Holy Father defends right to love of mentally handicapped

In a message to the participants in an international symposium on the "Dignity and Rights of the Mentally Handicapped", Pope John Paul II defends right of the mentally handicapped to love and be loved.

The Holy Father writes that "care for the affective and sexual dimensions of handicapped people is also worthy of attention. They also need to love and be loved, they need affection, closeness and intimacy.”

Unfortunately, the Pope adds, “handicapped people must live these legitimate and natural needs in a disadvantaged situation which becomes ever-more evident with the passage from childhood to adulthood.  They seek authentic relationships in which they can be appreciated and recognized as persons."

"Handicapped people, even when they have mental limitations or sensorial and intellectual handicaps, are completely human subjects with the sacred and inalienable rights due to every human creature. Only when the rights of the weakest members of a society are recognized can a society say that it is founded on law and justice," the Pope states.

The Holy Father also emphasizes that "a society that only gives space to its fully functioning members who are totally autonomous and independent, is not a society worthy of man.  Discrimination based on efficiency is no less condemnable than discrimination based on race, sex or religion."

"In addition to any other consideration or specific interest or group," he continues, "it is necessary to try to promote the integral good of these people, without denying them the help and protection necessary even when it may mean a greater social and economic burden.  Perhaps even more than other sick people, the mentally retarded need attention, affection, understanding and love: we cannot leave them alone, unarmed and defenseless, in the difficult duty of confronting life."

"Without a doubt," he adds, "handicapped people, revealing the radical fragility of the human condition, are an expression of the drama of sorrow and in this world of ours, so eager for hedonism and fascinated by ephemeral and false beauty, and their difficulties are frequently perceived as a scandal and a provocation, their problems as a weight that must be gotten rid off or resolved as soon as possible."

These persons "can teach everyone what is love and how to be promoters of a new world, not dominated by force, violence and aggressiveness any more, but by love, solidarity, acceptance, a new world transformed by the light of Christ, the Son of God incarnate, who was crucified and rose from the dead,” he concludes.

The meeting, which is taking place January 7-9 in the Vatican and is organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, coincides with the end of the Year of Handicapped People in Europe.

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