Pope Francis Urges Catholic Jurists to ‘Protect the Rights of the Weakest’

The Pope recalled that the late Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan from 2002 to 2011, used to say that “the rights of the weak are not weak rights.”

Pope Francis meets members of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists at the Vatican’s Benediction Hall, Dec. 10, 2021.
Pope Francis meets members of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists at the Vatican’s Benediction Hall, Dec. 10, 2021. (photo: Vatican Media. / Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urged Catholic jurists on Friday to safeguard the rights of society’s most vulnerable members.

Speaking to representatives of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists on Dec. 10, the Pope said that defending the weak was an urgent task.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“Never as in these days, as in these times, have Catholic jurists been called to affirm and protect the rights of the weakest, within an economic and social system that pretends to include diversity but, in reality, systematically excludes those without a voice,” he said.

“The rights of workers, migrants, the sick, unborn children, those at the end of their life, and the poorest are ever more frequently neglected and or denied in this throwaway culture. Those who do not have the capacity to spend and to consume seem to be worth nothing.” 

“But to deny fundamental rights, to deny the right to a dignified life, to physical, psychological, and spiritual care, to a fair wage, is to deny human dignity.”

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

The Union of Italian Catholic Jurists brings together experts on the law who are seeking to live out Christian ethical principles in the legal world.

Members were in Rome for the union’s national conference on Dec. 9-11.

In his address, the Pope recalled his Dec. 5 visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, where he said that “respect for individuals and for human rights, especially on this continent, which is constantly promoting them worldwide, should always be upheld, and the dignity of each person ought to come before all else.” 

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“And yet, how far we are from this respect,” the Pope told the jurists. “Abuse, violence, negligence, omissions only increase the culture of rejection. And those who have no protection will always be marginalized.” 

“You, as Catholic lawyers, are asked to contribute to ‘reversing the course,’ promoting, according to your skills, awareness, and a sense of responsibility. Because even the last, the defenseless, and the weak have rights that must be respected and not trampled upon. And this is an intrinsic call to our faith. This is not a passing ‘moralization’: it is an intrinsic call to our faith.”

The Pope said that when rights are not recognized and guaranteed, the “law of the strongest” prevails.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

“For this reason, the recognition of the rights of the weakest does not derive from a government concession. No. And Catholic jurists do not ask for favors on behalf of the poor, but firmly proclaim those rights that derive from the recognition of human dignity,” he said.

The Pope recalled that the late Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan from 2002 to 2011, used to say that “the rights of the weak are not weak rights.” 

“It is up to you, in particular, to uphold them firmly and to protect them wisely, cooperating in building a more humane and just society,” he told the jurists.

Vatican Media.

Vatican Media.

In conclusion, the Pope noted that he was speaking on the feast of Our Lady of Loreto and also paid tribute to Rosario Livatino, a Catholic judge killed by the mafia in 1990 and beatified in May.

“May Our Lady, whom we venerate today as the Virgin of silence and listening in the Holy House of Loreto, and St. Joseph, just man, support you in your commitment. May the witness of Bl. Rosario Livatino also inspire you,” he said. 

“I too accompany you with my prayer and my blessing. And please, I ask you to pray for me.”

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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