Wednesday December 17, 2008
Full Text of Cherie Blair Address at Angelicum University
(Note: At points marked “—-“ the recording was inaudible)
December 17, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – I am delighted to be here and I was —- (Wednesday night/Thursday) morning, I came in from New York into London. I went from the airport, home and then to Westminster Cathedral where my youngest son was performing at the school Nativity play with the other children of St. Vincent de Paul. At the end of that Nativity play, I went back to Heathrow, got on the plane and came here – that is the story of a modern mother juggling her work and life responsibilities. Or maybe it is just an indication that I am a very foolish woman.
Talking about America, I was actually in Los Angeles on All Saints Day and I went to Mass at the cathedral of Our Lady of All Angels. I had never been to that cathedral before and it actually only opened 6 years ago and, to me, it seemed to be the true symbol of the church in the 21st century. For a start, the church was packed – as one would hope on All Saints’ Day. The congregation of men and women, girls and boys reflected the modern day church in a multi-cultural society. As someone whose roots are very much northern European, I was very much in a minority. Equally included with the church today, I was very struck by all around me the magnificent Cathedral tapestries. They were by an artist called John Narver and depicted the community of saints throughout the ages. What was to me very striking but also very different was how each panel depicted men and women together, from across the centuries and across the races as equal in the sight of God. Of course, in Churches built before the new century, there have always been images of women such as Mary, Eve and women saints. But nowhere before, have I seen depicted on such a scale and with such beauty, that passage that St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “And there no longer exist among you, Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” That is why, in the 21st century, those Narver tapestries still stand and that is why the underlying theme of my talk today is about the Church and the human rights of women.
I do so with a great deal of humility and some trepidation because I feel a little unqualified to be talking in this magnificent place of learning and here at the Pontifical University here in Rome. As you all know, I am not a theologian and nor am I someone whose vocation is the religious way of life. But my faith is very important to me and has been all my life, and of course, I am a lawyer specializing in human rights. So, I hope that I can bring to this talk, my experience as well as a mother of four children, as you heard, but also, my professional and personal commitment to women’s equality. Of course, I have also, over the last decade, been privileged to travel far more and far more widely than I might have done because, of course, I was also the spouse of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I still am actually. His job has changed – not mine.
(Momentary break in recording)
…commits every country to work towards the time where everyone should life free from want and fear and have the freedoms and opportunities to achieve their full protection. We all know, of course, that these ambitions have yet to be realized. In too many countries, we still see these rights breached and often completely ignored. But despite protection offered and signed up to by every country in the world, millions of people still live in fear and want, denied the most basic human rights. But I don’t believe that we should just dismiss the declaration as worthless or a failure. Rather, it should make us redouble our efforts to put this invaluable and —- mark commitment to human dignity and social justice into practice.
Over the last 250 years or so, we have seen a welcome acceptance by the intellectual community that each and every one of us has rights simply because of our own intrinsic worth. And it would be nice to say that the Church was at the fore-front of this long journey but it hasn’t always been the case. The Declaration of the Rights of Man as a Citizen was rejected by Pius VI but, of course, this had far less to do with its contents than the knowledge that it came out of the revolutionary movement which was challenging authority and certainly had the Church within its sights. Historical empathy is important here. The Church’s justification for rejection of these human rights, at that time, was part historical, part theological but part fear of the unknown. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the Church, under Leo XIII, began to move away from this hostility. He accepted that the Church would be an advocate of the social and economic rights of the person. And the Encyclical, Rerum Novarum, rights entered the discourse for the first time, especially when talking about the family, work, marriage and equal participation. Leo XIII stated that rights, indeed, —- must be religiously protected. Nevertheless, the Church still did not uncritically embrace the secularization of human rights. The Vatican, for example, surprisingly, made no comment on the universal declaration 60 years ago. It was not until Pope John XXIII, who, by coincidence was the Papal Nuncio in Paris at that time that the declaration was signed, that the Church started to embrace whole-heartedly the language of human rights. The publication of (the encyclical Pacem in Terris) on Maundy Thursday in 1963 was a watershed for the Church. It was the closest thing that we have ever had to the Church’s own declaration of human rights and a change from previous attitudes.
