Pope highlights 'strong link' between life issues and social ethics in new encyclical


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Vatican City, Jul 7, 2009 / 05:57 am (CNA).- In his first social encyclical Caritas in veritate (Love in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI makes clear that social issues cannot be disconnected from the defense of life from the moment of conception to its natural end, and that the defense of the right to life cannot be compromised when seeking common ground on other social issues.

Explaining the importance of the social magisterium of Pope Paul VI, Benedict XVI writes that the Encyclical Humanae Vitae is "highly important for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes." "The Encyclical Humanae Vitae," the Pope writes, "emphasizes both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexuality, thereby locating at the foundation of society the married couple, man and woman, who accept one another mutually, in distinction and in complementarity: a couple, therefore, that is open to life."

"This," the Pope explains, "is not a question of purely individual morality: Humanae Vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics, ushering in a new area of magisterial teaching that has gradually been articulated in a series of documents, most recently John Paul II's Encyclical Evangelium Vitae."

"The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics," the Pope adds.

Later in the encyclical, Pope Benedict highlights that "one of the most striking aspects of development in the present day is the important question of respect for life, which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples."

Moreover, the Pope says that the life issues oblige "us to broaden our concept of poverty and underdevelopment to include questions connected with the acceptance of life, especially in cases where it is impeded in a variety of ways."

The Pope denounces the fact that "some parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion."

"In economically developed countries," he continues, "legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress."

Benedict XVI also denounces non-governmental organizations such as Planned Parenthood for working "actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned."

"Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures."

"Further grounds for concern," the Pope notes, "are laws permitting euthanasia as well as pressure from lobby groups, nationally and internationally, in favour of its juridical recognition."

In his new encyclical, the Holy Father insists that "openness to life is at the centre of true development," and warns that "when a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good."

"If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away."

Explaining the incompatibility between a mentality that accepts legal abortion as a given and a true social commitment to the common good of society, the Pope also writes that "the acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and every individual."

Later in the encyclical, in number 44, Pope Benedict further explains that "the notion of rights and duties in development must also take account of the problems associated with population growth. This is a very important aspect of authentic development, since it concerns the inalienable values of life and the family," he says.

"To consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment is mistaken, even from an economic point of view," he writes.

"Suffice it to consider, on the one hand, the significant reduction in infant mortality and the rise in average life expectancy found in economically developed countries, and on the other hand, the signs of crisis observable in societies that are registering an alarming decline in their birth rate."

The Pope's encyclical also touches on sexuality as it relates to the Church's "concern for man's authentic development." The Church, the Pope explains, "urges him to have full respect for human values in the exercise of his sexuality.

It cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the ‘risk' of procreation."

"It is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure, and likewise to regulate it through strategies of mandatory birth control. In either case materialistic ideas and policies are at work, and individuals are ultimately subjected to various forms of violence. Against such policies, there is a need to defend the primary competence of the family in the area of sexuality," the Pope also writes.

The Holy Father also recalls that "morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. Populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates."

"Furthermore," the Pontiff laments, "smaller and at times minuscule families run the risk of impoverishing social relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity. These situations are symptomatic of scant confidence in the future and moral weariness."

"In view of this," Pope Benedict proposes that States "enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character."

To read Pope Benedict XVI's full encyclical, please visit: