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The voice of conscience

It is not difficult to foresee that many of the media will report on Benedict XVI’s Discourse to the Pontifical Academy for Life. And they are bound to underscore his condemnation of abortion solely in a negative key to reinforce the stereotypes that caricature the Pope and Catholicism as ruthless, reactionary and hostile to presumed freedoms, if not to rights themselves. Of course it is not like this and it suffices to read the text to realize that the Pontiff’s Discourse is once again positive and reasonable — and indeed, profoundly human.

The Academy for Life has studied in-depth the topics of post-abortion syndrome and the use of umbilical cord banks, in other words an agonizing tragedy that is unfortunately present in the lives of many, especially women. Yet abortion is repressed and is instead a recent problem posed by progress in research. Commenting on these two topics Benedict XVI went to the heart of the matter, recalling the presence and role of the conscience.

Precisely the anguish that follows abortion reveals the voice of the conscience. And women who have suffered it frequently have an insuppressible awareness of it while the consciences of men are often clouded. Men, the Pope notes, “often leave pregnant women on their own”.

The reference to the conscience is central in the reasoning of Benedict XVI who stresses that “the moral quality of a concrete act” is not a reality to which one can remain indifferent; above all, it is not a prerogative of Christians or believers. Rather it is a value that “brings together every human being”, while the Church is favourably disposed to medical and scientific progress as long as it respects the common good.

The papal instruction is therefore clear: in a culture marked by “the eclipse of the sense of life” — from the minimization of abortion that “resolves nothing but kills the child, destroys the woman and blinds the conscience of the child’s father”, to other attacks on human life — we must never tire of promoting the defence of every person in the different periods of his or her existence. The Church has reiterated this in the past half century, in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and in the teachings of Paul VI and of John Paul II, and also with the witness of figures such as Mother Teresa.

In this cultural battle, in recent times and in various milieus, lay voices and testimonies have increasingly joined the voices and testimonies of many Catholics and other believers — on behalf of the human person, making no distinctions, in an issue which concerns everyone, hence about which everyone must be concerned.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 17, 2019

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