Statement Issued for Fifth Anniversary of Encyclical Evangelium Vitae

Author: Pontifical Academy for Life


Pontifical Academy for Life

During the Sixth General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, held in Rome from 11 to 14 February, a group of experts from various nations representing the five continents met in a common task of study and research and presented separate but coordinated reports illustrating the change of thought and law concerning the right to life in the areas of procreation, the integral development of the individual, the human advancement of peoples, medical assistance and the dignity of the dying, as they are found today five years after the publication of the Encyclical Evangelium vitae.

The teaching of His Holiness John Paul Il's Encyclical Evangelium vitae and the Church's efforts in recent years to defend life in the context of international and national policies and norms formed the thematic and normative reference point for the reports and ensuing discussions, to which participants made their contributions according to the Academy's particular methodology.

At the end of their work the academicians made the following observations. Here is a translation of their statement, which was written in Italian.

1. In agreement with the Encyclical Evangelium vitae we reaffirm our conviction that "man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.... The Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel" (Evangelium vitae, n. 2). This Gospel is waiting to be proclaimed to all men and women, so that they will love the life of every human being and strengthen their awareness of the need to defend life also during its earthly experience, from fertilization until natural death.

2. In analyzing the international discussion over the last five years, we recognize the great timeliness of the Encyclical, in which the Church condemns a series of attacks on human life, such as contraception, sterilization, abortion, artificial procreation, the production, manipulation and destruction of human embryos and euthanasia. Today these call for ever greater social and legal vigilance, since there is a tendency to recognize them as positive rights.

3. Indeed, the distinctive feature of our time consists not only in the killing of innocent human beings, which has been perpetrated since antiquity, but in something far worse: the legalization of this crime in specific circumstances, as though it were "a right". It is no surprise then that the most serious and critical controversies arise precisely with regard to the law (cf. Evangelium vitae, n. 72). Recent history indicates, as the Holy Father has observed, that "the evidence shows with increasing clarity how policies and laws opposed to life are causing societies to decline, not only morally but demographically and economically. The Encyclical's message can therefore be presented not only as true and authentic guidelines for moral rebirth, but also as a reference-point for civil salvation" (Address at the Commemoration of the Fifth Anniversary of the Encyclical " Evangelium vitae", 14 February, n. 4; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 23 February, p. 4).

We, academicians, fully agreed with the Holy Father's statement that "there is no reason for that type of defeatist mentality which claims that laws opposed to the right to life— those which legalize abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and methods of family planning opposed to life and the dignity of marriage—are inevitable and now almost a social necessity. On the contrary, they are a seed of corruption for society and its foundations. The civil and moral conscience cannot accept this false inevitability, any more than the idea that war or interethnic extermination is inevitable" (ibid.).

4. On the other hand, we note that if there are countries, including those rich in economic resources, where ways of suppressing human life have been legalized, in many other countries such laws are rejected by the popular conscience; and in others we can see a growing opposition to such laws. To know the status of the right to life more precisely at the legal-juridical level, to identify the deep cultural trends, to foresee possible developments, to enshrine justice for human life in the law is the primary task of intellectuals, whether Christian or not, particularly of jurists and politicians.

5. We recall the Church's right and duty to proclaim and to present publicly the principles of moral and social life that are inspired by the Gospel and Christianity's 2,000-year tradition. While this duty derives from the mandate which Christ himself gave his Church, the corresponding right is the expression of a religious and political freedom accorded the faithful by a just democratic society and finds codified recognition in almost all the concordats between Church and State; this right can not only be understood generically, but extends to the whole area of human and social rights, first among which is the defence and promotion of human life.

Therefore, as the Pope reminds us, "no effort should be spared to eliminate legalized crime or at least to limit the damage caused by these laws, but with the vivid awareness of the radical duty to respect every human being's right to life from conception until natural death, including the life of the lowliest and the least gifted (ibid.).... The changing of laws must be preceded and accompanied by the changing of mentalities and morals on a vast scale, in an extensive and visible way. In this area the Church will spare no effort nor can she accept negligence or guilty silence" (ibid., n. 6).

6. Therefore, the Supreme Pontiff has good reason to write: "To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love" (Evangelium vitae, n. 6). "Life, truth, love: words full of stimulating suggestions for human efforts in the world. They are rooted in the message of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, but they are also impressed upon the hearts and yearnings of every man and woman" (Address, n. 2).

We see signs of this sure hope on several continents where families, even amid difficulties, are continuing to live their ideals and to teach the young (the political leaders of the future) the indispensable values of life. We see other signs of hope in those constitutions, laws and national and international conventions which are meant to promote and defend human life at every moment of its existence and in its proper environment, with the knowledge, though only implicit, that "it is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life.... Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace" (cf. Evangelium vitae, n. 101). We find other signs in the dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholics on the defence of the right to life and the dignity of every person. These signs of hope, which the Holy Spirit always offers people of good will, also give certainty, serenity and strength to our renewed denunciations of the culture of death.

7. We accept the urgency and difficulty of this task, knowing well that Christians are called to be active in the real world of today: uncertain and changing, tempted to sacrifice transcendence to immanence and the supreme values to prosperity, they are also prompted to take refuge in pragmatic and utilitarian conventionalism, rather than to ally themselves with truth and reason. However, our hope is based not only on help from the Lord of life but also on the conviction that the sacred value of human life can be recognized in the natural law alone, written in the human heart, disregard for which is at the root "of a tragic obscuring of the collective conscience" (Evangelium vitae, n. 70).

8. According to Gospel teaching (cf. Mt 13:24-30), the coexistence of the good seed with the weeds is an experience that cannot be removed from the history of man's temporal life. But this fact, far from leading to the temptation of a negative, sterile resignation or a facile conformity to the prevalent mentality, confirms our responsibility as Christians in the Church and in society, and leads us to seek opportunities for reflection and dialogue with everyone who recognizes that the genuine progress of society is based on the unconditional protection of the fundamental good of human life. In particular, as the Holy Father says, "another extensive area of endeavour in the defence of life is open to the initiative of the believing community: this is the pastoral and educational field which the fourth part of the Encyclical discusses, offering particular guidelines for building a new culture of life" (Address, n. 5).

At the dawn of the new millennium, as believers and members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, we sense the Church's obligation to proclaim to men and women, with courageous fidelity, the full truth of the Gospel of life which is at the heart of Jesus' message (cf. Evangelium vitae, n. 1). In grateful unity with His Holiness John Paul II, to whose teaching we confirm our full and filial adherence, and under the protection of Mary, Virgin and Mother of the Incarnate Word, we renew our total commitment to serve the life of every human being.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
15 March 2000, page 6

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