January 22, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

‘Charity in Truth’: Development and life issues

John F. Fink(Seventh in a series of columns)

As we again this week observe the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s

Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in this country, let us examine what Pope Benedict XVI said about the life issues in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”).

The encyclical, of course, is not primarily about the life issues. It is the latest in the popes’ series of social justice encyclicals. However, the pope said, “Respect for life cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples.”

The first such question that he addressed is demographic control on the part of governments that promote contraception, and even go so far as to impose abortion. He said that legislation contrary to life is widespread in economically developed countries and it has contributed to an anti-birth mentality.

He criticized non-governmental organizations that work actively to spread abortion and sterilization, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. This is wrong, he insisted, because “openness to life is at the center of true development.”

An anti-life attitude, he said, that includes the denial or suppression of life destroys the motivation and energy to strive for humanity’s true good. However, the acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber and makes people capable of mutual help.

When we cultivate openness to life, he said, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones. They can then avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources just to satisfy selfish desires of their own citizens.

The encyclical also had much to say about bioethics, which the pope is “a particularly crucial battleground in today’s cultural struggle between the supremacy of technology and human moral responsibility.” We face a fundamental question: Are we the product of our own labors or do we depend on God?

Technology now makes possible in vitro fertilization, embryo research, and the manufacturing of clones and human hybrids. However, the pope said, “Entranced by an exclusive reliance on technology, reason without faith is doomed to flounder in an illusion of its own omnipotence.”

However, he said, it’s also true that “faith without reason risks being cut off from everyday life.” Both are required.

There is also society’s culture of death. Not only do we have the scourge of abortion, but we are now witnessing the eugenic programming of births. And, at the other end of the spectrum, a

pro-euthanasia mindset is making inroads. It asserts that, under certain circumstances, someone is considered no longer worth living.

These scenarios and cultural viewpoints deny human dignity, the pope said, and he asked who can measure the negative effects of this kind of mentality for development. An indifference to human degradation, he said, even extends to our attitude toward what is and is not human.

In one of his most powerful sentences, he said, “While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human.” †

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