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Michel Schooyans on the Foundation of Human Rights

Says Social Doctrine of the Church Is Key

BRUSSELS, Belgium, JULY 29, 2004 (Zenit) - The Church's social doctrine has become a key defense and foundation of human rights in a world caught between socialism and liberalism, says Monsignor Michel Schooyans.

A professor at the University of Leuven, Monsignor Schooyans is one of the world's top experts on ethical and demographic issues.

He has just published a book in France entitled "Pour relever les defies du monde moderne -- L'enseignement social de l'Eglise" (To Address the Challenges of the Modern World: The Social Teaching of the Church).

In this interview with us, Monsignor Schooyans discusses some of the critical issues in his book.

Q: What is the relation between the Church's social doctrine and the defense of the rights of man?

Monsignor Schooyans: In the first documents in which the social teaching of the Church started to be articulated, the popes made reference to situations of abuse and oppression which the moral conscience had to denounce.

It was a question of challenging the established structures to transform them into more just economic and political structures. None of this is old -- quite the opposite.

However, two new factors have arisen, which have stimulated a more profound study of the Church's teaching on society.

The first is the experience of totalitarianism, the different manifestations of which have in common wanting to destroy the human person psychologically.

The second is the take-off of personalist philosophy, which amply benefited the pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes" of the Second Vatican Council, and which John Paul II began to develop very soon in Krakow and Lublin.

Since then, in its social teaching, the Church emphasizes that human beings are made to live together, that all have received life as something shared with God himself, of whom all are an image.

In this way, the teaching of the Church sees itself enriched by a rich anthropology that is the foundation of the rights of man: the right to life, to found a family, to practice a religion, to work, to association, etc. Inalienable rights that the state and international organizations must promote and protect.

Q: In your book, you speak of the theology of creation and the theology of work. What is its philosophy? What is its concept of man and of God?

Monsignor Schooyans: The theology of creation finds its foundation in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. Man is called to transmit life and to be an administrator responsible for creation. However, when man behaves as if he could appropriate the gift of God which is the environment, moral problems arise.

Today there are new forms of avarice that lead some private groups and certain states to abuse the world's resources, exploiting them according to their particular interests.

What is forgotten is that the goods of the earth have been put by the Creator at the disposition of the whole of humanity. This means that we have a responsibility not only vis--vis our contemporaries, but also vis--vis future generations.

This explains the Holy Father's repeated appeals in favor of a human ecology: Man is God's most beautiful gift to man, he writes in synthesis in the encyclical "Centesimus Annus." We are not credible when we pretend to respect the environment but we do not first respect the human being, and when his role is not recognized as the only one at the summit of creation.

Moreover -- and contrary to a bucolic ecology, residue of intellectual dreams of the Enlightenment -- when man is absent or does not intervene in nature, the latter becomes violent. Man must constantly cultivate the environment to prevent erosion, desertification, destruction of crops by harmful insects, etc.

Finally, unlike what the pantheistic ecology inspired in the New Age says, man is not the simple product of a material evolution. He must not alienate himself, or be alienated, offering a neo-pagan cult to Mother Earth.

Q: In a chapter of your book, you address the relation between demographic policies and democracy. In another chapter, you show that children are the best investment. What are your arguments?

Monsignor Schooyans: The Western democracies continue to use and divulge for their advantage the Malthusian ideology and its neo-Malthusian corollaries.

According to the modern expressions of this ideology, the security of the rich countries would be threatened by the growth of the population of Third World countries. A demographic "bomb" originating in the Third World is supposedly at the point of exploding, submerging the rich countries and threatening their well-being.

Therefore, according to this ideology of demographic security, ...

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