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Recovering our Vocabulary on the Person and on Life

Catholic Social Teaching in action: Recover the alphabet for people and for life 002

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Chiara Santomiero - published on 05/13/13

Putting Catholic Social Teaching into action.

Roccella at the presentation of the Fourth Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the World

In effect, it’s a “colonization of human nature” through legislation on procreation, the family and life, which is “distorting social relations” and aimed at the restructuring of society “on unnatural bases.” The drafters of the Fourth Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the World are convinced of it. The report, edited by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, Ordinary of Trieste and President of the Cardinal Van Thuân International Observatory for the Social Doctrine of the Church, and Stefano Fontana, Director of the same Observatory – are calling for a shift in focus from the traditional ambits of the Church’s social doctrine – economics and politics – to this new horizon. The Honorable Eugenia Roccella took part in the presentation of the report, held in Rome on May 8, and spoke with Aleteia about the need to reeducate today’s society in dealing with this phenomenon.

Why is re-education needed in today’s world?

Roccella: Because we are losing the concepts we once took for granted and on which the human community is built. [We are losing] the basic facts, the concept of person, the simplest notions known to folk wisdom, such as mother and father: The saying “every ugly child is beautiful to his mother” basically means that we don’t choose a child, that love is freely given, not “earned” by the child, because a child doesn’t need to be either beautiful or good to be loved. All these things are gradually being lost, because the idea is emerging that a child is a right and can even be an object that can be purchased. We are losing our vocabulary on the human person as these concepts gradually become more pervasive in society – particularly in the west, though not exclusively.

In this regard, you spoke of various expressions that carry meaning: for example, “quality of life.”

Roccella: This is a well-known and very risky concept. The word “quality” is more appropriate if we first accept another concept: a person always has quality, in any and all conditions. We don’t always think in this way. I remember Piergiorgio Welby’s letter to Napolitano, in which he wrote: “My life is no longer what it once was, it no longer has quality, I can no longer feel the wind in my hair or take a stroll in the evening.” Certainly there is truth to this, but that does not mean that your life, your person, has no quality. Human quality. This is the concept that they gradually want to become widespread: a life that is not “top notch,” completely comfortable, completely autonomous, it is not a life worth living.

And the concept of “self-determination”?

Roccella: In my opinion, the concept of “self-determination” is a great illusion. I prefer to speak of freedom. We are not born “self-determined,” for we are conceived in the womb of another person, and totally dependent on her for quite a while. In fact, we remain dependent for quite some time, since it takes many years for a child to become independent. Beyond this, we are dependent in a thousand ways: when we are weak, ill, in need, grieving. We are persons who are in relationships with other people, and who may also be “entrusted” to other people. The person who is “entrusted” – for example, a very young child or a sick person – is no less a person on this account. We have all helped someone: I helped my mother, who was first in a coma and then in a vegetative state; she wasn’t any less my mother, any less a person, even when she was apparently unable to respond to me. There is a mystery about our being creatures of God and about the quality of the person that we always need to bear in mind and respect.

Self-determination and the dignity of the female body: What meaning do they assume in relation to practices of assisted reproduction?

Roccella: I marvel that feminists today do not rise up – except a few, such as the international association to which I belong, which is called “Hands off our ovaries” – against a market that targets the female body and that, among other things, dissects it and uses its parts for assisted reproduction and a number of specific techniques of in-vitro fertilization, and tries to dissociate these “parts.” If a gay couple, for example, wants a child through assisted reproduction, they usually take the eggs from one woman and rent the uterus of another, so that there is no one mother, but rather a fragmentation of the various components of motherhood. This creates a market that profoundly exploits the female body. Sometimes the exploitation is sinister, as in the case of young poor women, since those who “donate” (in reality sell) their eggs are very young women, often poor students in America who do it to pay for studies, or girls from Eastern European countries who need money. And there are very grave consequences: a few months ago, a seventeen year-old Indian girl, who had already undergone hormonal treatments three times to sell their eggs, died. Tragic situations are occurring, that women in the wealthy western world seem to ignore or be completely unaware of: you have to be aware of it, because a right cannot come at the expense of another person.

This leads us to the importance of the “anthropological question” …

Roccella: On this particular subject, the Church – from John Paul II to Cardinal Ruini in Italy, to Pope Benedict XVI who wrote wonderful things on the subject – has said a lot. To sum it up, we can say that the anthropological question arises from a loss of awareness that we are creatures and not all-powerful (the Creator), which certainly we are not – so much so, in fact, that we die. The mere thought of this should be enough to give us an idea of human limitations and finitude.

Then there are the pages written on gender theory, which assert that there is no longer a male or female body, that now a body exists that can be manipulated through mechanical, animal and technological couplings in the broadest sense. Thus the body, which is the locus of the person, is now a place that can be manipulated in a radical way. When we look at it from this perspective, it is clear that what we are speaking in a truly radical way about modifying the human person. And the anthropological question is the modifying of the human person.

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