Pope John Paul II on Saturday applauded Western Europe’s search for democratic unity but warned against the erosion in affluent societies of historic moral and social values.
John Paul criticized the decline of the family in Europe, disaffection among its youth and potential excesses of frontier medical technology like genetic engineering, but the gist of his remarks was upbeat and congratulatory to the leaders of a continent enjoying unprecedented prosperity.
“I share the desire of millions of men and women who know that they are linked by a common history and who hope for a destiny of unity and solidarity on the scale of this whole continent,” John Paul told the 21-nation Council of Europe at its headquarters in this ancient city near the French border with West Germany.
The 68-year-old pontiff launched his 40th foreign trip on a chilled, drizzly Saturday morning, praising the cohesive intent of the council, a 40-year-old intergovernmental body that is Europe’s most broadly based political organization. The council’s Parliamentary Assembly is made up of 170 members from the 21 national parliaments representing nearly 400 million Western Europeans from Iceland to Turkey.
“By comparison with other continents, Europe stands out as a single unit, even if its cohesion is less clearly perceived by those of whom it is composed,” the Pope said. “This way of looking at it may help Europe the better to rediscover its identity.”
Last Foreign Trip of 1988
The papal visit to France, the fourth and last trip abroad by John Paul in 1988, includes ceremonies today in Strasbourg, which is celebrating its 2,000th anniversary, and stops in the nearby cities of Metz and Nancy before John Paul returns to Rome on Tuesday night.
Celebrating the common democratic spirit that now unites the enemies of World War II, the Polish-born pontiff told members of the European Court and the Commission of Human Rights on Saturday that “The church is the ally of all those who defend authentic human freedoms.”
John Paul cautioned European leaders, however, against a trend in which “material goods and technology are tending to take precedence over the claims of the spirit.”
Recent continental economic developments, the Pope said, including more working women, and such problems as housing, travel and voluntary migration, threaten the stability and equilibrium of European families.
He lamented ideas “which reduce the value attached to love, separate sexuality from the communion of life which it expresses, and weaken the stable bonds which a truly human love entails.
Plea for Family Values
“Therein lies a real danger, for the family is being destabilized and is disintegrating. Falling population trends are a sign of a family crisis, which gives cause for concern,” John Paul said. “Europeans must restore to the family its value as the key element in social life.”
John Paul also expressed his concern with the morality of new medical technologies available today in wealthy Europe.
“Genetic processes can be helped, but also impaired. Biogenetic processes can interfere with the natural link between parent and child. The diagnosis of prenatal pathology too easily leads to abortion, whereas its legitimate purpose is therapeutic in nature. Experiments on human embryos open the way to unacceptable manipulation,” the Pope complained.
John Paul also urged lawmakers to heed “regrets expressed about young peoples’ indifference to the cultural heritage built up by the peoples of Europe over more than two millennia.”