Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Human Dignity, Human Rights and Moral Responsibility

by Cardinal George Pell


The following paper was presented to the John Cardinal Krol Chair of Moral Theology Symposium on Catholic Moral Teaching in the Pontificate of John Paul II, held at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 4, 2003. George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, discusses two topics he considers central to human dignity and moral responsibility: the role of conscience and the Christian understanding of human rights.

Publisher & Date

Archdiocese of Sydney, October 4, 2003

In his encyclical Veritatis Splendor ("The Splendor of Truth") in 1993 Pope John Paul II claimed that the Church was facing a genuine crisis which touched the very foundations of moral theology.1 He explained that this crisis was no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine.2

In this year in which we celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the election of the Holy Father and the tenth anniversary of Veritatis Splendor it is a moot point whether the crisis has lessened or deepened, or indeed whether the situation remains basically as it was. Rome has spoken, but in the English-speaking world there is no evidence that the matter has been successfully concluded. I speak as an Australian bishop primarily about the situation in Australia. It remains for others to judge just how relevant my comments might be for the situation here in the United States and for other parts of the Catholic world.

After a few introductory words to set the scene I wish to speak on two topics central to human dignity and moral responsibility. One was treated extensively in Veritatis Splendor — the role of conscience — and the second is the Christian understanding of human rights. I believe in both conscience and human rights, but I believe the doctrine of the primacy of conscience is incompatible not only with the Christian concept of human rights, but with any concept of human rights.

The Pontificate of John Paul II

Pope John Paul II is an historical anomaly. We risk categorising his outstanding achievements as being normative for the papacy. This is particularly a danger for young Catholics who have known no other Pope. In fact no Pope in history, even Pope John XXIII, has exercised such an influence in so many fields. This is partly a consequence of the mass media today, but more particularly it is a consequence of his unique contribution. Veritatis Splendor was discussed everywhere throughout the Western world. The major papers in just about every Western capital city editorialised on this encyclical. His defence of human rights against Communism and totalitarianism was pivotal. These are but one part of his extraordinary achievements. An important task for the future will be to assimilate his teachings and put them into practice.

This encyclical had been announced on the Feast of St. Alphonsus in 1987, but did not appear until after the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It was eagerly awaited by admirers of the Pope and also by his opponents inside and outside the Catholic Church. The traditional loose alliance of dissidents were well organised with their allies in the secular media to orchestrate a chorus of dissent, as they had done so successfully in 1968 against Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae.

However the world had changed since 1968 in a number of significant ways. First of all the scope for dissent had enlarged immeasurably. In 1968 the arguments for individual judgment or private conscience were advanced on the topic of the new means of contraception, which it was alleged, with some justification, was disputed even within the Catholic tradition. Today what remains in dispute are the grounds for moral argumentation itself within the Catholic and indeed Christian tradition, and the controverted areas now include every area of sexual practice, and many issues which touch human life. Consequently there are also significant debates on marriage and family life. There has been no period in Church history where such a range of moral teachings has been rejected and the rejectors have continued to insist on remaining within the Church and aspiring to change Church teaching. Also there has probably been no period in Church history where so many have been able to do this without effective retribution. To my knowledge no bishop has taken up the recommendation of the Holy Father in Veritatis Splendor3 to take away the title "Catholic" from Catholic institutions which are deviating significantly from sound moral doctrine.

In 1968 many in the Church were optimistic that the progressive reforms of the Second Vatican Council would soon bring wonderful fruits, and that dialogue with the world would be one of the means for this. Humanae Vitae was a valuable corrective to this inflated optimism. The collapse of the Church, for example, in Holland and French-speaking Canada then lay in the future, as did the exodus of many priests and religious and the radical decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life in many parts of the Church. Today we are much better aware of the consequences of the acid rain of modernity on our Catholic communities, of our minority status as serious Christians everywhere in the English-speaking world, and of the damaging power of the neo-pagan world of communications. Probably too we are better aware of the fruits of internal dissent.

However Pope John Paul II has been an immensely more powerful influence than Pope Paul VI. Pope Paul was fated to lead the Church at an intensely difficult time but he will not rank with Leo the Great or Gregory the Great. John Paul II will, and one major reason for this will be his moral teaching, especially as outlined in Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae ("The Gospel of Life"), (1995).

