Conclusions of the 2nd Meeting

Author: European Meeting on Human Rights


Organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family

Conclusions of the Second Meeting of European Politicians and Legislators on Human Rights and Rights of the Family

Held in the Vatican on 22-24 October 1998

We have come from all European nations to reflect on the theme of human rights and the rights of the family and we have dialogued on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on everything concerning the family, the primary cell of society, which is so necessary to society in its irreplaceable mission, development, challenges and also sufferings.

We have reflected on the relationship between the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the Rights of the Family, published by the Holy See in 1983. Here are some conclusions drawn up and approved unanimously by our Assembly, which we would like to share in particular with those who work, like us, in the service of society, in the search for the common good.

1.1 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, solemnly proclaimed on 10 December 1948, gave the United Nations (UN) the necessary moral authority to carry out the mission entrusted to it: to work for peace, development and the protection of the rights of every human being. The States were invited to include these rights in their own respective legislation. This concerns protecting the life of every human person (art. 3), respecting everyone's freedom, and recognizing different fundamental rights including "the right to marry and to found a family" (art. 16.1), considered as "the natural and fundamental group unit of society" and "entitled to protection by society and the State" (art. 16.3). Moreover, all the social, civil, political, economic and cultural. rights proclaimed in the Declaration are aimed at the good of persons, intermediary bodies and the entire human community.

1.2 It is not only as "Individual beings" that people should be respected but as persons, created in the image of God, capable of discerning the truth and conforming their conduct to it, as well as living in harmony with others in society (cf. John Paul II, Fides et ratio, nn. 3, 24). The 1948 Declaration is in harmony with this view of man and it explains its consequences.

1.3 The Declaration has served more than once to prevent conflicts, contest new forms of totalitarianism, inspire respect for the rights of peoples, promote decolonization, and encourage development and peace. In so doing it has shown its fruitfulness.

1.4 However, we, men and women engaged in politics and lawmakers taking part in this meeting, unanimously state that the Declaration is often overlooked and even scorned in practice, or distorted through reinterpretations of the rights enunciated in it. Such distortions particularly undermine the family institution.

A certain disdain for the rights of the family and the right to life

2.1 Human rights, whose universal importance was stressed in 1948, are neither fully recognized nor respected everywhere, whether by governmental or private bodies. Here are some examples concerning the family and life in particular which can unfortunately be seen even in Europe:

2.2 *Article 3: Right to life: denied in the laws which allow - and in fact encourage - abortion, embryo destruction and, in some countries, euthanasia;

2.3 *Article 12: Right to respect for one's privacy and reputation: press campaigns, calumnious accusations, discriminatory "labels" ("fundamentalists", "knights of the moral order", "pro-life fanatics"); mockery of young persons who resist sexual permissiveness, etc.

2.4 *Article 16: Right to marry and to found a family: devaluation of the marriage institution; apathy of public authorities in the face of society's ethical deviation (promiscuity of youth, cohabitation without any commitment and sense of responsibility, growth of a militant, even proselytizing homosexuality without respect for others and existing institutions), taxation and housing policies unfavourable to the family.

2.5 *Article 26: Parents' right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children: abuses in the sex education given to children in schools or in health-care services, contraception and sometimes abortion for adolescents who are removed from their parents' protection, limitation of parents' freedom in choosing education and schooling in conformity with their own convictions.

Attempts to distort human rights

3.1 Such distortions are in fact favoured by the "reinterpretations" of the 1948 Declaration which fundamentally alter its meaning. Over and above the rights recognized, declared and proclaimed in the Declaration, some "new human rights" are being presented resulting from cultural tendencies, negotiations, pressures and consensual procedures, in the framework of intergovernmental activities.

3.2 After the Conferences of Cairo (1994) and Beijing (1995), many LIN agencies, often supported by the European Union, have been making efforts to obtain an international consensus. on some of these so-called "new rights" These include in particular "reproductive health" (a formulation which in fact includes abortion) and adolescents' right to practise sexuality, both hetero- or homosexual, with the use of contraceptives.

3.3 These distortions and others, like assisted suicide, the growth of homosexuality and paedophilia, are also inspired by utilitarian, agnostic and even pragmatic, nihilistic and scientistic philosophies (cf. John Paul II, Fides et ratio, nn. 46, 88, 89, 90, 91), as well as by the ideology of "gender". Therefore, it is not simply a matter of adding so-called "new rights" to the universal rights proclaimed in 1948, but of causing a break in the meaning of human rights and of actually diverting them from their profound sense. The "agents" of this new trend base it not only on a reflection about the human person but also on so-called consensual procedures. Persons, families and States themselves should adjust to this conception of "consensus", which is both positivist and relativist.

3.4 For some people, this distortion would also be due to the ideological influence exercised today by the "New Age", with its "sacralization" of nature, and more particularly of the "Earth". In this perspective, man should not be considered the centre of history, the subject of rights and duties, but a mere ephemeral accident of nature that should be calibrated according to the planet's "holding capacity".

