18 December 1987

To the participants in a Conference on “The Right to Life and Europe”

On Friday, 18 December, the Holy Father received in audience the participants in a study conference on “The Right to Life and Europe”.  He addressed them as follows:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Young Friends,

1. I am delighted to meet you on the occasion of the study conference being held on “The Right to Life and Europe”.  I greet you all most warmly.

The theme which is at the heart of your reflections is of great importance for the future of Europe, indeed, of every people and nation.  Unconditional respect for the right to life of the conceived but unborn human person is one of the pillars sustaining every civil society.  When a State places its institutions at the disposal of those who may act to suppress the life of the unborn child it renounces one of its primary duties and its own dignity as a state.  St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest teachers of the European conscience, teaches that civil law “has the force of law to the degree that it is just” (Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 95, a. 2).  This justice, as the Angelic Doctor immediately explains, is founded on the natural law itself, so that a law not in conformity with it “is not a law, but the corruption of the law” (ibid.).

It is not necessary to have recourse to the Christian faith to understand these fundamental truths.  When the Church recalls them, it is not in an effort to introduce a Christian State; she simply wishes to promote a human State, a State which recognizes as its primary duty the defence of the fundamental rights of the human person, especially of those who are weakest.  And who is weaker than an unborn child?

Contradiction with European culture

2. You have chosen to reflect in particular on the right to life of the unborn and the destiny of Europe.  It is easy to note the flagrant contradiction existing between the legalization of abortion, unfortunately in effect throughout almost all of Europe, and what constitutes the greatness of European culture.  This culture, whose principal sources are found in tits Greek and Latin heritage, has received from Christianity the enlightening contribution which has allowed it to reach superior heights.  With Christianity, Europe has discovered the dignity of every human person as such, a discovery which has made European culture an eminently humanistic one.  With its Latin roots, it has been a school of law, understood as the rational organization of society upon the foundation of justice.  Heir to Greek culture, European culture has seen in the right use of reason – conceived as the capacity to grasp reality without allowing oneself to be dominated by self-interest – one of the clearest signs of man’s greatness.

Into this incomparable cultural heritage the legalization of abortion has been inserted as a foreign body, bearing within itself the seeds of corruption.  How is it still possible to speak of dignity of every human person when the killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted?  In the name of what justice is the most unjust of discriminations among persons practised:  the declaration of some as worthy of defence and others as lacking that dignity? What sort of reason is at work here, if even for utilitarian or hedonistic motives the elimination of an innocent human being is allowed?  In truth, on this issue Europe is risking her future destiny, because she is showing signs of moral decay, and even of demographic impoverishment.  She could thus see the breakdown of a cultural patrimony passed on to her by illustrious thinkers, great jurists and remarkable saints.

3. Your presence and your keen participation in these days of study, however, show the seriousness and depth of your will to change the course of Europe.  Do not let your awareness of being a minority hinder you.  The history of Europe illustrates that often the great qualitative leaps of her culture have been realized through the witness of individuals, often paid for with personal sacrifice.  Power lies in truth itself and not in numbers.  Tomorrow’s Europe is in your hands.  Be worthy of this undertaking.  You are working to restore to Europe her true dignity, that of being a place where the person, every person, is affirmed in his incomparable dignity.

In invoking upon you the consolation of divine assistance, I bless you from my heart.

John Paul II