No Primacy of Conscience

Sections 54-64 of Veritatis Splendor are the best short piece written on conscience since Cardinal Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk in 1875. It is a sophisticated and accessible piece of work, quoting section 16 of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on "the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes) about the voice of conscience always summoning us to love good and avoid evil. "For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Romans 2:14-16)". There is an explicit reference to the development in the Church's moral doctrine similar to the development in the doctrines of faith, provided the original meaning is preserved intact.4 The encyclical is not fundamentalist.

Naturally I accept the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and Veritatis Splendor on the crucial role of conscience for us all. However for some years I have spoken and written against the so-called "doctrine of the primacy of conscience", arguing that this is incompatible with traditional Catholic teaching. Not surprisingly this has in turn provoked a number of hostile public refutations and quite a number of letters from friends and acquaintances attempting to persuade me of the error of my ways.

My basic object is twofold: a) to explain that increasingly, even in Catholic circles, the appeal to the primacy of conscience is being used to justify what we would like to do rather than to discover what God wants us to do; and b) to claim that conscience does not have primacy. One should say that the word of God has primacy or that truth has primacy, and that a person uses his conscience to discern the truth in particular cases. Individual conscience cannot confer the right to reject or distort New Testament morality as affirmed or developed by the Church. To use the language of Veritatis Splendor, conscience is "the proximate norm of personal morality" whose authority in its voice and judgment "derives from the truth about moral good and evil".5

Whatever the pressures for conformity produced by public opinion and the mass media today, there is a healthy rhetoric about respect for the rights of the individual, including the right to private judgment, in the English-speaking democracies. Today we value our freedom of speech, however much it might have been constrained in the distant past. We take it for granted that all citizens have a freedom to choose their career, their home and all adults presume unreflectingly the right to choose a spouse — or now, increasingly in Australia, a temporary partner. Just as people have the right in a democracy to choose their religion so too some Catholics feel they should be able to choose the type of morality they follow and remain "good" Catholics.

Unless all kinds of implicit Christian assumptions are made explicit, the claim to the primacy of individual conscience easily becomes in our cultural context the same as a claim to personal moral autonomy. Indeed most Western moral philosophers since the eighteenth century, with the exceptions of the Marxists and the Christians, have followed Kant in advocating some form of moral self-legislation and government (autonomy), as distinct from heteronomy or rule by others. Even Kant would be appalled by contemporary autonomy liberalism. He believed in objective morality ("practical reason") which autonomy gives us the means and opportunity to follow, never a self-made morality of private preference.

When a person is autonomous, or independent, or at liberty to follow his will in moral matters, this implies that other persons have some kind of obligation to respect this person's freedom of judgment and action. What is the nature of the obligation of other people towards the agent? We might look at this from another perspective and ask: what is the extent of the agent's freedom to follow his own will? In response one can usefully give two versions of moral autonomy. The first emphasises the person's right to choose in the areas of life generally open to moral evaluation, leaving the limits outside which the agent might curtail his right generally unspecified.

John Rawls has defined the extreme of this version of autonomy with characteristic lucidity. It is "the complete freedom to form our moral opinions so that the conscientious judgment of every moral agent, ought absolutely to be respected."6 The realities of social life and public order constrain us into recognising the impracticalities of such a principle as a basis for our personal conduct. In any society the only two alternatives are unanimity or the exercise of authority. The second version of autonomy, the more practical version, always spells out in some way the constraints necessary for social life. The principle of autonomy which informs Rawls' own work, his alternative and more practical meaning, defines acting autonomously as "acting from principles that we would consent to as free and equal rational beings."7 I am not arguing this account is adequate; merely that it is one example of the limitations and precisions required.

Those Catholics who appeal to the primacy of conscience cite a number of classical references. The first comes from the Second Vatican Council's "Declaration on Religious Freedom" (Dignitatis Humanae), which states that religious freedom "has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society"; "The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth". However these advocates often leave unsaid the conciliar teaching from the same paragraph that religious freedom "leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men in society towards the true religion and towards the one Church of Christ."8 So while the Declaration explains that in matters religious "no man is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs . . . within due limits", it also goes on to say that all men are "bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth."9

The American Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., who had such a profound influence in the production of the Declaration wrote in his introduction to the English translation: "The conciliar affirmation of the principle of freedom was narrowly limited — in the text. But the text itself was flung into a pool whose shores are wide as the Universal Church. The ripples will run far. Inevitably, a great second argument will be set afoot - now on the theological meaning of Christian freedom."10 In other words Dignitatis Humanae speaks of relationships between state and Church, and between the state and individual. It does not deal with the relationship between the magisterium and the baptised.

