. This important service thus contributes to the harmony and well-being of the whole of society which can avail itself of personal qualities and resources which might otherwise be ignored.
Dear ladies and gentlemen, while I hope that the intense social network of the 600 or so Institutes belonging to the ICCREA will continue to draw inspiration from the mainspring of the Church's social teaching so as to provide an increasingly useful service to man and to society, I invoke on you and your worthy initiatives divine assistance, as a pledge of which I impart my Blessing to you all.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Representatives of the Forum of Family Associations,
1. I am very pleased to greet you with the words of Familiaris consortio: “Family, become what you are!” (n. 17) which effectively indicate the objective for which you generously expend your mental and physical energy.
I greet and thank Bishop Giuseppe Anfossi, who has expressed your sentiments, illustrating the aims of the Forum of Catholic Family Associations of Italy, of which you constitute an important delegation. My heartfelt thanks to all of you for this visit, with which you wish to renew your adherence to the Successor of Peter.
I know that you work tirelessly with the 38 associations and regional committees belonging to the Forum, to enable Italian families also to fully express and develop their identity and mission at the cultural, social and political levels. To achieve this you have most appropriately based your Statutes on the Charter of the Rights of the Family so that in just a few years your sodality has won widespread esteem and consideration, becoming the timely and courageous voice of the needs and legitimate claims of millions of Italian families and a serious and credible spokesman for the various social and political forces. In you the Church sees a great hope for the present and future of families in Italy.
2. The situation in Italy, as in many other parts of the world, is marked by radical challenges which must be faced with courage and unity of purpose. Today too, the family is the most precious and important resource available to the Italian nation which is so dear to me. The vast majority of Italians profoundly believes in the family and its values, and this conviction is shared by the young generation. Families make an incalculable contribution to social life, assuming the burden of serious problems such as widespread unemployment among young people and inadequate social security and health care.
Nevertheless, families receive little help due to the aleatory and uncertain nature of family policies which too often fail to provide them with sufficient economic or social support. Here, we should recall the clear dictate of the Italian Constitution which states: “The Republic facilitates with economic measures and other provisions the formation of the family and the fulfilment of its task in its regard”. The marked decrease in the birth rate that has been afflicting the Italian population for many years is beginning to have a negative effect on society. This should alert attention to how detrimental to the nation’s true interests is the absence of an effective family policy.
Even more worrying however, is the direct attack on the family institution which is developing at the cultural level and in political, legislative and administrative spheres. This ignores or distorts the significance of the constitutional norm with which the Italian Republic “acknowledges the rights of the family as a natural society founded on marriage” (art. 29). In fact, setting aside fundamental ethical and anthropological considerations, there is a clear tendency to equate other and quite different forms of coexistence with the family. Furthermore, equally explicit and timely is the attempt to give legal dignity to methods of procreation that disregard the conjugal bond and do not adequately protect the embryo. Moreover, the grave injury to the moral and juridical conscience is still represented by the law on voluntary abortion.
3. It is precisely the radicalism of current challenges that highlights the importance and function of the Forum of Family Associations. Through it, many associations, each one with its own specific vocation and tradition, can effectively collaborate in the defence and promotion of the family.
By drawing from the vital sap of family spirituality and by applying to concrete situations the guidelines set out by Christian social teaching, you are called first and foremost to undertake a moral and cultural commitment to help the men and women of our time understand more deeply and live with renewed enthusiasm and dignity the great Christian and civil tradition of Italy, centred on the importance and value of the family. It would be mistaken to consider the progressive disintegration of the family as an inevitable phenomenon which almost automatically accompanies economic and technological development. On the contrary, the family's future is entrusted first of all to each person’s conscience and responsible commitment, and to the convictions and values that are alive within us. Therefore we must always turn with trustful supplication to him who can change human hearts and minds.
