The Pope’s men came in their black robes and red caps Thursday to proclaim the righteousness of John Paul II’s impassioned call for the protection of life in these insidious modern times.
“This encyclical is a historic and highly significant response to grave attempts against human life,” said Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the pontifical council for the family.
Other cardinals were more circumspect, but Vatican analysts believe that the Pope intends a landmark encyclical published here Thursday to close the door to any future softening of Roman Catholic Church positions on moral questions concerning life and death that vex societies around the world.
In a teaching addressed to the 950 million Catholics, John Paul revisits his opposition to artificial birth control and population planning, and he is particularly scathing in opposition to abortion and euthanasia.
“Causing death can never be considered a medical cure. . . . Conscientious objection is a right of all health workers, and above all, a duty for Catholic health workers,” Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, who oversees Catholic hospitals around the world, told reporters here Thursday.
Is John Paul, speaking in a powerful, uncompromising analysis of the ethics of life and death called “The Gospel of Life” (Evangelium Vitae), invoking infallibility?
“The Pope says the encyclical is ‘founded on Scripture.’ . . . It is not a formal act of dogma, but . . . it is part of the faith that is transmitted to us,” said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the keeper of Vatican orthodoxy.
The 50,000-word encyclical, four years in the writing, emphatically reiterates well-known papal policies on the safeguarding of life at every stage from conception to natural death.
“The encyclical is meant to be a precise and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life,” the Pope writes.
The document is a celebration of John Paul’s conviction that there is only right and wrong on basic moral issues, and no accommodating relativist middle ground.
“The Pope is reaffirming with rigidity positions he has taken since he was a young priest, ignoring influential currents in the church that oppose ‘take it or leave it’ Catholicism. The impact will make it harder for future Popes to change,” said American reporter Tad Szulc, author of a forthcoming biography of John Paul.
Explaining why he wrote the encyclical, the 11th of his 17-year reign, the 74-year-old Pope said he felt compelled to speak for the “culture of life,” in the face of “attacks threatening it today.”
In the encyclical, John Paul warns against democratic societies that he says are sliding toward totalitarianism by legalizing morally unacceptable acts such as abortion and euthanasia.
“When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal . . . to kill unborn human life, is it not really making a ‘tyrannical’ decision with regard to the weakest and most defenseless human beings?” he asks.
Abortion and euthanasia, he says, “are crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize.”
Resorting to full papal authority, but stopping short of his right to proclaim dogma, John Paul says flatly: “I declare that direct abortion . . . always constitutes a grave moral disorder since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”
Life, the Pope says, begins the instant the egg is fertilized. Experimenting with human embryos “constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings,” he says.