A second reference frequently quoted, and indeed cited by the Holy Father himself in Crossing the Threshold of Hope comes from St. Thomas Aquinas, who explains that if a man is admonished by his conscience, even when it is erroneous he must always listen to it and follow it.11 The supporters of primacy of conscience do not go on to explain, as Aquinas does and John Paul II has done over a life-time of writing, that the binding force of conscience, even mistaken conscience, comes from the person's belief that the conscientious decision is in accord with the law of God.12 I also believe that a person following Aquinas' advice might not only err in an objective sense, but could be guilty for his mistaken views. But more on this later.

A final passage, also frequently cited, is Cardinal Newman's famous declaration at the end of his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk: "Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink — to the Pope, if you please — still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards."13 Newman was concerned about the Ultramontane claims of extreme infallibilists, facetiously explaining that if the Pope told the English bishops to order their priests to work for teetotalism or to hold a lottery in each mission, they would not be obliged to do so.14 But there is no doubt also that his understanding of conscience is very specifically Christocentric and God-centred, within the Catholic tradition.

Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas, and even though the eternal priesthood throughout the Church should cease to be, in it the sacerdotal principle would remain and would have a sway.15

In all Newman's examples, conscience is not left as an unfenced equivalent of secular autonomy but is closely defined and linked with a proper understanding of Christian and indeed Catholic teaching.

In strictly theological language the claim to primacy of conscience is a cliché, which only requires preliminary examination for us to conclude that it needs to be refined and developed to have any plausible meaning at all. I do not even favour the substitution of the primacy of informed conscience, because it is also possible that with good will and conscientious study a devout Catholic could fail to recognise some moral truth and act upon this failure. It is truth, or the word of God, which has primacy, and we have to use our personal capacity to reason practically, that is, exercise our conscience, to try to recognise these particular truths.

While occasionally at the theological level I feel that all I am doing is forcing my way through an open door, it is at the pastoral level that this espousal of the primacy of conscience has disastrous effect. Let me give you a crass but actual example, recounted to me by a friend who witnessed this encounter. A man asked this question; suppose I have been regularly "sleeping with my girlfriend". Would it be wrong for me to be receiving Holy Communion? Without hesitation the theologian replied, "Vatican II has taught that in answering any moral question, you must obey your conscience. Just do that". Such a teaching is insufficient and misleading. Does it mean there are no moral absolutes or authorities? Is it sufficient to follow one's feelings? Or was Charlie Brown correct forty years ago to claim that "it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere"?

In many places, even in the Catholic world, the category of mortal or death-bearing sin is now an endangered species, because the unthinking presumption is that everyone is honestly doing his or her "own thing". Obviously public opinion places limits to this world of easy options, often coterminous with the limits of political correctness, but many areas of sexual conduct and activities such as contraception, abortion, euthanasia, the number of children are "free go" areas, where one opinion is held to be as good as another.

This reflects the fact that there has been a dramatic shift in the tectonic plates of public moral discourse within the Catholic Church, and certainly within the ranks of the other Christian churches. The public disarray in the Anglican churches on the suitability of ordaining active homosexual men and women to the Anglican ministry is one spectacular example of this.

Once upon a time it was pastorally useful, sometimes necessary to explain the possibility of invincible ignorance among those who differed from us, because of the temptation to presume bad faith in opponents. Now for many, tolerance is the first and most important Commandment. Now it is necessary and important for us to argue for the possibility of culpable ignorance, indeed the possibility of culpable ignorance, that usually has been built up through years of sin and is psychologically invincible, short of a miracle. The idea of culpable moral blindness is discussed as infrequently as the pains of hell.

