Most Rev. Crepaldi: "Conscientious objection, a test bench for our faith”

Life, family, the freedom of parents in the education of their children. When receiving g the participants at the conference organized by the European People’s Party, Benedict XVI defined these three principles as “implicit in human nature”, and therefore “non negotiable”. He summoned Catholics active in public debate not to make them the object of bargaining, since such an attitude, even before being a betrayal of one’s faith, would constitute “an offense against the truth of the human person”.

That was on 20 March 2006. Not even ten years have gone by, but this lapse of time seems an eternity to many people. Among the observers of the Church, and perhaps among the faithful as well, many are those who retain this formula to already be obsolete, belonging to what is by now a hermeneutics rendered out of date by the frenetic impact of history and mores.

This is not the mind of Most Rev. Giampaolo Crepaldi, Archbishop of Trieste and strenuous defensor fidei. In 2014 he published a book entitled  No compromise – Faith and the policy of the non negotiable principles  (Cantagalli Ed.), and in which he demonstrates the imperishable importance of the non negotiable principles in both society and the world of politics. In the following interview he explains that the Church has by no means abdicated from invoking respect for a moral order that precedes us and bestows meaning upon us.  




Your Excellency, the expression “non negotiable principles” no longer seems timely in the Church. What has driven you to propose its use anew?

The doctrine of the non negotiable principles was formulated during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, but expresses a vision coming from before then and destined to last afterwards, today and in the future. Natural moral law, the doctrine of intrinsece mala, that is to say acts that must never be performed, and the social significance of the ten commandments never go ‘out of fashion’. And all this is encompassed in the notion of non negotiable principles. Expressions themselves may be used, then perhaps overlooked, and then resumed or changed. For example, Pope Francis does not used this expression as such, but does use its substantial meaning when, with language all his own that differs from that of his predecessors, he does affirm the selfsame truths about life, the family, freedom of education, religious freedom, justice, etc.  I know very well that during the pontificate of Benedict XVI the very expression “non negotiable principles” and its contents had been the object of criticism and opposition. At that time I did not share such criticism because I consider this notion as belonging to the tradition of the Church.

Widespread especially in the mass media nowadays is the tendency to set two Churches in opposition with one another: one attentive to social issues and another one more vigilant in terms of doctrine and morals. In your opinion, are there any grounds for this dichotomy?

There are no grounds for this distinction. The mass media erroneously insist on it, and men of the Church who foster it are likewise in error. The issue of the non negotiable principles is very useful for understanding the groundlessness of this opposition. If we take the  non negotiable principles and consider the main ones, those being life, the family and freedom of education, we would be lead to ascribe them to that part of the Church you defined as “more vigilant in terms of doctrine and morals”.  We immediately realize, however, that those three principles shed very strong light also on specifically “social themes”, as you call them: fiscal policy, salaries, tariffs, youth policies, employment and housing are very closely related to the protection of life and the family. Therefore, the non negotiable principles cluster more strictly ethical themes and more specifically economic and social ones. As I try to explain in my book, it suffices to understand them as principles and not only as moral values.

Therefore, does it still make sense to talk about “a militant Church”?

“Sound-bite” expressions are always deceptive. It’s necessary to clarify the meaning of these words. Life itself, and Christian life as well, is and always will be a commitment for good. It would be naïve in a culpable manner to think that nowadays in the world there aren’t anthropologies in conflict, tendencies or structures of sin, opposition against God and hate of Him. How can we not commit ourselves in the face of evil, forms of injustice, violations of the dignity of the person, and odium fidei? If this is what “militant Church” means, I don’t believe it will be possible to abandon the concept. If the expression “militant Church” is intended to mean a Church opposed in a visceral manner to the world, the enemy of persons and not only the evil things they often do, the answer is no. Everything the Church does, also when it is combative, is done out of love.

You therefore reiterate the concept illustrated in your book: “it is impossible to announce good without countering evil as well”..

