Pope praises efforts to reduce drug abuse, prostitution in Netherlands

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI praised efforts by the Dutch government to reduce drug abuse and prostitution, measures hotly debated in the Netherlands where broad personal freedoms have made some cities, particularly Amsterdam, famous for red-light districts and coffee shops selling marijuana.

"While your nation has long championed the freedom of individuals to make their own choices, nevertheless, those choices by which people inflict harm on themselves or others must be discouraged for the good of individuals and society as a whole," the pope told the new Dutch ambassador to the Holy See.

Joseph Weterings, the new ambassador, presented his credentials to the pope Oct. 21 at the Vatican.

Pope Benedict told the ambassador that in its relations with nations and the international community, the church tries to be a moral voice, speaking on behalf of those on the margins of society and the most defenseless, including the poor, the sick, the unborn, the elderly and minorities.

"While recognizing with humility that her own members do not always live up to the high moral standards that she proposes, the church cannot do other than continue to urge all people -- her own members included -- to seek to do whatever is in accordance with justice and right reason and to oppose whatever is contrary," the pope said.

Pope Benedict said he was "encouraged by the steps that the Dutch government has taken to discourage drug abuse and prostitution."

Proposed legislation would make the marijuana coffee bars accessible to members only, raise the legal age for prostitutes and use stricter zoning laws to limit both the bars and the brothels.

While the church recognizes personal rights and freedoms, the pope said, "care is always needed to discern whether perceived rights are truly in accordance" with natural ethical principles.

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