Jesus knew human nature very well and Veritatis Splendor quotes that marvellous saying of Our Lord from St. Matthews gospel: "the eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"16

Christian writers at different times have expounded wonderfully on the concept of culpable moral blindness. St. Thomas More wrote his Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation in the final year of his imprisonment in the Tower, speaking there of conscience's susceptibility to corruption whether by the cynicism and self-love of Father Renard (Father Fox) and Master Wolf, or by conscientious blindness through the stupidity of poor scrupulous Master Ass.17

Even earlier, in 1377-78, St. Catherine of Sienna in her Dialogue spoke of the consequences of pride, sensuality, impatience and the consequent lack of discernment. These four chief vices constitute a tree of death. "Within these trees a worm of conscience nibbles. But as long as a person lives in deadly sin the worm is blinded and is so little felt".18

Christianity and Human Rights

The great saints and doctors of the Church I have quoted to demonstrate that conscience lives under the truth and has to take its bearings from it were not afraid of using Godly language to make this clear. This is also true of Pope John Paul II. There has been a tendency, at least in Australia, and not just among Catholic intellectuals but also among bishops and priests, to make the public argument for Catholic moral claims and social teaching on the basis of secular reason, without too much reference to God. Relying on this approach too much can be a mistake. I think we should follow the example of St. Thomas More and St. Catherine of Siena and others — including the Pope — and make God a central part of the case we make to the world.

As someone who believes, even apart from Revelation, that it is more reasonable to be a theist than an atheist or agnostic, and in societies where 80 or 90 per cent of the population believes in God, we should not concede that secularism is the only basis for public discourse and never accept that Catholic discourse be described as "sectarian" or "partisan".

Not surprisingly, the moral muddle that people find themselves in at the personal level on questions of conscience and autonomy has important consequences at the public level. The Australian moral theologian Tracey Rowland has argued strongly that the reluctance to use Godly language and the explicit language of the Catholic tradition when addressing the common good has not helped this confusion, and may very well have made it worse.

Rowland argues that using secular language to set out Catholic claims does not persuade secularists and only serves to mislead the faithful by suggesting an agreement in substance that does not exist, and which makes it easier for Catholics to accept a secular understanding of autonomy and freedom, especially when it comes to the hard teachings of the Gospel.19 Clearly, a greater use of Godly language in making the Catholic case to the world would be significant step towards rectifying this situation.

There are some in the Church (and Rowland, following Alasdair MacIntyre and David Schindler, is among them) who argue that Catholics should not use (what MacIntyre calls) the "dubious idiom and rhetoric of rights" regnant in Western democracy — either as a basis for dialogue with secularists or as a vehicle for advancing the Catholic understanding of justice, morality and the common good.20 Attempting to do this fails to take account of the way the secular liberal tradition developed in opposition to the classical Christian synthesis and the anthropological assumptions that sustain it.21 The danger in pursuing this course, so it is argued, is that we will gain nothing (because secular liberals will not abandon their secularism simply because we appeal to their liberalism) and lose everything (by inadvertently encouraging recourse to secular understandings of the person, freedom and autonomy among the faithful). But while the identification of this danger by these critics is not entirely misplaced, it is exaggerated. We need to keep a sense of perspective and to remember that while ideas certainly have consequences, the logic they follow in working themselves out rarely proceeds in academic purity.

We are all aware of the enormous secular pressure on the Church to mind its own spiritual and religious business, and to leave the question of which values the community should adopt to those who can consider it in an "unbiased" — i.e. secular — fashion. This is not a position that the Church can ever accept. In Veritatis Splendor the Pope cites the Code of Canon Law to make this abundantly clear, declaring that "the Church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls."22 Note the grounds on which the Church bases its interventions in the public domain: the salvation of souls and the defence of fundamental human rights. While language such as "the salvation of souls" is not much in vogue in Australia (something we should rectify), one of the many ways in which the Church serves this good today is precisely through the defence of fundamental human rights. For John Paul II, abandoning the idea of human rights is not an option.

A dramatic example of this was provided in Evangelium Vitae when the Holy Father referred to indications suggesting "an objective conspiracy against life",23 and against the most fundamental right of all: the right to life. On the one hand, the Pope observed, we have "the various declarations of human rights . . . [and] a growing moral sensitivity, more alert to acknowledging the value and dignity of every human being, without any distinction". But on the other hand, "these noble proclamations" and sentiments are "contradicted by a tragic repudiation of them in practice". This poses, according to the Pope, "a direct threat to the entire culture of human rights".24 When we consider that "many countries, perhaps even departing from basic principles of their Constitutions," have determined not to punish destructive practices against life "and even to make them legal",25 the threat posed to the entire culture of human rights cannot be mistaken for some sort of intellectual abstraction.