However, rightly, you give equal attention to the laws and institutions in which the culture and moral convictions of a people are expressed and by which they are sustained, or conversely damaged. Dear brothers and sisters, continue and intensify your work, in all places and at all levels, so that those rights that naturally belong to the family may be concretely recognized. In doing this, you put into practice the principle according to which families “should be the first to take steps to see that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family”, thus growing in the knowledge that they are protagonists of “family politics” (cf. Familiaris consortio FC 44).
4. In your work for families, dear representatives of the Forum, you have the full support of the ecclesial community and of its Pastors who are well aware that the family is “the primary vital cell of society” and the “domestic sancturary of the Church” (Apostolicam actuositatem AA 11) and, in particular, that “today, the basic struggle for human dignity is centred on the family and life” (Address to the Pastoral Theology Congress in Rio de Janeiro, 3 October 1997; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 15 October 1997, p. 4).
The Church cannot avoid this challenge, because man, in the full truth of his existence “is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission” (Redemptor hominis RH 14). She is responsible therefore, as my Predecessor of venerable memory John XXIII wrote, for the “right and duty not only to safeguard principles relating to the integrity of religion and morals, but also to pronounce authoritatively when it is a matter of putting these principles into effect” (Mater et Magistra MM 239). The Christian community's testimony on behalf of the family is also significantly expressed through those means of social communication which can intervene with clarity in the cultural and political debate by proposing and motivating ideas and positions that genuinely conform to the nature and tasks of the family institution.
5. The responsibilities of politicians in this field are evident. It is up to them to promote legislation and to support goverment action which respect fundamental ethical criteria (cf. Evangelium vitae EV 71-73) without yielding to that relativism which, under the pretext of defending freedom and democracy, actually deprives them of their solid basis (cf. Centesimus annus CA 46 Veritatis splendor, n. 99; Evangelium vitae EV 70).
Therefore in no way can the lawmaker who wants to act in harmony with an upright moral conscience, contribute to creating laws that are in opposition to the essential rights of the family, founded on marriage.
In this field, an extensive and determined commitment to sensitization and clarification appears to be necessary. You are therefore appropriately devoting yourselves to this difficult but prophetic task, so that individuals and political forces may agree on what is consistent with the dignity of persons and the common good of human society, overcoming one-sided positions or other constraints.
Dear representatives of the Forum of Family Associations, while I thank you once again for the work that you carry out with such enthusiasm and courage, I implore for you and for all your associates the gifts of counsel and fortitude, to continue and develop the work you have begun so well.
May the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Hope, sustain and help you. For my part, my prayer accompanies you and, as a pledge of my affection, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing, in expectation of the protection and comfort of the Lord.
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. I warmly welcome you, the Pastors of the Church in the States of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, on the occasion of your ad Limina visit. In my meetings so far this year with the United States Bishops, we have considered some principal aspects of the new evangelization called for by the Second Vatican Council, the great event of grace by which the Holy Spirit has prepared the Church to enter the Third Christian Millennium. One essential part of this task is the proclamation of moral truth and its application to the personal lives of Christians and to their involvement in the world. Therefore, I wish to reflect with you today on your Episcopal ministry as teachers of moral truth and witnesses to the moral law.
In every age, men and women need to hear Christ the Good Shepherd calling them to faith and conversion of life (cf. Mk Mc 1,15). As shepherds of souls, you must be Christ’s voice today, encouraging your people to rediscover "the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God's love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord's law, even in the most difficult situations" (Veritatis Splendor VS 107). The question posed by the rich young man in the Gospel – “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Mt 19,16) – is a perennial human question. It is asked in one form or another, explicitly or implicitly, by every human being in every culture and at every moment in the drama of history. Christ’s answer to that question – to follow him in doing the will of his Father – is the key to the fullness of life which he promises. Obedience to God’s commandments, far from alienating us from our humanity, is the pathway to genuine liberation and the source of true happiness.
