Carrying his campaign against the "dictatorship of relativism" to the United Nations, Pope Benedict appealed to the natural law as the necessary foundation for human rights. And respect for human rights, he told the General Assembly in a major address Friday, is the key to world peace.
As expected, the Holy Father cited the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an occasion for recommitment to its principles. The document was originally adopted 48-0 on December 10, 1948 by UN member-nations in Paris. (Eight countries abstained--the Soviet bloc nations, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.)
Here is the central passage of Pope Benedict's General Assembly address, which he delivered in French:
"This document [the Universal Declaration of Human Rights] was the outcome of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws, and the working of society....
"The rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high point of God's creative desire for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations.
"Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied....
"The merit of the Universal Declaration is that it has enabled different cultures, juridical expressions and institutional models to converge around a fundamental nucleus of values, and hence of rights. Today, though, efforts need to be redoubled in the face of pressure to reinterpret the foundations of the Declaration and to compromise its inner unity so as to facilitate a move away from the protection of human dignity towards the satisfaction of simple interests, often particular interests."
The Pope's address contained strong appeals to harness science and technology so as to ensure their respect for the human person, and for international action in response to the global ecological crisis.
He also called on the UN to support interreligious dialogue as an instrument of peace. The aim of such dialogue, he said, is to "propose a vision of faith not in terms of intolerance, discrimination and conflict, but in terms of complete respect for truth, coexistence, rights, and reconciliation."
-- Russell Shaw