The analogue to the primacy of conscience in the private domain is found in what might be called "the primacy of rights" in the public domain. Just as conscience is claimed to have primacy over truth, rights are claimed to have primacy over justice — in the full sense of that word as it understood in the Catholic tradition. In both cases there is an assertion of the self against truth and against other people, to the detriment of both conscience and rights. In Evangelium Vitae John Paul II warned that the threat posed by human rights turning against themselves in this way particularly endangers the rights of the weakest; and is capable "in the end, of jeopardizing the very meaning of democratic coexistence".26 This concern is foreshadowed in Veritatis Splendor when the Holy Father reminds us that "only a morality which acknowledges certain norms as valid always and for everyone, with no exception, can guarantee the ethical foundation of social coexistence," nationally and internationally.27 A culture of rights needs to be soundly based on justice. It is doubtful that the relativist and positivist concepts of justice that predominate today can provide this.

Veritatis Splendor emphasises "the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level, make the acknowledgement of truth impossible". It repeats the words of Centesimus Annus (1991) tracing the violation of human rights to "the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person" and warning against "a democracy without values" which easily becomes "open or thinly disguised totalitarianism".28 The Pope observes that in the face of "fundamental human rights [being] trampled upon and held in contempt" there is a "widespread and acute sense of the need for a radical personal and social renewal capable of ensuring justice, solidarity, honesty and openness".29 The basis for this renewal, and "the unshakeable foundation and essential condition of morality", human rights, justice and "the personal dignity of man" can only be found in the truth: "the truth of God, the Creator and Redeemer, and the truth of man, created and redeemed by him".30

"What is truth?"31 Pilate's derisive question to Our Lord was regarded by Nietzsche as the only insight of any value in the whole New Testament. In the post-modern world of the West which Nietzsche did so much to bring about, Pilate's question is increasingly thrown in the face of the Church as well, sometimes searchingly but more often than not with cynicism and condescension. This incident in the Passion reflects our own situation too, where power sits in judgment on truth and finds it worthy only of condemnation. The arguments against truth take the form of a cascade designed to ensure that it is ruled out of consideration one way or another: there is no such thing as truth; or if there is, we cannot know it with certainty; or if we can, we cannot agree about it. Best then to forget about this problem. Our purported inability to know and live the truth places only one demand before us, that we be tolerant of the views of others. But in the absence of any genuine knowledge about what is intrinsically good or right, tolerance becomes merely one value among many, of equal dignity in fact with intolerance. This helps to explain why what is sometimes described as liberal tolerance so often serves as "a seminary of intolerance" (in Leo Strauss's apt phrase), especially when it is confronted by values or claims which might impede "the uninhibited cultivation of individuality".32

In the absence of truth, on what basis do we give preference to upholding human rights over trampling them underfoot? There is no basis, of course. We simply have to make a decision one way or the other. For some theorists this is sufficient. At one extreme there is the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt who argued that the essential thing is the decision: it does not matter what you decide for, as long as a decision is made and adhered to resolutely until the end.33 At the other extreme there is the American philosopher Richard Rorty, who argues that not only is there no truth to guide us in the consideration of equally valid choices, but that the "truth" of a choice adds nothing to it. Truth is not needed, for once a decision has been made, we live it out in any case "as if" it were true. It is decision that animates action, not truth, and while Rorty would prefer that we make our decision in favour of his own secular liberal values, this applies irrespective of whether we decide to respect or violate human rights.34

This idea of "decisionism" (as others have called it) is drawn upon in different guises as a way of showing how political and social action might be sustained in a situation of radical ethical relativism. In a democracy Rorty is likely to have greater appeal on this score than Schmitt with his particular historical associations, but Schmitt is perhaps the more instructive case for understanding where this approach can lead. The crucial question is whether a mere decision, even a deadly serious decision, in favour of human rights is sufficient to sustain the commitment and action necessary to ensure that rights are consistently respected. Leo Strauss, for one, suggests that a decision is not enough. "Once we realize that the principles of our actions have no other support than blind choice, we really do not believe in them any more. We cannot wholeheartedly act upon them any more. We cannot live any more as responsible beings. In order to live, we have to silence the easily silenced voice of reason, which tells us that our principles are in themselves as good or bad as any other principles." If we are unable to find a foundation for the defence of conscience and human rights in reason and truth, our commitment to both can only be based on "fanatical obscurantism"35 — although obviously we are unlikely to call it by this name.

