Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Papal Diplomacy, Values, and Ourselves

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 10, 2012

Each year during the Christmas season, the Pope addresses the members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. In this address, he highlights the concerns which should animate the mutual efforts of the temporal powers throughout the world. This year, the Pope emphasized that the key to a better future for mankind is the formation of youth to respect moral and religious values.

The Pope began with a universal call to “reflect on human existence and on the importance of its ethical dimension.” He introduced this point, as he has repeatedly in the past, with reference to the global economic and financial crisis. Indeed, the popes have long maintained that man’s economic relations are not first and foremost technical problems but moral problems to be solved with the good of all stakeholders in mind. But he also applied the need for living ethically to contemporary political unrest. Peace, he said, can be achieved only through “the recognition of the inalienable dignity of each human person and his or her fundamental rights.” Respect for the person, the Pope insisted, “must be at the center of institutions and laws; it must lead to the end of all violence and forestall the risk that due concern for popular demands and the need for social solidarity turn into mere means for maintaining or seizing power.”

Then Benedict emphasized that the key to a brighter future is to implement these concerns into the formation of the next generation. Drawing on his earlier Message for the World Day of Peace, he argued that a proper education is one which leads young people “to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth”. Moreover, the first and foremost setting for such an education is and must be “the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman”:

This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life and, as I pointed out during my visit to Croatia, “openness to life is a sign of openness to the future”.

Along these same lines, the Pope emphasized “with particular reference to the West” that “legislative measures which not only permit but at times even promote abortion…compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity.”

Two other components of an educational formation which can bring real hope for the future are, in the Pope’s words, “respect for religious freedom” and “respect for creation”. Benedict reiterated his message at Assisi that religious leaders must forcefully reaffirm that true religion does not promote intolerance or terrorism. Indeed, “this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction.” Instead religious freedom has important “individual, collective and institutional dimensions” which constitute the “first of human rights” because religious freedom “expresses the most fundamental reality of the person.” He also noted that it is absolutely necessary to care for the environment with “a great sense of solidarity and responsibility towards present and future generations.”

Thus the Holy Father’s vision is inescapably a moral vision. Many readers will sense that he has simply restated what the Holy See has been trying to interject into world discussions for a long time. That is certainly true. In fact, there is a sense in which the Church never offers anything new, except the always fresh clarity of the truth, inspired by the radically and perennially new Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This should open our eyes, for the key to applying such statements is to view them without our conventional blinders. Most of us, despite our best efforts, remain locked in some aspect of the endless left-right debates which plague the West, debates which we must transcend if any progress is to be made. If we tend toward the left, for example, we are likely to devalue life and family generally as we give ideological control over both to the government. And if we tend toward the right, we are likely to devalue the lives and families of specific groups, both within our borders and abroad, when it comes to social policy and military intervention.

Moreover, when it comes to economic policies, we all seem to be tied in knots over mechanisms when we should be building cultures which insist that economic decisions are first and foremost moral decisions, however they are made. As Pope Benedict taught in Caritas in Veritate, only in true human solidarity can the battle between the State manager and the market executive disappear in the triumph of a moral economic universe. In any case, few of us maintain a perpetual guard against our own social prejudices. We need to take seriously the Pope’s call to help the young achieve “a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth”—that is, a more deeply Catholic vision than our own.

Granted, the Pope’s diplomatic addresses are necessarily fairly general, consisting of broad recommendations rather than detailed analysis. But it is precisely because they are general that they apply to everybody. The key, then, is to read them not for what the Holy Father is telling others, but for what he is telling us.

Focusing the question might help us make a start, and it so happens that political action is the primary and proper focus of a diplomatic address. So let us start with politics and ask ourselves the first question: With respect to the values Pope Benedict has articulated, can we really do no better?

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Jan. 10, 2012 6:15 PM ET USA

    The Holy Fathers statement that economic decisions are in the first place moral is really something to think about. The lack of any clear moral norms literally spills over into everything since without a moral compass anything goes. Without God in the equation "human dignity" makes no sense. Human dignity and a moral compass seem to be the result of knowing we belong to God and will be held accountable. Today God has been thrown out and so has morality almost everywhere.