Address given by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace,to a conference on human rights. The conference was in Bratislava, organized by the Slovakian bishops' conference.
Many people speak of human rights. Very rightly, they refer to their violations. Very rightly, they proclaim that human rights must be protected. Very rightly, they advocate that human rights must be promoted. Yet what are the human rights we are talking about?
The first sentence of the Preamble of the Universal Declaration states: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” That is, the ground, the foundation, the substrate of human rights and freedoms is “the inherent dignity of the human person”.
This dignity is perceived and understood first of all by reason. It is not found in the human will or in the reality of the State or in public powers. It is found in the human person himself and in God his Creator. The philosopher Jacques Maritain, who helped to draft the Universal Declaration, put this point succinctly when he wrote:
the worth of the person, his liberty, his rights arise from the order of naturally sacred things which bear upon them the imprint of the Father of Being and which have in him the goal of their movement. A person possesses absolute dignity because he is in direct relationship with the Absolute, in which alone he can find his complete fulfilment.
This is utterly radical. Your human rights and mine do not depend upon the will of other people. Human rights arise from our dignity as created in the image and likeness of God.
The Church has a serious concern when the ideology of a particular group of individuals can somehow create a new human right. One example is the attempt on the part of some to legitimize the killing of an unborn child through the promotion of so-called “reproductive rights”, “reproductive services” and other loaded terms which mask the tragedy of abortion.
Euthanasia, according to some, should also be a human right, and not only for adults! For the first time in history, in February 2014, the Belgian parliament accepted the principle that even a child, with no limit of minimum age, could ask to be killed to end his/her suffering. "This law – the Bishops of Belgium wrote — opens the doors to the extension of euthanasia to the handicapped, the demented, the mentally ill and eventually to those who are tired of life.” Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, said it is urgent to rediscover how to support the vulnerable people around us so that our society can once again call itself “human society”.
Another example is the use of the term “gender” to suggest that sex is not biologically grounded as male and female but is simply a social construct or produced by what individuals think or feel they are. Moreover, attempts to recognize those engaging in homosexual behaviour as a specific group to be accorded human rights go beyond the protection to be guaranteed to all people under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Related to this is the suggestion that marriage could somehow be redefined, despite the fact that marriage is, by nature, between one man and one woman for their mutual love and increase of the human family, as affirmed in international law. Such positions distort reality because they attempt to rewrite human nature, which de natura cannot be rewritten.
As Cardinal Francis George of Chicago stated with great clarity, “The nature of marriage is not a religious question. Marriage comes to us from nature. Christ sanctifies marriage as a sacrament for the baptized, giving it significance beyond its natural reality; the State protects marriage because it is essential to family and to the common good of society. But neither Church nor State invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.”
In this context, the Church vigorously upholds the rights to life and bodily security of everyone, everyone, regardless of their perceived “sexual differences.” The Church sees this as a matter of the most basic rights. Homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
Thus, while the Church regrets the discordance between homosexual behaviour as such and what we understand as the norm for God-given human nature, she upholds the integrity of everyone’s rights. See our Lord’s reaction when the townspeople wished to stone a woman to death for adultery: He managed to preserve her life and bodily security (John 8:1-11).