Pope Benedict forcefully speaks of human dignity, natural law to new US ambassador

Today the Holy Father accepted the credentials of the new ambassador from the USA to the Holy See, Honorable Miguel Humberto Díaz.

Here is the Holy Father’s discourse with my emphases and comments.

Your Excellency,

[First comes all the diplomatic stuff…] I am pleased to accept the Letters by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America. I recall with pleasure my meeting with President Barack Obama and his family last July, and willingly reciprocate the kind greetings which you bring from him. I also take this occasion to express my confidence that diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See, formally initiated twenty-five years ago, will continue to be marked by fruitful dialogue and cooperation in the promotion of human dignity, respect for fundamental human rights, and the service of justice, solidarity and peace within the whole human family[Something of a foreshadowing?]

In the course of my Pastoral Visit to your country last year I was pleased to encounter a vibrant democracy, committed to the service of the common good and shaped by a vision of equality and equal opportunity based on the God-given dignity and freedom of each human being. ["human dignity" for the second time…] That vision, enshrined in the nation’s founding documents, continues to inspire the growth of the United States as a cohesive yet pluralistic society [a matter of great interest to Papa Ratzinger] constantly enriched by the gifts brought by new generations, including the many immigrants who continue to enhance and rejuvenate American society. In recent months, the reaffirmation of this dialectic of tradition and originality, unity and diversity has recaptured the imagination of the world, [Probably in reference to how the financial breakdown was addressed and how the health care debate is going.] many of whose peoples look to the American experience and its founding vision in their own search for viable models of accountable democracy and sound development in an increasingly interdependent and global society.

[Keep your copy of Caritas in veritate handy] For this reason, I appreciate your acknowledgement of the need for a greater spirit of solidarity and multilateral engagement in approaching the urgent problems facing our planet. The cultivation of the values of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" can no longer be seen in predominantly individualistic or even national terms, but must rather be viewed from the higher perspective of the common good of the whole human family. The continuing international economic crisis clearly calls for a revision of present political, economic and financial structures in the light of the ethical imperative of ensuring the integral development of all people. What is needed, in effect, is a model of globalization inspired by an authentic humanism, in which the world’s peoples are seen not merely as neighbors but as brothers and sisters.

Multilateralism, for its part, should not be restricted to purely economic and political questions; rather, it should find expression in a resolve to address the whole spectrum of issues linked to the future of humanity and the promotion of human dignity, ["human dignity"] including secure access to food and water, basic health care, just policies governing commerce and immigration, particularly where families are concerned, climate control and care for the environment, and the elimination of the scourge of nuclear weapons. [Now a demonstration that the Holy See does have an interest in being a player in international diplomacy…] With regard to the latter issue, I wish to express my satisfaction for the recent Meeting of the United Nations Security Council chaired by President Obama, which unanimously approved the resolution on atomic disarmament and set before the international community the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. This is a promising sign on the eve of the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Genuine progress, as the Church’s social teaching insists, must be integral and humane; it cannot prescind from the truth about human beings and must always be directed to their authentic good. In a word, fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, [A constant theme for Pope Benedict.] which alone is the guarantee of freedom and real development. For her part the Church in the United States wishes to contribute to the discussion of the weighty ethical and social questions shaping America’s future by proposing respectful and reasonable arguments grounded in the natural law and confirmed by the perspective of faith. [The Church will participate in the public square and will clarify her teaching on moral and ethical issues.  Note the reference to "natural law".  The Church will make some points in the public not merely on the basis of revelation, but from reason and a deep reflection on man’s nature as thoughtful people observe it.] Religious vision and religious imagination do not straiten but enrich political and ethical discourse, and the religions, precisely because they deal with the ultimate destiny of every man and woman, are called to be a prophetic force for human liberation and development throughout the world, particularly in areas torn by hostility and conflict. In my recent visit to the Holy Land I stressed the value of understanding and cooperation among the followers of the various religions in the service of peace, and so I note with appreciation your government’s desire to promote such cooperation as part of a broader dialogue between cultures and peoples.

