(Vatican Radio) An international conference took place at the Vatican on Wednesday, exploring “The Responsibility to Protect in Light of Morality and Law”. The one-day event was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Congregation for Bishops. The Secretary for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, delivered an address in which he outlined the point of view of the Holy See regarding the theme.
Archbishop Gallagher’s speech began with a broad-strokes overview of the pertinent parts of the social doctrine of the Church, and proceeded to explore certain developments in the notion of the responsibility to protect found in recent Papal teaching from Pope St. John Paul II to Pope Francis, with particular emphasis on Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 address to the United Nations General Assembly, in which he said, “The principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ was considered by the ancient ius gentium as the foundation of every action taken by those in government with regard to the governed,” and went on to describe the responsibility to protect (following the great Dominican philosopher of law and theologian, Francisco de Vitoria), “as an aspect of natural reason shared by all nations, and the result of an international order whose task it was to regulate relations between peoples.”
The Secretary for Relations with States went on to say that this responsibility is a concomitant of a rightly ordered understanding of human nature and of the proper and essential ends of political power., Archbishop Gallagher quoted Pope Francis’ own address to the UN General Assembly, in which Pope Francis said, “The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity.”
The Holy Father went on to say, and Archbishop Gallagher further quoted, “In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings.”
Archbishop Gallagher went on to argue, essentially, that the concept of “responsibility to protect places the entire international community in a position of responsibility, when faced with phenomena such as genocide and/or persecution motivated by racial, religious or ethnic hatred. He called for further development of the idea and for practical action to give expression to the shared responsibility to protect the innocent.