In this year of preparation for the Great Jubilee dedicated to the Holy Spirit, let us remember that our efforts to preach the Good News and teach the moral truth about the human person are sustained by the Spirit, who is the principal agent in the Church's mission (cf. Evangelium Nuntiandi, 64). It is the Holy Spirit who "brings about the flourishing of Christian moral life and the witness of holiness amid the great variety of vocations, gifts, responsibilities, conditions and life situations" (Veritatis Splendor VS 108). In your Dioceses and parishes, I urge you to make a special effort this year to increase awareness of the powerful activity of the Spirit in the world, for it is through his grace that we experience a “radical personal and social renewal capable of ensuring justice, solidarity, honesty and openness” (Veritatis Splendor VS 98).
2. Given the circumstances of contemporary culture, your Episcopal ministry is especially challenging, and the situation which you face as teachers of moral truth is complex. Your parishes are filled with Catholics eager to lead responsible lives as spouses, parents, citizens, workers, and professionals. These men and women, whom you meet daily in the course of your pastoral mission, know that they should live morally upright lives, but often they find it difficult to explain exactly what this implies. This difficulty reflects another side of contemporary culture: the skepticism regarding the very existence of “moral truth” and an objective moral law. This attitude is quite prevalent in the cultural institutions that influence public opinion, and, it must be said, is commonplace in many of your country’s academic, political and legal structures. In this situation, those who try to live according to the moral law often feel pressured by forces which contradict the things they know in their hearts to be true. And those responsible for teaching moral truth may feel as if their task is virtually impossible, given the power of those external cultural pressures.
There have been similar moments in the course of the Church’s two- thousand-year history. Yet today’s cultural crisis has distinctive characteristics that give your task as moral teachers a real urgency. This urgency touches both the transmission of the moral truth contained in the Gospel and the Magisterium of the Church, and the future of society as a free and democratic way of life.
How should we define this crisis of moral culture? We can glimpse its first phase in what Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk: “In this century [conscience] has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self- will”. What was true in Newman’s 19th century is even truer today. Culturally powerful forces insist that the rights of conscience are violated by the very idea that there exists a moral law inscribed in our humanity, which we can come to know by reflecting on our nature and our actions, and which lays certain obligations upon us because we recognize them as universally true and binding. This, it is frequently said, is an abrogation of freedom. But what is the concept of “freedom” at work here? Is freedom merely an assertion of my will — “I should be permitted to do this because I choose to do it”? Or is freedom the right to do what I ought to do, to adhere freely to what is good and true (cf. Homily at Baltimore, October 8, 1995)?
The notion of freedom as personal autonomy is superficially attractive; endorsed by intellectuals, the media, legislatures, and the courts, it becomes a powerful cultural force. Yet it ultimately destroys the personal good of individuals and the common good of society. Freedom-as-autonomy, by its single-minded focus on the autonomous will of the individual as the sole organizing principle of public life, dissolves the bonds of obligation between men and women, parents and children, the strong and the weak, majorities and minorities. The result is the breakdown of civil society, and a public life in which the only actors of consequence are the autonomous individual and the state. This, as the twentieth century ought to have taught us, is a sure prescription for tyranny.
3. At its roots, the contemporary crisis of moral culture is a crisis of understanding of the nature of the human person. As pastors and teachers of the Church of Christ, you remind people that the greatness of human beings is founded precisely in their being creatures of a loving God, who gave them the capacity to know the good and to choose it, and who sent his Son to be the final and unsurpassable witness to the truth about the human condition: “In Christ and through Christ, God has revealed himself fully to mankind and has definitively drawn close to it; at the same time, in Christ and through Christ man has acquired full awareness of his dignity, of the heights to which he is raised, of the surpassing worth of his own humanity, and of the meaning of his existence" (Redemptor Hominis RH 11). In Christ, we know that "the good of the person lies in being in the Truth and doing the Truth" (Address to the International Congress of Moral Theology, April 10, 1986, No. 1).
