A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

The Pope, Bush, Right-to-Life and Religious Freedom


Interview With Philosopher Father Jesús Villagrasa

ROME, 7 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)

At his meeting with George Bush, John Paul II called for the speedy restoration of Iraq's sovereignty, new peace talks in the Holy Land, and more U.S.-European cooperation.

The Pope also acknowledged the Bush administration's commitment to the right to life and the family.

Why did the Holy Father want to highlight these values? To answer this question, ZENIT interviewed philosopher Father Jesús Villagrasa, who on Friday published, in the Spanish edition of L'Osservatore Romano, a long article entitled "The Right to Life and to Religious Freedom ... European Constitution."

Legionary Father Villagrasa analyzed the topics the Pope discussed with U.S. President Bush not only on Friday but also in his two previous meetings.

Q: How are Bush, the right to life, and religious freedom related as discussed in your article?

Father Villagrasa: There is a coincidence. In the first audience John Paul II granted Bush as president [July 23, 2001], the Pope expressed the appreciation of the whole Catholic Church for the United States' commitment in the promotion of religious freedom, which is one of the highest expressions of respect of human dignity and "an important objective of North American policy in the international community."

Then the Pope reminded him that the right to life is the most fundamental of human rights and that in defending it "the United States can show the world the way toward a truly human future." Bush wished to promote these two rights. I don't know how successful he has been.

Q: Why give so much importance to the right of religious freedom?

Father Villagrasa: In Number 47 of the encyclical "Centesimus Annus," John Paul II uses an amazing expression. He affirms that, in a certain sense, religious freedom is the "source and synthesis" of human rights.

This number speaks of the need that democracies have of solid juridical ordering, founded on the recognition of human rights, of which the latter is "source and synthesis."

Q: Of what does the right of religious freedom consist?

Father Villagrasa: Of the right to immunity from external coercion in religious matters on the part of the political power, of just limitations. This right has an individual and communitarian, private and public, dimension.

It does not mean "right to error," nor does it imply relativism, agnosticism, or skepticism, nor "promotion" of religious pluralism, nor mere "tolerance" of the religious event.

It is a civil right which follows from the moral obligation that man has to seek the truth, "above all, the one that refers to religion," to adhere to it, and to "order all his life according to the demands of truth."

Q: The Pope says "in a certain sense." In what sense is it source and synthesis of human rights?

Father Villagrasa: In the sense that it guarantees that man can fulfill himself and reach his ultimate end.

Religion touches the most profound sphere of a person his conscience and personal relation with God that which gives ultimate meaning to the whole of life and to individual choices and decisions.

A person is capable of knowing the good and of freely seeking it, of recognizing evil and rejecting it, of choosing truth and opposing error.

Man's dignity consists in that he has been created a person, capable of acting on his own, freely, to reach his ultimate perfection through his actions, to order himself to the ultimate end, to which he tends naturally; this is why he is able to know and love God explicitly, to accept divine revelation and to respond to it, why he is able to participate, by grace, in eternal life.

He must himself journey on this path of life. Conscience is his guide, the capacity to discern and act according to a law that God has inscribed in man's heart, in obedience to which he finds his moral dignity.

No human authority has the right to force any man's conscience. Truth is not imposed but is accepted in virtue of itself. As the search for truth is identified on the objective plane with the search for God, the close relation is clear which exists between freedom of conscience and religious freedom.

Q: But, it seems obvious that the right to life is more fundamental as the Pope said in his first audience to Bush.

Father Villagrasa: It should be obvious. If the existence of the subject of rights is not guaranteed, no other right is safe.

This is why the magisterium of the Church says that it is a primary, unconditional, inalienable, and fundamental right, root and source of all other rights.

But even the most obvious seems to be clouded. In that audience the Pope said to Bush that experience shows that a "tragic dulling of consciences" accompanies abortion, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in face of other evils such as euthanasia, infanticide, and the creation in view of research of human embryos destined to destruction in that process.

Q: Which right do you consider most important or fundamental?

Father Villagrasa: Each one, in its own way, is fundamental. Man "lives" his relation with God in two ways: one, in an actual way given, that as a creature, he exists and lives because God the creator keeps him in being; another, in a moral or religious way, insofar as man freely orders his acts to God.

Two rights correspond to the two ways of relating to God: life which is sacred, a gift that God gives and conserves; and religious freedom to live as person on the way to Life.

Q: On Friday, the Pope expressed the hope for greater cooperation between Europe and the United States. Are you not asking that Europeans learn from Bush after what happened in Iraq?

Father Villagrasa: It would be to ask for much humility. Perhaps they might want to learn from the Fathers of Europe.

The vivid memory of the tragedies and collapses of the first half of the 20th century inspired the three first architects of the New Europe: Adenauer, Schuman and De Gasperi. The "legal" violation of the right to life and the social tensions in present-day multicultural and multireligious Europe should arouse a similar sense of responsibility in the new builders, so that they do not neglect those rights that support the whole edifice.
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