Medieval philosophers were wont to say: omnis determinatio est negatio. Each determination of something entails the negation of something else. This is an application of the principle of non contradiction. If I say something is white, it means I deny it is black.  If I say something is good, it means that the contrary thereof is bad. How can I say life is sacred and untouchable, and at the same time condone abortion? How can I say the natural family only exists between a man and a woman, and then readily accept same sex unions?  Morality requires taking a stand, a judgment about reality and what to do, a taking sides. Certainly, what is positive has primacy over what is negative. Hence, good over evil, and it is therefore necessary to propose good, focus on what is positive rather than just take a stand against what is negative. Nonetheless, this will not impede fighting against evil. Otherwise, focusing alone on what is positive becomes an alibi for taking flight from the conflicts of life.  

Don’t you think that adopting a hard line on the non negotiable principles may constitute a deterrent to dialogue and hence to mutual enrichment among differing positions?

Here as well we have to agree on the words being used. Maintaining the non negotiable principles as firm points does not mean no dialogue, it means no negotiations, not turning them into material for bargaining. Those principles require dialogue with everyone so that in dialogue we may see where we stand regarding their truth in order to deepen it and link it with the situations of life. No one has a monopoly over non negotiable principles. In order to be true dialogue, however, dialogue cannot concern everything, because in such a case it could not attain any stable truth, that is to say a truth no longer subject to debate. The sense of dialogue is to reach a shared truth which is true not insofar as shared, but shared insofar as true. Truth precedes dialogue and makes it true dialogue; it does not come after dialogue. A truth that is the outcome or fruit of dialogue would be a truth relative to human agreement, and that means no longer truth. Moreover, I’d also say that true dialogue presupposes not tamed points of departure, but clear and solid ones. If the parties involved water down their positions beforehand in order to be able to dialogue all the better, they are deceiving one another. This is not dialogue.

Stemming forth from adhesion to the non negotiable principles is conscientious objection. This is rather widespread among Catholic physicians. In your opinion is it so also among Catholic politicians?

I cannot put a number on such things because it is a matter of problems of conscience to which we have no access. Nonetheless, I can say this. Nowadays many are those who theorize that politics is compromise, laicity as regards of values, the place of relative choices. I really don’t go along with that, and believe that at stake in politics as well are universal values. This is what the non negotiable principles are all about. Therefore, I’ll put it this way: if conscientious objection applies for physicians as far as abortion is concerned, for health care professionals or pharmacists as far as abortion medicines are concerned, for public officials regarding the registration of same sex unions, for teachers with respect to the gender ideology, etc., what shouldn’t it apply for politicians in the case of a law contrary to the dignity of man; that is to say, contrary to the non negotiable principles? It is not to be forgotten that the non negotiable principles are not negotiable insofar as structurally linked with respect for the dignity of the person.

You link the non negotiable principles with the themes of the protection of creation. Do you see any correspondence between what you have written and some of the food for thought provided by Pope Francis Laudato Si’?

Most certainly, and especially in the concept of “integrated ecology”, which is a deepening of the notion of “human ecology” proposed by John Paul II in Centesimus annus and Benedict XVI in Caritas in veritate. Everything holds together: the worsening of the situation as regards the non negotiable principles causes damage also for the environment. Great indeed are the teachings in Caritas in veritate regarding the fact that the lack of respect for life in advanced countries is opposed to development because it nourishes individualistic and hyper-consumer attitudes, leads to a decline in birth rates, which is also an element contrary to development, and weakens solidarity towards the poor of this world. The Laudato si’ of Pope Francis argues along the same line.

In your own experience as archbishop of Trieste, in 2013 you were the target of scathing accusations of homophobia for having defended the natural family. In such a social atmosphere, what role can be played by fidelity to the non negotiable principles?  

I have no doubt that fidelity to the non negotiable principles will call for a special dose of courage in the future, a readiness to pay a personal price and accept forms of discrimination. The world does not persecute believers who gather in their places of worship to pray; it persecutes those who become involved in the mechanisms of this world and place them in danger. Courageously pursuing the defense of human life and the natural family, for example, constitutes a potential disturbance factor with respect to today’s dominant powers, and entails a price to be paid. On occasion, the case of a bishop explodes, as happened with me in the episode you recalled. Paying more, however, are Christian laypersons where they work, in schools and in the mass media. Intimidation is very frequent, as are blackmail and episodes of revenge. In the future, conscientious objection will become a major test bench for our faith.