The denial of truth makes an enduring concept of justice that genuinely serves human life and love impossible. It makes, in short, for nihilism. The practical meaning of this can be seen in the contradiction the Holy Father identifies between a growing awareness of human rights and a repudiation of the fundamental rights of some of the most vulnerable members of the human family. We are so familiar with talk of the "right" to an abortion that it can be difficult for us to recall what a shocking and absurd debasement of the language of rights this is. And now, as medical science continually pushes back the age at which premature babies can be saved, including babies who have survived abortion, abortion activists are beginning to insist that abortion is not just the "right" to terminate a pregnancy, but the "right" to "the extinction of the foetus".36 When upholding human rights entails the assertion of the self against others, the entire culture of rights central to democracy is, as the Pope says, directly threatened. And it strongly suggests that without a firm foundation in the transcendent dignity of the human person and the existence of moral absolutes which place limits on the human will, it becomes harder and harder for people to believe in, and maintain a wholehearted commitment to human rights in all their fullness.

To refuse to use the language of rights and conscience in a situation where the secular understanding of rights is beginning to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, would only deny the Church an opportunity to claw back some ground for an authentic understanding of the person, human freedom and the common good. It is not too farfetched to suggest that the collapse of the secular understanding of human rights raises the prospect of the whole idea of rights disappearing, especially as ideas which are more and more frankly Nietzschean push liberal presuppositions aside.37 For the Church to do nothing to salvage and redeem the language of rights, precisely when the assertion of the self against others is becoming more brutal and the confrontation between power and truth is becoming more clear, would not only be counter-productive. It would also be a betrayal of the transcendent dignity and destiny of the person which John Paul II has so powerfully recommitted the Church to defend.


The Holy Father was right in his Angelus address of this August 17th to claim that "the Christian faith gave form [to Europe], and some of its fundamental values in turn inspired the democratic ideal and human rights of European modernity".

Human rights discourse properly understood can be used by Catholics as a grammar for expressing, rather than diluting, our understanding of duties, especially those owed to the weak. But just as the scientia in conscience, knowing objective truth, has been replaced by preferences, feelings, the invention and construction of moral obligations or options, so too human rights divorced from a proper understanding of the dignity of all persons can be used to further the culture of death and damage the civilization of life and love.

Pope John Paul II, especially in Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae has made an invaluable contribution to this long struggle in which we are privileged to participate, especially by his linking of God, truth and freedom.

— George Cardinal Pell
Archbishop of Sydney

End Notes

  1. Veritatis Splendor §5.
  2. VS §4.
  3. VS §116.
  4. VS §54 & n.100.
  5. VS §60.
  6. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1973), 518.
  7. Ibid. 516.
  8. Dignitatis Humanae §1.
  9. DH §2.
  10. John Courtney Murray SJ, The Documents of Vatican II, gen. ed. William M. Abbot SJ (Chapman, London & Dublin: 1966), 674.
  11. Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Jonathan Cape, London: 1994), 191.
  12. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1-2, 19.5. See also the Commentary In Epistolam ad Romanos, c.14 lect. 2 (ad v.5).
  13. John Henry Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1875); in The Genius of John Henry Newman: Selections from his Writings (Clarendon Press, Oxford: 1989), 267.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid. 263-64. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) §1778.
  16. Mt. 6:22-23.
  17. Thomas More, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (1535), (Sheed & Ward, London: 1951) 93-98. Quoted in John Finnis, "Address to the Thomas More Society," Melbourne, 23 August 1999.
  18. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue (1337-38), (Paulist Press, New York: 1980), §31.
  19. Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (Routledge, London: 2003), 156.
  20. Ibid. 148.
  21. Ibid. 157.
  22. VS §29; citing Canon 747, 2.
  23. Evangelium Vitae §17.
  24. EV sect;18.
  25. EV §4.
  26. EV §18.
  27. VS §97.
  28. VS §§99 & 101 (cf. Centesimus Annus §§44 & 46).
  29. VS §98.
  30. VS §99.
  31. Jn 18:38.
  32. Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (1950), (University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 1965), 5-6.
  33. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1932), trans. George Schwab (1975), (University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 1996).
  34. Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
  35. Strauss 6.
  36. Sacha Zimmerman, "Fetal Position", New Republic, 18 & 25 August 2003.
  37. Cf. Rowland 155 & 158.

© Archdiocese of Sydney

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