[Is Benedict now going to set the tone for this Ambassador’s tenure?] Allow me, Mr. Ambassador, to reaffirm a conviction which I expressed at the outset of my Apostolic Journey to the United States. Freedom – the freedom which Americans rightly hold dear – "is not only a gift but also a summons to personal responsibility;" it is "a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over to the cause of good" (Address at the White House, 16 April 2008). The preservation of freedom is inseparably linked to respect for truth and the pursuit of authentic human flourishing. The crisis of our modern democracies calls for a renewed commitment to reasoned dialogue in the discernment of wise and just policies respectful of human nature and human dignity. [Again, "human dignity" along with "human nature".] The Church in the United States contributes to this discernment particularly through the formation of consciences and her educational apostolate, by which she makes a significant and positive contribution to American civic life and public discourse. [Again, a pointed statement that the Church will act also in the public square.] Here I think particularly of the need for a clear discernment with regard to issues touching the protection of human dignity and respect for the inalienable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the protection of the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care workers, and indeed all citizens. [You now see what you suspected above. "Human dignity" was code language, foreshadowing the Pope’s determination to make a statement about abortion and stem-cell research, as well as freedom of conscience and the right not to be compelled to do things which people might find contrary to their values, but which are also – from the point of view een of natural law – intrinsically evil.] The Church insists on the unbreakable link between an ethics of life and every other aspect of social ethics, [This statement will not be welcomed by the Kmiecs and other squishy Catholics.  Benedict is saying that the question of the dignity of life, from conception to natural death is prior to and cannot be separated from other ethicial and social questions.] for she is convinced that, in the prophetic words of the late Pope John Paul II, "a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized" (Evangelium Vitae, 93; cf. Caritas in Veritate, 15).  [Talk all you want about this or that social problem.  If you are killing your young through abortion, etc., your claims about justice and peace are vain.]

[Now he wraps up quickly, lest anyone think that the last point can be buried under more verbiage.] Mr. Ambassador, as you undertake your new mission in the service of your country I offer you my good wishes and the promise of my prayers. Be assured that you may always count on the offices of the Holy See to assist and support you in the fulfillment of your duties. Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved American people, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.


I very much like Pope Benedict’s reframing of "justice and peace".

Many who set aside abortion, etc., because they are busy working on "justice and peace" issues, are now reminded that there is no "justice and peace" when the problem of abortion is not being addressed.  Abortion, stem-cell research, euthanasia, etc… these are the fundamental "justice and peace" issues.

The repetition of "human dignity" and also the fact that the Church does act and will continue to act and speak in the public square is a strong signal that the American Church will not be silent in the matter of health care reform in the US.

I suspect that this address may bolster the wills of some US bishops to continue to speak out strongly on those key issues.

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  1. Fr. John Mary says:

    “I suspect that this address may bolster the wills of some US bishops to continue to speak out strongly on those key issues.”

    Pray God it be so.
    With International Planned Parenthood giving George Tiller a “posthumous” award for his butchering of the unborn and their mothers, this must remain central to justice and human rights.

  2. Rob Cartusciello says:

    My first question was why he was wearing white tie in daytime (Anglo-American protocol calls for morning dress before 6 pm). That may, however, be a Vatican protocol issue previously discussed here.

    I was secretly waiting for the subtext “Vatican diplomacy was up and running 1,500 years before the United States even existed. My predecessors negotiated with Attila the Hun, so don’t think you can get one over on us.”

  3. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Sorry to answer my own question. From a ciplomatic corps website:

    Wear conservative dress for Vatican ceremonies: dark suits for men, long sleeved, high-neck dresses or suits for women. It is customary – although not obligatory – for women to wear mantillas to private papal audiences.

    For diplomats attending certain papal ceremonies dress is white tie and tails and a black (not white) vest for men, and long sleeved, high neck, floor-length black dress with mantilla for women.

  4. paladin says:

    Fr. Z. wrote:

    I very much like Pope Benedict’s reframing of “justice and peace”.

    Oh, Heavens, yes… a breath of fresh air (and conquest of a co=opted term), if ever there was one! I can count, on one hand, the number of times I’ve heard the buzz-phrase “justice and peace” (or, for the syntactically adventurous, “peace and justice”) in Catholic circles without feeling the need to cringe… and I’d still have enough fingers left to pick up a cup of tea without danger!

  5. Apparently, if you play games by sending the Pope a theologian-ambassador, this is what you get. Don’t mess with the Rock. :)

    You know, if the Obama campaign and administration hadn’t spent so much time trying to be the new pope for Catholic Democrats, they probably wouldn’t have received so extremely clear and pointed a message. But they asked for it, and got it.

