The Pope received members of the International Theological Commission, who have just completed their annual plenary meeting, held in the Vatican from October 1 to 5 under the presidency of Cardinal William Joseph Levada.
In his remarks to them, the Holy Father recalled the recent publication of a commission document on the subject of "the hope of salvation for children who die without receiving Baptism," and expressed the wish that it may "continue to be a useful point of reference for pastors of the Church and for theologians," as well as providing "assistance and consolation for the faithful who have suffered the sudden death of a child before receiving" the Sacrament.
Turning to focus on "natural moral law," a question being examined by the commission, Benedict XVI indicated that the doctrine on natural law "achieves two essential aims: on the one hand, it makes it clear that the ethical content of Christian faith is not an imposition dictated from outside man's conscience, but a norm that has its basis in human nature itself; and on the other hand, by starting from the basis of natural law — which of itself is accessible to all rational creatures — it lays the foundations for dialogue with all men and women of good will, and with civil society more generally."
The Pope then highlighted the fact that nowadays "the original evidence for the foundations of human beings and of their ethical behavior has been lost, and the doctrine of natural moral law clashes with other concepts which run directly contrary to it. All this has enormous consequences on civil and social order."
What dominates today, he continued, "is a positivist conception of law" according to which "humanity, or society, or in effect the majority of citizens, become the ultimate source for civil legislation. The problem that arises is not, then, the search for good but the search for power, or rather the balance of power. At the root of this tendency is ethical relativism, in which some people even see one of the principal conditions for democracy because, they feel, relativism guarantees tolerance and mutual respect. … But if this were true, the majority at any given moment would become the ultimate source for law, and history shows with great clarity that majorities can make mistakes."
"When," the Holy Father proceeded, "the fundamental essentials are at stake: human dignity, human life, the institution of the family and the equity of the social order (in other words the fundamental rights of man), no law made by men and women can subvert the norm written by the Creator in man's heart without society itself being dramatically struck at its very core. Thus natural law is a true guarantee for everyone to live freely and with respect for their dignity, protected from all ideological manipulation and from all arbitrary abuses of the powerful. No one can disregard this appeal.
"If," he added, "by reason of a tragic clouding of the collective conscience, skepticism and ethical relativism managed to annul the fundamental principles of natural moral law, the very democratic order itself would be profoundly undermined at its foundations. Against such clouding — which is a crisis for human, even more than for Christian, civilization — the consciences of all men and women of good will must be mobilized, both lay people and followers of religions other than Christianity, so that together they may make an effective commitment to creating the conditions necessary for a full awareness of the inalienable value of natural moral law."
Benedict XVI concluded by stressing that "the advance of individuals and of society along the path of true progress" depends upon respect for natural moral law, "in conformity with right reason, which is participation in the eternal Reason of God."