Pope John XXIII’s commitment to human rights was also enthusiastically carried forward by Pope John Paul II. In his message of celebration in the world Day of Peace, he specifically endorsed the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. He said this, “50 years ago by a war characterized by a denial of certain people having the right even to exist; the General Assembly of the UN promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was a solemn act, a right act after the sad experience of war and motivated by the desire to formally recognize that the same rights belong to every individual and to all people. That document must be observed integrally both in its spirit and its letter.” This built on his address to the UN, 3 years earlier when he emphasized the natural law and the fundamental moral status of human rights. He said, “It is a matter of serious concern that some people today deny the universality of human rights just as they deny that there is a human nature shared by everyone.” To be sure, there is no single model organizing the politics and economics of human freedom. Different cultures and different historical experiences give rise to different institutional forms of public life in the free and responsible society. But it is one thing to affirm to the plurality of forms of freedom and another to deny any universality or intelligibility to the nature of man or to the human experience.
This does not mean, of course, that there is no difference or debate on how the secular world or the Church sees human rights. The Declaration, although drafted with the help of experts from a wide variety of religion, was and is a spectacular document. My friend, —-, has described it as documenting values “for a Godless age.” It may have appropriated the language of faith but it didn’t really dispense with its religious roots. Human rights are ground in the assumption which Article I of the Declaration articulates that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. So, the Universal Declaration shares with religious faith, a fundamental belief in the inherent dignity of the human person. As —- has said, we almost all accept that human life in all its forms is sacred. For some of us, this is a matter of religious faith. Others, of secular but deep philosophical belief. The difference, of course, is that the secular humanist’s —- this universal truth, or to use Hans Kelsen’s term, “—-“which forms the underlying system of human rights. For those of us of faith, the dignity of each of us rests on our likeness to God. I believe that our religious dimension is important and takes the value of human rights beyond mere pragmatism or what Cardinal —- recently described as the promotion of community.
John Finissis argued that the revelation that we were all made in God’s image is necessary to ensure the full protection of human rights. He said that “without this revelatory insights into our nature and potential destiny, even people who understand even consciousness and character with the immense penetration of Plato gravitate towards some —- views which treat dignity as variable, waxing and waning.” He —- started existence as a human being or perhaps quite a time after birth and ceasing in terminal ability or disability. It was for the same reason that in his lecture at the University of Regensburg in 2006, Pope Benedict XIV warned against “the subjective conscience” becoming the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter.
So we can rejoice as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights. The Church now speaks in harmony with its foundational text in our time –b but with a stronger and separate dimension of faith. The fact that, for Catholics, this commitment to human rights, is reached in God does mean that it has its own identity recently. It is a commitment that we have seen lived out in the commission of justice across the world, as the Church reaches out to the poor, the marginalized, and the voiceless. So, the powerful message of human rights is not something that the Church has just signed up to in theory, but more importantly puts into practice in every day, in every community.
But I want to turn to the church and women. The journey from distrust to acceptance to warm embrace that we have seen in the attitude of the Church to modern human rights is mirrored in sorts to women’s rights. It is a journey, I would argue, that takes us back to the teachings of Jesus Christ, Himself. He never distinguished between the word for men and women but from the beginning of his ministry embraced all men and women alike. Chapter VIII in Luke’s gospel describes the women accompanying Jesus in his ministry. Luke identifies St. Madeline, Joann, Suzanna and many others who, along with the 12, complete Jesus as he preached and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. Indeed, Jesus went further, and stood out against the culture of the day by embracing not just respectable women but women who were outcasts in their society. In John’s gospel, for example, we are told of Jesus’ defense of the adulteress woman. Scribes and Pharisees brought woman along who had been caught committing adultery and making her stand there in the middle, they said to Jesus, “Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery and the Law of Moses ordered us to stone women for this act. What have you got to say?” There is no hiding the audacity of Jesus in his reply that men, even men of positions of religious authority, are in no position to stand in judgment of women. At the end of his ministry, according to St. John’s gospel, it was his mother Mary, her sister, also called Mary, and Mary Magdalene together with the Beloved disciple, John himself, who were with Him at the foot of the cross. After the Resurrection, the first person he appeared to was Mary Magdalene who then ran back and brought the good news to Peter and John and the rest of the disciples.
