Catholic Church Calls on World Governments to Reject Drug Legalization, But Says Repression Cannot Be Sole Response 12/7/01

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In a new pastoral manual issued last week by the Vatican, the Catholic Church called on the governments of the world to resist the temptation to legalize the drug traffic. The manual, "Church, Drugs, and Drug Addiction," was produced by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry after Pope John Paul II called in 1997 for a study of "the distressing drug problem in the world."

The manual, which is not yet available online, opens with the words of John Paul II, the cleric who has led the Church since 1978. "The Pope tells us of three specific actions for a pastoral care program which confronts the drug problem," Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan told a Vatican press conference heralding the release of the manual, "prevention, treatment and repression."

The text of the five-chapter manual refers in depth to prevention and treatment, but the Pope made his stance clear in his opening remarks. In them, the pontiff affirmed that "we must all fight against the production, creation, and distribution of drugs in the world, and it is the particular duty of governments to courageously confront this battle against 'death trafficking.'"

According to Archbishop Barragan, the Vatican is opposed to the legalization of any drugs, even soft drugs such as cannabis, because it considers their use incompatible with Christian morality. (Until copies of the manual are available, it remains unknown if the Church now finds alcohol use incompatible with Christian morality.) But, said Barragan, the Church understands that repression alone will not end drug use, and it will urge governments and societies to change their cultures to combat the problem.

Barragan accused the mass media, the movies and modern music of sending out messages that favored drug use and a generally permissive attitude. "Drugs serve to achieve an immediate pleasure in the effort to flee from internal unease so that users find no other type of solution," warned the prelate. He also reproached Western society for supporting a "deviation from liberty" that assumes people may do what they wish with their own bodies.

A spokesman for the US Council of Bishops told DRCNet that while they had not yet seen the manual, it was not a departure from current Church policy in this country. "The bishops are against the use of illegal drugs," said spokesman Bill Ryan. "I don't think this will affect their stance."

But just as the pontiff's conservative positions on other social issues have not won unanimous consent even within the hierarchy, John Paul II's restatement of Church doctrine on drugs clashes with the position taken by at least one prominent clergyman, Father Miguel Concha. In March, Concha, head of the Church's Dominican order in Mexico and president of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights, called for an examination of legalization at a Tijuana conference organized by an investigative journalists association (

Reading from a document crafted for the occasion, Concha affirmed that, "We who are Civil Society and its organizations, with the decided support of a mass media genuinely committed to democratic values... propose to consult, in the most open, professional and objective manner, what our societies think and decide about the deregulation and progressive decriminalization of the production, commerce and consumption of certain types of drugs."

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