In this Christian anthropology, the nobility of men and women lies, not simply in the capacity to choose, but in the capacity to choose wisely and to live according to that choice of what is good. In all of visible creation, only the human person chooses reflectively. Only the human person can discern between good and evil, and give reasons justifying that discernment. Only human beings can make sacrifices for what is good and true. That is why, throughout Christian history, the martyr remains the paradigm of discipleship: for the martyr lives out the relationship between truth, freedom, and goodness in the most radical way.
By teaching the moral truth about the human person and witnessing to the moral law inscribed on the human heart, the Bishops of the Church are defending and promoting not arbitrary claims made by the Church but essential truths, and therefore the good of individuals and the common good of society.
4. If the dignity of the human person as a moral agent rests on the capacity to know and choose what is truly good, then the question of conscience comes into clearer focus. Respect for the rights of conscience is deeply ingrained in your national culture, which was formed in part by emigrants who came to the New World to vindicate their religious and moral convictions in the face of persecution. American society’s historic admiration for men and women of conscience is the ground on which you can teach the truth about conscience today.
The Church honors conscience as the “sanctuary” of the human person: here, men and women are “alone with God,” whose voice echoes in the depths of their hearts, summoning them to love good and avoid evil (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 16). Conscience is that inner place where "man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience" (ibid.). This being the case, the dignity of conscience is demeaned when it is suggested, as the defenders of radical individual autonomy claim, that conscience is a wholly independent, exclusively personal capacity to determine what constitutes good and evil (cf. Dominum et Vivificantem DEV 43).
Everyone must act in accordance with conscience. But conscience is neither absolutely independent nor infallible in its judgments; if it were, conscience would be reduced to the mere assertion of personal will. Thus it is precisely a defence of the dignity of conscience and of the human person to teach that consciences must be formed, so that they can discern what actually does or does not correspond to the "eternal, objective and universal divine law" which human intelligence is capable of discovering in the order of being (cf. Dignitatis Humanae DH 3 Veritatis Splendor, 60). Because of the nature of conscience, the admonition always to follow it must immediately be followed by the question of whether what our conscience is telling us is true or not. If we fail to make this necessary clarification, conscience – instead of being that holy place where God reveals to us our true good – becomes a force which is destructive of our true humanity and of all our relationships (cf. General Audience, August 17, 1983, No. 3).
As Bishops you have to teach that freedom of conscience is never freedom from the truth but always and only freedom in the truth. This understanding of conscience and its relationship to freedom should clarify certain aspects of the question of dissent from Church teaching. By the will of Christ himself and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is preserved in the truth and “it is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ himself, and to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself" (Dignitatis Humanae DH 14). When the Church teaches, for example, that abortion, sterilization or euthanasia are always morally inadmissible, she is giving expression to the universal moral law inscribed on the human heart, and is therefore teaching something which is binding on everyone’s conscience. Her absolute prohibition that such procedures be carried out in Catholic health care facilities is simply an act of fidelity to God’s law. As Bishops you must remind everyone involved – hospital administrations and medical personnel – that any failure to comply with this prohibition is both a grevious sin and a source of scandal (For sterilizations cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Quaecumque sterilizatio, March 13, 1975, AAS  738-740). This and other such instances are not, it must be emphasized, the imposition of an external set of criteria in violation of human freedom. Rather, the Church’s teaching of moral truth “brings to light the truths which [conscience] ought already to possess" (Veritatis Splendor VS 64), and it is these truths which make us free in the deepest meaning of human freedom and give our humanity its genuine nobility.
Almost two thousand years ago, Saint Paul urged us “not be conformed to this world” but to live the true freedom that is obedience to the will of God (Rm 12,2). In teaching the truth about conscience and its intrinsic relationship to moral truth, you will be challenging one of the great forces in the modern world. But at the same time, you will be doing the modern world a great service, for you will be reminding it of the only foundation capable of sustaining a culture of freedom: what the Founders of your nation called “self- evident” truths.