Despite this firm guidance and Divine example, the Church could not always expect the traits of prevailing culture at the time. A culture, right up until the late years of the last century, in which we were perceived, in many ways, as inferior to men. Yet, even in the ancient world, it was through the efforts of the Church, the cultural practices were damaging to women – polygamy, casting off one’s wife, forced marriage – gave way to the ideas of —- indisputability, indissolvability and marriage based on consent. Throughout the Church’s history, the idea that neither male nor female as set out by St. Paul has never quite disappeared, despite the prevailing culture – there has always been a place for women to find their own identity within the Church. We find it in the presence of women in some forms of pastoral responsibility in the early Church. We see it again in the development of women’s religious houses, which by freeing women of the identification of solely as child-bearer, and enabling them to make a spiritual, intellectual and charitable contribution to society was striking in the way that they did not conform to the prevailing cultural norms. The power of the Abbess and the —- in which some women were held as spiritual guides in the medieval period also highlights this. We can see too in the struggles of those like Mary ward, Angela Medici and Louise DeMarriot that some women in the Church succeeded in their fight to find a public, socially active place for women.
Their legacy continued in the 19th century, with women such as Rose —- and others in religious congregations who did so much to further the education of girls. Thousands of women in the 19th and 20th century, left everything behind to go across the world for an education and health-care and to care for the marginalized of society. Let’s not forget the example of Edith Stein, who died in Auschwitz. Or of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who is one of the most admired persons of the Church in the 21st century.
We also have to accept that these women were very much the exception to the rule and to turn away from the leadership roles, they had to turn away from having children. As a result, like the rest of our society, did not accept the equality of every woman in practice. I have to stress here, by equality, I do not mean that men and women are the same. But we do mean that they are equal in worth and that they should have equal opportunity to achieve their own individual ambitions. This was recognized by the Vatican in its letter of the Collaboration of Men and Women in 2004 which proclaims that men and women are both different and equal. It reflects the views that women shouldn’t be held to seek out —- of those sought by men but which reflect the differences in the needs and aspirations between the sexes. Equality really doesn’t mean that every has to be the same.
In fact, it is the very different qualities that women bring to the challenges of the world, that makes it so vital to attack the discrimination between the genders if we are to meet our ambitions for the world. There is plenty of evidence, for example, that women are more adept at collaboration than men which is important in business and in peace processes, just as it is important in family life. Just as diversity between and within the sexes enriches human life and strengthens our civil society so to would it strengthens the Church if we could see more women in leadership roles within it.
Pope John Paul II recognized in his encyclical letter, Ordinato Sacredotalis, the role of Gianna and Alice in the early church. He also appointed Mary Ann Glendon in 2004 as head of the pontifical Academy for Social Sciences and made her the highest ranking woman in the Church. And of course, I have sitting next to me here, Mrs. Helen, the only woman dean in this institution.
There is no reason why these appointments should be exceptional and actually no reason why ½ all curia posts should not be filled by women. There are plenty of good women candidates for so many posts which a little bit of imagination could see a huge change in the public face of the Church. Now, if that seems an impossible dream, just remember, that there are still 5 men to every 1 woman in parliaments across the world but we have learned the lesson from politics that determination can deliver progress and progress can, in turn, deliver a change in attitudes and a welcome change in policies. We now have many more women MP’s who administer to the UK than a couple of decades ago, thanks to decisions taken by political parties including, I am proud to say, the Labor party which my husband led. This increase in representation has led Britain, as it has across the world, to a greater focus on education, on child-care, on work/life funds and as well as more specific issues such as equal pay and sexual violence. Lest you just think this is a list of European successes, Rwanda, the country in the world, has the highest number of women in parliament – it was 49% and it is actually now over 50 %. That, of course, reflects the fact that, because of the genocide, there are more women than men in Rwanda. But it also reflects the important role that women have taken in bringing together a nation that was once torn apart. And then, of course, we have Chile and Liberia and the Philippines and other countries too with women presidents. And in Spain, ½ the cabinet, as a matter of political will are women. My view is that actually in the 21st century, we may actually see women come into their own. In the Church, if we heard, and saw, more women in the senior echelons, we would see different priorities getting a platform in the Church and that would be for the benefit of everyone.
The Church, of course, has always made it clear that men and women are not the same and that they do not necessarily have to be treated the same. 20 years ago, in the apostolic letter, Mullieribus Dignatis, Pope John Paul II reflected that, in our times, the question of women’s rights has taken on a new significance in the broad context of the rights of the human person. The biblical evangelical message sheds light on this course by —- of the truth about the dignity and vocation that result from the specific diversity of personal individuality of men and women. But while we he is absolutely right that we must protect and value our differences, we cannot let them get used to diminish the essential equality before God between men and women. In his apostolic letter, JPII was concerned that the rightful opposition to what is expressed in the biblical world, “He shall rule over you” must not, under any conditions, lead to the masculinization of women. In the name of liberation from male domination, women must not appropriate themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine originality. JP them elaborated on the features of women that make up what he called our “sexual richness”. He said, “In the Biblical description, the words of the first man at the sight of the woman who had been created are the words of admiration and enchantment. Words which fill the whole history of man on earth.” However, these words cannot describe the whole essence of what it means to be a woman on earth. Women cannot be defined solely through the eyes of men even if he is appreciative or supportive. The differences between men and women are indeed what make life more interesting. But that doesn’t mean that just because one micro—- is different that that underlines the essential common humanity which every man and every woman share because there is a danger if we continue to go down this track. Throughout history, we have seen in different cultures, how this romanticized view of the differences between men and women is too often used to justify the harsh reality of unequal treatment which disproportionately favors men and a view of the world which seems romantic but which in practice, puts barriers in the way of women.