3.5 In contrast to these relativistic and nihilistic trends, the 1948 Universal Declaration reflectsthe natural law in a certain way: i.e., the innate human capacity to seek and discern what is true, right and good. We endorse this view of man and see in it the moral foundation for affirming the dignity and rights of every human being, hence the rights of the basic human community: the family.

Recognize and support the family!

4.1 As politicians and legislators faithful to the Universal Declaration , we commit ourselves to promoting and defending the rights of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman. This must be done at all levels: local, regional, national and international. Only in this way can we be true servants of the common good, at both the national and international levels. We call attention here to what we believe are some of the crucial issues facing politicians and legislators today.

4.2 In accord with the Universal Declaration , European legislation has recognized marriage as a natural institution, with binding juridical effects. Marriage creates the family because it establishes a stable union of reciprocal giving, between a man and a woman, open to mutual love, procreation and child-raising. This is the marriage institution which society must defend as a value on which its future depends. To recognize - as some now demand in order to avoid discrimination - other unions as "marriage", or to grant them equivalent social rights and advantages as those recognized for marriage, would undermine the institution of marriage and consequently the family.

4.3 The Church is aware that by welcoming, promoting and defending the natural institution of marriage which Christ raised to the dignity of a sacrament of the New Law, she is defending society and the true good of man.

4.4 The family is prior" to the State, and more necessary than it, according to Aristotle's words (Nicomachean Ethics, III, 12, 18). The family "first of all ...expects a recognition of its identity and an acceptance of its statusas a subject in society" it is "more a subject than any other social institution", as emphasized by the Holy Father John Paul II in his Letter to Families, Gratissimam sane (nn. 15 and 17). This means respecting the autonomy and even the "sovereignty" of the family.

4.5. The relationships between family and society must be founded on respect for the principle of subsidiarity. In fact, the family is the natural basis for human education and development. It is the institution capable of forming man entirely and making him grow in humanity. Moreover, the family provides care and safety for the weakest members of society: children, the aged, the disabled and the chronically ill. The family protects those who are most vulnerable to marginalization.

4.6 Social legislation and policy should protect the role of mothers. Women should be free to be mothers and not forced by economic or social pressures to work outside the home. Work in the home ought to be recognized as a real and essential economic activity that produces goods. We salute those European politicians and legislators who have fought to promote the right to motherhood through just legislation and good social policy. We call on all our colleagues to examine together what can be done to create the conditions for women to carry out their indispensable work of forming the next generation, without preventing them from participating on an equal basis in society, whether in the workplace or the political arena.

4.7 The facts show that a demographic implosion afflicts Europe today. Fertility rates below the replacement level in the different countries are producing a rapidly aging population with the resulting future economic and social problems. If children are the wealth of nations, today Europe is poverty-stricken! Hope in the future must be encouraged, and investment in future generations must replace the seeking after selfish, short-term gains. The family is the most important factor in future development because it is the community where human capital in all its dimensions is created. Legislation that does not support marriage and responsible procreation by aiding child-raising at home should be amended. Taxation that does not favour couples with children should be changed.

4.8 We salute all men and women with political responsibility and the legislators of Europe who are committed to the proclamation and defence of life, very often in a situation of conceptual crisis and a loss of values. They are working hard to protect the innate rights of the weakest in society: the unborn, the aged and the disabled. Special attention should be paid to the protection of the human embryo from experiments and manipulation. We renew our own commitment to the basic right to life affirmed in the Universal Declaration , article 3.

4.9 We call on our fellow politicians and legislators to recognize the pedagogical role of the law insofar as it affects family life. Laws that weaken the family encourage a mentality of scepticism and confusion about Its role. Social and economic policies that discriminate against the family cause indifference to its rights and well-being. Legislation in favour of abortion and divorce leads to widespread contempt for human life and enduring family relationships.

4.10 We call on our fellow politicians and legislators to recognize and promote the irreplaceable educational role of the family in forming future citizens for a truly democratic society. In fact, it is in the family that one first learns to serve the common good. The family can be described as school of civilization, freedom, solidarity and love.

4.11 Many participants in our Assembly carry out their work in the nations of Eastern Europe, where an impression is often created that it is not possible for those nations to become full members of the European Union unless they accept certain programmes of dubious morality. The mass media reinforce this impression. Christians and other people of good will who oppose these goals are depicted as being opposed to joining Europe. In the name of their own dignity, sovereignty and fidelity to democratic ideals, these nations have the right and responsibility to maintain and defend the culture of life and to protect the family and its rights in the "common European home" of the future.

4.12 The Holy Father John Paul II, during his 20 years as Peter's Successor, has given a strong, clear impulse to the cause of the family and life, as a defender of the Truth and bearer of hope. The audience he granted to us and the words he addressed to us were particularly encouraging.

4.13 We call on all our colleagues to organize meetings for reflection and dialogue similar to this one. We want to be involved in these initiatives in the different countries. We are convinced that all consistent efforts to defend human rights and the rights of the family will be a seed of hope for the future of our nations and the whole of Europe. Despite the current challenges to the rights of the person and the family, we look with hope toward a Europe where the family can flourish and where human life can be welcomed and loved.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 January 1999, page 8

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