.- Late yesterday morning, the Holy Father received in audience participants in an international congress on Natural Law, being promoted by the Pontifical Lateran University.
In his address, which was made public this morning, the Pope began by noting "the great advantages" of technological progress. He also mentioned, however, "the threats menacing the destruction of nature," and also noted "another danger, less visible but no less alarming: the method that enables us to have an ever greater understanding of the rational structures of matter, makes us ever less capable of seeing the source of this rationality: creative Reason."
For this reason, the Holy Father went on, "there is an urgent need to reflect upon the question of natural law and to rediscover its truth" which "is common to all mankind. ... This law has as its first and most general principle that of 'doing good and avoiding evil'," from which "derive all the other more specific principles that regulate ethical judgments on the rights and duties of everyone."
These include: "the principle of respect for human life from conception to natural end," because "life is not the property of man but a gratuitous gift of God;" and "the duty to seek the truth, a necessary supposition for all authentic human maturation." Another of the principles is human freedom, which since it "is always shared with others, ... can only be found in that which is common to everyone: the truth of human beings, the fundamental message of existence itself, in other words the 'lex naturalis'."
Pope Benedict also dwelt upon the need for justice and solidarity, values expressed in "obligatory norms that do not depend upon the will of the legislator, nor even upon the consensus that States may give them. They are, in fact, norms that precede any human law and as such they cannot be repealed by anyone."
"Natural law," he affirmed, "is the source from which, along with fundamental rights, flow ethical imperatives that must be honored. Modern legal ethics and philosophy reveal the widespread influence of the postulates of juridical positivism. As a consequence legislation often becomes a mere compromise between various interests; there is an attempt to transform into law private interests or desires that clash with the duties deriving from social responsibility.
"In this situation, it is well to recall that all legal systems, both internal and international, ultimately draw their legitimacy from their rooting in natural law, in the ethical message inscribed in human beings themselves. ... Knowledge of this law ... increases with the development of moral conscience. The primary concern for everyone, and especially for those charged with public responsibilities, must then be that of promoting the maturation of moral conscience."
"What we have said so far has very concrete applications if referred to the family," explained the Pope, "in other words 'the intimate partnership of married life and love established by the Creator and qualified by His laws.' ... Indeed, no law made by man can overturn the norms written by the Creator, without inflicting a dramatic injury to society in what constitutes its most basic foundation."
"Finally, I feel the need to reaffirm once again that not everything that is scientifically possible is also ethically legitimate. Technology, when it reduces the human being to an object of experimentation, ends up by abandoning the weak to the power of the strongest. Entrusting oneself blindly to technology as the only guarantee of progress, without at the same time presenting an ethical code, ... would be an act of violence against human nature, with devastating consequences for everyone."
“Scientists must also contribute in helping us to acquire a profound understanding of our responsibility for man, and for the nature entrusted to him. On this basis it is possible to develop a fruitful dialogue between believers and non believers, between theologians, philosophers, jurists and scientists, all of whom can also give legislators precious guidance for individual and social life."
The Pope concluded his talk by expressing the hope that the conference will "bring not only a greater sensitivity among scholars towards moral natural law, but also help to create the conditions ... for an ever greater awareness of the inalienable value of 'lex naturalis' for a real and coherent progress of individual life and of the social order."