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Pope Francis criticizes ‘misguided notion’ of the human person in speech to lawyers

Pope Francis talks with lawyers from the Council of Europe at the Vatican on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Aug 22, 2023 / 07:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Monday decried the increasing influence of “a misguided notion of human nature and of the human person.”

“A notion,” he continued in the speech to lawyers from the Council of Europe on Aug. 21, “that weakens their protection and gradually opens the door to grave abuses under the semblance of good.”

Speaking at the Vatican, the pope addressed the lawyers, delegates of the Council of Europe member countries who signed the 2022 Vienna Declaration in Support of the Rule of Law.

He thanked the legal professionals for defending the rule of law against “the slightest exceptions, including in times of crisis.”

“For the rule of law,” he said, “stands at the service of the human person and aims to protect the dignity of each, which admits of no exception. This is a principle.”

The Vienna Declaration in Support of the Rule of Law was signed by the representatives of 38 legal organizations representing 25 member states of the Council of Europe during a June 10–11, 2022, conference on the laws of power versus the rule of law.

The declaration includes the statement that the signers “deplore the return of war to the European continent because of the Russia’s attack [sic] on Ukraine and the resulting humanitarian crises.”

Calling the war in Ukraine “senseless,” Pope Francis said “the foundation of the dignity of each human person is to be found in his or her transcendent origin, which thus forbids any violation of that dignity, while at the same time demanding, in all human affairs, respect for the centrality of the person, which otherwise is at the mercy of the whims and powers of the moment.”

Citing his 2014 address to the European Parliament, he warned that a Europe no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life risks “slowly losing its own soul.”

Francis said faithfulness to one’s roots, nourished by truth, can ensure the firm establishment of the rule of law and respect for human rights.

“Without the constant effort to pursue the truth about man, in accordance with God’s plan, individuals become the measure of themselves and their actions,” he said.

He lamented a tendency to misunderstand human rights, and thus, to abuse them, including by failing to take into account one’s rights and duties to others and to the common good.

Quoting from his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he said: “An incorrect understanding of the concept of human rights, and their consequent abuse, could well make peoples prey to ‘angelic forms of purity… dictatorships of relativism… brands of ahistorical fundamentalism… ethical systems lacking kindness, and intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.’”

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