5. From this perspective, it should be clear that the Church addresses issues of public life not for political reasons but as a servant of the truth about the human person, a defender of human dignity and a promoter of human freedom. A society or culture which wishes to survive cannot declare the spiritual dimension of the human person to be irrelevant to public life. Cultures develop as ways of dealing with the most profound experiences of human existence: love, birth, friendship, work, death. Each of these experiences raises, in its unique way, the question of God: “at the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God" (Centesimus Annus CA 24). American Catholics, in common with other Christians and all believers, have a responsibility to ensure that the mystery of God and the truth about humanity that is revealed in the mystery of God are not banished from public life.
This is especially important for democratic societies, since one of the truths contained in the mystery of our creation by God is that the human person must be “the origin, the subject and the purpose of all social institutions" (Gaudium et Spes GS 25). Our intrinsic dignity and inalienable fundamental rights are not the result of social convention: they precede all social conventions and provide the norms that determine their validity. The history of the twentieth century is a grim warning of the evils that result when human beings are reduced to the status of objects to be manipulated by the powerful for selfish gain or for ideological reasons. In proclaiming the truth that God has given men and women an inestimable dignity and inalienable rights from the moment of conception, you are helping to rebuild the moral foundations of a genuine culture of freedom, capable of sustaining institutions of self-governance that serve the common good.
6. It is a tribute to the Church and to the openness of American society that so many Catholics in the United States are involved in political life. As pastors and teachers, your responsibility to Catholic public officials is to remind them of the heritage of reflection on the moral law, on society, on democracy, which they ought to bring to their office.
Your country prides itself on being a realized democracy, but democracy is itself a moral adventure, a continuing test of a people’s capacity to govern themselves in ways that serve the common good and the good of individual citizens. The survival of a particular democracy depends not only on its institutions, but to an even greater extent on the spirit which inspires and permeates its procedures for legislating, administering, and judging. The future of democracy in fact depends on a culture capable of forming men and women who are prepared to defend certain truths and values. It is imperilled when politics and law are sundered from any connection to the moral law written on the human heart.
If there is no objective standard to help adjudicate between different conceptions of the personal and common good, then democratic politics is reduced to a raw contest for power. If constitutional and statutory law are not held accountable to the objective moral law, the first casualties are justice and equity, for they become matters of personal opinion. Catholics in public life render a particularly important service to society when they defend objective moral norms as "the unshakable foundation and solid guarantee of a just and peaceful human coexistence, and hence of genuine democracy”, for it is through our common obligation to these moral norms that we come to know, and can defend, the equality of all citizens, “who possess common rights and duties” (Veritatis Splendor VS 96).
A climate of moral relativism is incompatible with democracy. That kind of culture cannot answer questions fundamental to a democratic political community: “Why should I regard my fellow citizen as my equal?”; “Why should I defend someone else’s rights?”; “Why should I work for the common good?” If moral truths cannot be publicly acknowledged as such, democracy is impossible (cf. Veritatis Splendor VS 101). Thus I wish to encourage you to continue to speak out clearly and effectively about the fundamental moral questions facing people today. The interest with which many of your documents have been received throughout society is an indication that you are providing much needed guidance when you remind everyone, and especially Catholic citizens and Catholic political leaders, of the essential bond between freedom and truth.
7. Dear Brother Bishops, a time of “crisis” is a time of opportunity as well as a time of danger. That is certainly true of the crisis of moral culture in the developed world today. The call of the Second Vatican Council to the People of God to witness to the truth about the human person amidst the joy and hope, grief and pain of the contemporary world is a call to all of us for a personal commitment to effective episcopal leadership in the new evangelization. By focusing the attention of the faithful and all your fellow citizens on the extremely serious moral choices before them, you will help to bring about that renewal of moral goodness, solidarity and genuine freedom which the United States and the world urgently need. Entrusting your ministry, and the priests, religious, and laity of your Dioceses to the protection of Mary, Patroness of the United States under the great title of her Immaculate Conception, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Speeches 1998 - Sunday, 21 June 1998