    I hope they listen, though. Probably they’ll just ignore it, but you never know. Souls are funny things.

  6. Hidden One says:

    No squishy Bishop of Rome have we. :D

  7. Greg Smisek says:

    I note that the Honorable Miguel Diaz’ address to the Sovereign Pontiff recalls Obama’s notion that “democratic participation [is] to be carried out in the spirit of tolerance and compromise.” In return, Benedict recalls the Church’s notion: “Genuine progress … must be integral and humane; it cannot prescind from the truth about human beings and must always be directed to their authentic good. In a word, fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom and real development.” Hmmm, “tolerance and compromise” vs. “fidelity to the truth.”

    I’m so glad that the Pope’s “urgent priorities coincide with those set forth by President Obama.”

  8. Luke says:

    I’m with you, Fr. John Mary: I too hope this becomes and remains central to justice and human rights.

    Is it just me, or does it look like Pope Benedict is saying “We’ll talk after you read these.”

  9. david andrew says:

    The cultivation of the values of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” can no longer be seen in predominantly individualistic or even national terms, but must rather be viewed from the higher perspective of the common good of the whole human family.

    I fear that, as was the case with cherry-picked quotes from Caritas in veritate, this quote will be seized upon as an opportunity to suggest that Socialism is really at the core of the message, thus once again permitting the progressivists to twist the Catholic teaching on social justice to their own foul ends, including the continued press for a “one-world government”.

    Are my fears unfounded?

  10. Is it me or does the Vicar of Christ tend to have a little bit of an impish grin and twinkle in his eyes, whenever we see him?

    Yet another reason to love him.

  11. Bill in Texas says:

    Well, the Holy Father delivered the smackdown I was hoping for!

    It is, though, essential that the American bishops (those not in open rebellion, at least) follow up with their own strong statements, and that American Catholics (those who are faithful, at least) voice their support for the Magisterium, the bishops, and the Pope.

    Otherwise, President Obama will simply continue to ignore what the Pope says and to do everything he can to legislatively abuse the rights and consciences of Catholics.

  12. spesalvi23 says:

    He’s the master of twinkly impishness. I love it! I love how he can deliver tough, uncompromizing points wrapped in gentleness and humility.

  13. patrick_f says:

    This si why the Holy Spirit chose the Pope that he did for this time. Benedict is the perfect Counter to the socialistic tides that are going through the world. They operate under a guise of “Culturalism” and “Sophistication”. You battle that with the same thing. I cant think of a better person steering the barque of Peter right now. I wonder if he is the man from Bosco’s vision?


  14. Here at Villanova our student pro life group is part of our Center for Peace and Justice Education. Every now and then we hear cries from some of our liberal peace and justice group members that we belong in Campus Ministry, not Peace and Justice. Fortunately the university recognizes that Peace and Justice is just where be belong, as the affronts to human life and human dignity, especially the issue of abortion, are indeed the greatest threats to peace and the greatest violations of justice our world faces today.

  15. Singing Mum says:

    ‘Talk all you want about this or that social problem. If you are killing your young through abortion, etc., your claims about justice and peace are vain.’

    Bingo. His Holiness proves more and more clever at reclaiming language and using it for truth. Let ‘human dignity’ and ‘ethics of life’ be drilled into every discussion of human rights until people are willing to love and protect ALL human beings.

    Superb statement, and great analysis, Father Z.

  16. catholicmidwest says:

    “Vatican diplomacy was up and running 1,500 years before the United States even existed. My predecessors negotiated with Attila the Hun, so don’t think you can get one over on us.”

    ROFLOL, but true.

    Obama is dangerous because of the desperate and crazy people behind him, don’t miss my point; but personally he’s 10 miles wide and 1/8″ deep. He’s nothing; it’s all talk.

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    And of course, the same goes for his idiot ambassador choice. Send a child to do a man’s job and this is what you get.

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    PS I love the photo.

    The look on the pope’s face is: Be careful little boy, don’t drop the paper. I hope you can read.

    The vacuous look on the ambassador’s face is: You should be impressed by me old man, I’m somebody now.

  19. irishgirl says:

    Oooo-love the ‘smackdown’ by the Holy Father!

  20. kester says:

    1500 years ago when the Church was a “player” in international affairs — now they are NOT.

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