As I said, this is not the message that I take out of the New Testament. It is clear that the way Jesus related to women is that he did not expect the —- women to be —- or to be the subjects of adorations of men. Matthew’s gospel describes, for example, his interaction with the Canaanite woman whose daughter he eventually healed, he tries first to brush off the woman when she asks him to intervene with a brisk, “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.” But the woman was no shrinking violet – Matthew describes her reply as a retort where she says, “Yes, Lord – but even little dogs need scraps that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus was not at all dismayed by her outspokenness but replied, instead, woman you have great faith – let your desire be granted. As scripture reveals, that, to be a woman of faith, is to be a woman competent and assertive of herself and her female desires and her female perspectives. By drawing of the example of the confident women who have found their rightful place in the Church in earlier times, women today can shape their role in the Church and help interpret it’s fundamental truths in a way that speaks in relevance to the modern world.
What JP II wanted to see in M. D., the 20th anniversary of which we also celebrate this year, was that the full human potential of women should be realized for their benefit and for that of the whole of society. For that to happen, along with access to property and education, the Church has also rightly recognized the need for couples to exercise their fertility responsibility. We now know better than ever before, thanks to modern science, that life begins at conception with a contribution from both men and women. I know that for myself – not least for the wonderful surprise of becoming a mother again for the fourth time at the age of 45. Some of us thought that was possibly a miracle. The Church rightly makes it clear, the distinction between controlling fertility and terminating a life once conception has occurred. I experienced that myself when I refused to have an amniocentesis test which was regarded as automatic for such an elderly mother as myself when I found myself pregnant with my fourth child. I just did not want to take the risk of that pregnancy and two years later, I was more than conscious of a life lost when I miscarried a second, late pregnancy. The Church’s current on responsible parenthood is summed up in Article III in the Charter of the Right’s of the Family. It says this, “—- have an inalienable right to found a family and to decide on the spacing of births and the number of children to be born taking into full consideration their duties towards themselves, their children already born, their family and society in a just hierarchy of values and in accordance with an objective moral order which excludes recourse to contraception, sterilization and abortion.”
And, while I am on record, as having had difficulties with the current teaching on responsible parenthood, I do recognize that much of what Paul VI predicted could happen in Humane Vitae as a result of what could happen as a result of wide and indiscriminate use of abortion has been born out in particular in relation to baby girls as the birth ratios of boys to girls in some countries —-. What these lost girls demonstrate is that, across the world, we lack the widely held sense of the contribution of women which is important to society in its own right. The situation of too many women in the developing world shows that we are still far away from women being regarded as being equal to men. Here the over-whelming problems: economic, education and health related. The British Independent newspaper commenting on the 1994 UN Population conference in Cairo signaled out the Catholic Church for praise – not something it always does – it persuasively argued that, by being one of the leading providers of education across the developing world, the Church is making a powerful contribution to improving the lives of women, lifting them out of poverty and enabling them to reduce levels of child-birth, which can be, and is actually often dangerous to their health. History teaches us that improving the general economic situation and particularly improving women’s educational levels, gives women more power in society and helps them exercise more responsible fertility.
So, we are all on a journey here. Just as it has been a journey from hostility to acceptance in the Church’s journey in relation to human rights. I think we will see the Church continue to develop and refine some of its teaching regarding the specific issues which —- human rights. In fact, we need to hear the Church’s voice – —-, on this, always of course, on the basis of an ever deepening entry into the witness and teaching of Christ and His love of humanity – male and female. And those who predicted the death of religion, in the 20th century have been disappointed. The 21st century, the faith of many 100s of millions of people remains an integral part of what is meant to be human and the Church has a critical role to play, today, as across the centuries, in discussion about what that true equality between the different but equal male and female really means in practice.
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