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Chapter 7: Equal Dignity, Communication, Interpersonal Relationships, and Restitution


The dignity of human persons is rooted in their relationship to God. While love excludes discrimination which violates that dignity, love also distinguishes among persons in accord with their dignity. Thus the errors of social stratification and egalitarianism are both profoundly mistaken. It is always grave matter to violate others’ dignity, for to do so is to hate them; nor may power be used for domination. Women and men have equal dignity as persons but complementary gifts.

All communication should be open to community, and all parties to communication should submit themselves to truth. There are responsibilities on the side of those who receive communications as well as on the side of those who communicate. Truthfulness is an obligation in each and every communication. Unloving communication is wrong because it damages communion. This rules out such things as boasting, false modesty, flattery, and detraction. But lying and other deceptions in communication also are incompatible with love, including love of enemies, and so are wrong. The various justifications advanced for lying in some circumstances, and even for “mental reservations” which are intended to deceive, do not stand up under examination. At best, lying as a “lesser evil” can be subjectively blameless.

Although there is an obligation to keep promises, sometimes promises lose their obligatory force and need not be kept. Similarly, there is a limited responsibility with respect to secrets. While this responsibility can have different bases, secrecy often is good, and should be respected. The responsibility nevertheless is limited, and sometimes secrets need not, or even should not, be kept. The Golden Rule is useful in judging the limits of the responsibility.

Fulfilling one’s vocation often requires forming or joining voluntary associations. The specific purpose of a structured voluntary association should be respected, and it is unjust for some members of an association to impose a change of purpose on others. Friendship, a form of voluntary association, is intrinsically good and valuable for Christian life, and should be sought and offered. Friends have certain specific responsibilities to one another: to communicate their real and full selves, to give one another precedence in the order of charity, to defend one another’s reputation and honor, and so on.

Authority and obedience are essential to all communal actions, and do not preclude equal personal dignity. But some conceptions of obedience are contrary to personal dignity, as are some notions of authority. The force and the limits of authority are determined by its moral ground; the exercise of both authority and obedience should be shaped by the common good.

Formal cooperation in others’ wrongdoing is always wrong, but material cooperation is sometimes, though not always, permissible. The Golden Rule provides guidance in determining whether to cooperate. Discernment is necessary when both cooperating and not cooperating are good. In some cases, the Church’s leaders can authoritatively decide.

Restitution restores justice in an unjust state of affairs. An obligation arising from the good of justice as interpersonal harmony, it can be required by diverse specific conditions. Usually, however, just restitution does not make things exactly as they were. The Golden Rule must be applied to determine what restitution is required; and not just those obliged to make restitution but those to whom it is owed should be just and merciful.