VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has encouraged an international movement that serves as a political counterweight to the growing number of politicians supporting anti-life policies around the world.
In a private audience with members of the Institute for Human Dignity Dec. 7, the Holy Father warned there is “no lack of powers and forces” that produces a “throwaway culture” whose victims are “precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings.”
“The unborn, the poorest people, sick, elderly people, gravely disabled people [are] in danger of being ‘thrown out’,” he said. “This false model of man and society embodies a practical atheism, de facto negating the Word of God that says: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”
The Institute for Human Dignity, otherwise known as the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), celebrated its fifth anniversary on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The Rome-based institute aims to create working groups of politicians around the world to defend man on the basis he is born in the image and likeness of God. The purpose of these groups is to promote the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity in various legislatures around the world. The document, which forms the written basis of the Institute, states that man’s most fundamental right is to be recognized as having been created in the image and likeness of God.
Currently there are five working groups on human dignity. Benjamin Harnwell, DHI’s founder, said their work is to promote human dignity in the context of the “immeasurable contribution the Christian faith has given to Western civilization” and to do so “through moderate and reasonable argument.”
Pope: Dignity ‘Cannot Be Suppressed’
After expressing his thanks for the meeting, the Pope reminded those present that the dignity of every man and woman “cannot be suppressed” and “cannot be touched by any power or ideology.”
“Unfortunately, in our epoch, so rich in many accomplishments and hopes, there is no lack of powers and forces that end up producing a throwaway culture and this threatens to become the dominant mentality,” he said.
But he stressed that if, instead, man allows himself to be “interrogated” by the Word of God, letting it “question” conscience and “shake up our discussions […] then things can change.”
“The force of this Word poses limits on whoever wants to rule by abusing the rights and dignity of others,” the Pope said. “At the same time, it gives hope and consolation to those who are not able to defend themselves, to those who do not have access to the intellectual and practical means to affirm the value of their suffering, of their rights, of their life.”
He added that the Church’s social doctrine is “our compass,” a fruit of which “is the defense of religious liberty, of life in all its phases, of the right to work and to decent work, of the family, of education.”
The DHI’s initiatives are therefore welcome, he said, helping people, communities and institutions to “rediscover the ethical and social importance of the principle of human dignity, which is the root of liberty and justice.”
As well as “raising awareness and formation” so all lay people and especially politicians can understand this, he also highlighted the importance of reaching out “with sincerity and intellectual honesty” all those who “at least share — if not the faith — a similar vision of man and society and its ethical consequences.”
“There are not a few Christians and non-believers, who are convinced that the human person must always be an end and never a means,” he said.
Reaching Out to All
Addressing Pope Francis during the audience, DHI’s president, Cardinal Renato Martino, said that to evangelize the culture “is the activity and ambition” of the institute, but he added that “we work with all people of good will.”
“We are firmly ecumenical in our approach, respectful and tolerant of those with other, different faiths, but we celebrate with joy our uncompromising inspiration by the holy word of God and Catholic social teaching,” he said.
Speaking after the audience, Nirj Deva, a member of the European Parliament and one of DHI’s originators, was particularly struck by Pope Francis’ instruction to the institute to reach out to all people. “The Holy Father picked up on a very important point, which is to include not only Catholics but people who in all sincerity believe what we believe,” he told the Register.
Deva said the “great virtue” of the Universal Declaration of Human Dignity is that it “helps to put the spine back into Christian democracy” and is what makes the Institute unique. But he would also like to see the institute creating a forum in which politicians and the media from all sides come together and look dispassionately at where society is heading. He would like DHI’s mission expand to organize debates focused on the tragic and nihilistic consequences of the secular humanist vision. “They [secular humanists] themselves will say, ‘Oh my gosh, is this really what we want?’” he said. “It’s much better [to bring us all together] that way than just us banging on about something they may not understand.”
Plans for Expansion
Looking ahead, the institute wants to expand by establishing more parliamentary working groups on human dignity parliaments in Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa and Latin America, but particularly in countries in Northern Europe.
“That’s where many of the problems are,” Deva said, and he cited Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Belgium. Noting that in Latvia there are 800 abortions out of every 1,000 births, he said setting up an institute there must be a priority.
As with many institutes of this kind, funding is a constant need. Deva recalled how President Barack Obama managed to raise $300 million, while campaigning for the presidency, by simply asking Americans to donate a dollar or two. “We should look at doing the same,” he said.
Deva had high praise for Pope Francis, saying he is a “true successor to the fisherman” by showing it through his example of living a life of humility. Harnwell was also especially encouraged by Francis’s words and noted his ability to surprise.
“I was very glad to see politicians, who have been doggedly loyal to the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life, saying at the end how encouraged they were,” he said. “They were thrilled to hear the Holy Father bring back to the forefront the forgotten human dignity of the unborn: those who really are the most voiceless among us.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.