The Moral Dignity of the Human Person

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By George Weigel

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Basically all problems of justice have as their main cause the fact that the person is not sufficiently respected, taken into consideration or loved for what he or she is. People must learn or learn anew to look at one another, to listen to one another, to walk together. That obviously presupposes that people share in common a minimum of human values, the recognition of which is able to motivate convergent choices.

This brings me naturally to that other form of poverty: moral destitution. The reception currently being given to the Catechism of the Catholic Church of itself shows our contemporaries’ felt need for references. Reflecting currents of opinion and fashion, the means of social communication often transmit indulgent messages which excuse everything and result in an unrestrained permissiveness. Thus the dignity and stability of the family are not recognized or are changed.

Many young people are coming to consider almost everything as objectively indifferent: the only reference is what suits the convenience of the individual, and quite often the end justifies the means. Now, as we can see, a society without values rapidly grows “hostile” to the individual who becomes the victim of personal profit, of a brutal exercise of authority, of fraud and crime. Today too many people have a bitter experience of this, and I know that statesmen are conscious of these serious problems which they must face each day.

I would like to restate here the Church’s readiness to cooperate in the authentic moral development of societies by her witness of faith, the contribution of her reflection and the aid of her activities. She must still be given a place in public dialogue: one sometimes has the impression of a desire on the part of some people to relegate religion to the private sphere, under the pretext that believers’ convictions and norms of behavior are synonymous with reaction or an attack on freedom.

The Catholic Church, present in every nation of the earth, and the Holy See, a member of the international community, in no way wish to impose judgments or precepts, but merely to give the witness of their concept of man and history, which they know comes from a divine Revelation. Society cannot afford to forgo this original contribution without violating the freedom of thought and expression of a large part of its citizens.

If the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not offer ready-made responses to the many social and economic problems assailing contemporary man, it nevertheless shows what is important to God, and therefore for human destiny. This is what Christians propose to those who are willing to hear their voice. Despite difficulties, the Catholic Church for her part will continue to offer her disinterested cooperation so that at the end of this century man will be better enlightened and able to free himself from the idols of this age. Christians’ only ambition is to show that they understand personal and collective history as a meeting between God and mankind, of which Christmas is its most shining expression.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.