Pope Francis’s recent remarks to the 31st International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome this June were very blunt:
Drugs are an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise… Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called“recreational drugs”, are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects… No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that. No to any kind of drug use.
This is not the first time the Holy Father has spoken out against drugs. At his General Audience of May 7, 2014, Pope Francis proclaimed that we should say no to every kind of drug. Visiting Brazil in June 2013, the Holy Father decried as “dealers of death” those who participate in the illegal drug trade.
These papal pronouncements are more than a “Just Say No!” campaign. Pope Francis concludes, “to say no [to drugs], you have to say yes to life, yes to love, yes to others, yes to education, yes to sports, yes to work…” The message of Christ is always one of hope, one of peace, one of joy and beauty, one of life.
Pope Francis’s statements denouncing drug use and the legalization of even “soft drugs” like marijuana are continuous with the Church’s teaching on drugs. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states simply, “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense” (2291). This teaching on drugs appears in the discussion of the Fifth Commandment—“Thou shall not kill”—in the section on Respect for Dignity of a Person. The use of drugs is dehumanizing and makes one less of a person. As “life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God,” we have the obligation to care for ourselves, not to abuse ourselves (CCC 2288).
Pope Francis is following Saint Pope John Paul II’s lead in making very public statements against the legalization of drugs. Like Pope Francis, Saint John Paul II acknowledged no difference between using “hard” and “soft” drugs. In 1997, the Pontifical Council for the Family spoke out against the legalization of drugs: “Through the legalization of drugs, it is not the product that is thereby legalized, but rather the reasons leading to the consumption of this product that are justified” (“Should ‘soft’ drugs be legalized?”, L’Osservatore Romano, English, 19 February 1997, 15). The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers released a pastoral handbook in 2001: Church: Drugs and Drug Addiction. Almost five years in the making, this guide emphasizes the pastoral approaches to dealing with drug addictions and associated problems. This guide notes that the legalization even of “soft” drugs is not an answer, because no one has the right to harm himself through the use of drugs. The conclusion remains, “whether drugs are illegally purchased or distributed by the State, they are always harmful to man” and the gift of life (“Should ‘soft’ drugs be legalized?”, 15).
Say no to the legalization of drugs—it’s pro-life!
Image: Vasily Vereshchagin, Eaters of Opium