Pope Pius XII, far from being passive during the Holocaust, urged convents and monasteries to shelter Jews during the second world war.
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, talks often of the dignity of the human person, the dignity of the person made in the image and likeness of God. It is a theme to which he often returns. It is fundamental to our understanding of what it means to be human, to how we view and treat others, to how we perceive ourselves.
It is because of the great dignity of the human being that the Church upsets many people in Her teaching. Yet, it is because of the great dignity which has been conferred on the human race that the Church also condemns much that the World also rightly condemns.
The Nazi regime of Hitler set about eroding the sacred dignity accorded to its citizens. According to the Nazi ideology of racial purity, the Jews were to be treated not as a people 'crowned a little lower than the angels', but as a people stripped of their humanity, a people now to be viewed as less than human, or sub-human. The Church has always condemned any ideology which seeks to lower our appreciation of the innate dignity which comes from merely being human. Every human being is made 'in the image and likeness of God'.
Yet, it was not just the Jews who were victims of the Nazi regime's drive for racial and societal purity. The Nazi ideology's breathtaking spectrum of people deemed 'unfit' for German society was extended to gypsies, mentally ill people and homosexuals among others. This too, the Church condemns, since every human being has a dignity which has been conferred upon him or her from conception, with rights which come not from the State, but from merely being human and have, the Church would say, being 'made in the image and likeness of God'.
Paradoxically, it is because of proclaiming the great dignity conferred on mankind that the Church comes in for a great deal of criticism. In a society which appears to view human identity as a social construct, rather than as a gift, society now organises itself into sub-groups, all of whom have something different to say about our identity. Society organises itself according to a new set of rights for which each group struggles. From the women's groups advocating abortion to the LGBT movement, advocating gay marriage, their causes are seen in terms of struggle against an oppressive society, organised against their cause for 'freedom'. Personal identities are seen in terms of sexuality or gender and a struggle for personal 'freedom' or 'liberation'.
Yet how can the Catholic Church support these causes when these causes go against or run contrary to the great dignity which has been conferred upon the human race by our Creator and Redeemer? She cannot, nor should She support a human ideology which fails to recognise our true identity as being adopted children of God. How can a Catholic, even a Catholic who is of a homosexual orientation, support the promotion of an ideology which is not grounded in the dignity which he has been given as a human being? How can identify himself as a baptised person, a disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ, while supporting an ideology based on his sexual orientation alone.
Since by His Incarnation, God so loved the pinnacle of His Creation, Man, that He 'became flesh and dwelt among us', the Church proclaims that human dignity has been raised to a new and mysterious height. By virtue of his or her Baptism into the life of Grace, the human being is a 'new creation'. His or her dignity is grounded in the life of the God Himself. The human person is born not merely for material or sexual gratification in this life, but called into the divine life of the Trinity. He or she is called into a new relationship with his Creator and Redeemer. In other words, every human being is called not to proclaim his personal freedom in terms of gender or sexuality, or even perhaps race, but to proclaim that God is Love, to love Him, serve Him and give Him glory in this life, so that he may be with Him forever in the next. Every human being is called to be a Saint.
Abortion, euthanasia and the practise of homosexuality are practises which run contrary to human dignity. All of them can be presented as fulfilling a personal human freedom and yet none of these give mankind true freedom. All of these practises destroy the unique friendship and relationship between man and his Creator. They destroy the life of God within the human being.
For every Catholic, of any gender or sexuality, the Christian life constitutes a struggle. For every Catholic, of any gender or sexuality, the Church consistently calls upon us to receive forgiveness and Grace by frequenting the Sacrament of Confession and by going to Holy Communion so that we may obtain both forgiveness and Grace to live the Christian life.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the ministry of the Priest, through His Absolution, shows us gentleness, compassion and mercy in our weaknesses, no matter whether we are of a homosexual or heterosexual orientation. He does not have 'favourites'. He does not condemn us in our sinfulness our weakness or our temptations. He does not refuse our coming to Him but welcomes us as His children, no matter what we have done. As St Paul says, 'Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ'. For the homosexual, or the heterosexual, both Confession and Holy Communion wash away the stain of sin from the soul. Again, that original innocence, or original purity which was given the soul at Baptism is restored. Through the ministry of the Priest, Christ Himself rescues what was lost, restores that which was sullied and restores once again for us, the innate dignity which comes from being made in the 'image and likeness of God'.
For all of these reasons, the Church can never support the desire of sub-groups in society which call for the liberation and freedom of individuals based upon gender and sexuality, since true liberation and true identity comes from God alone. The Church recognises that this dignity is conferred upon the human race from conception to death and that these rights to be treated with dignity should be respected. This singular right overrides all other claims to rights based upon human ideology. The Church states that all human beings, and directly homosexuals in orientation or heterosexual, should be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. Every man and woman has dignity. Nobody can take that dignity away from us.