Aparecida 47: Human Rights

Catholic teaching on human rights is very different from the common understanding of human rights in the United States, where rights are often seen in terms of only civil and political rights which are concentrated on giving freedom to the individual – freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to bear arms, etc.

The Latin American bishops and Catholic Social Teaching have identified the danger that rights may be limited exclusively to one’s own individual rights.

In the first major papal document on human rights, Pope St. John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris  (1963), human rights which also include economic and social rights. In addition Pope John connected rights with duties:

The natural rights with which We have been dealing are, however, inseparably connected, in the very person who is their subject, with just as many respective duties; and rights as well as duties find their source, their sustenance and their inviolability in the natural law which grants or enjoins them. (Pacem in Terris,  28)

It is therefore not surprising to find the Latin American bishops way of this “tendency toward extreme affirmation of individual and subjective rights.” As they note, in paragraph 47:

This search is pragmatic and limited to the moment with no concern for ethical criteria. Claiming individual and subjective rights, without a similar effort to guarantee social, cultural, and solidarity rights undermines the dignity of all, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. (Emphasis mine.)

For the bishops, an individualistic approach to human rights can undermine the dignity of the poor and vulnerable. The option for the poor and vulnerable has to be the framework in which rights of persons should be considered.

To preserve the dignity of the poor they call for the guarantee of social, cultural, and solidarity rights.

I was somewhat taken aback by the reference to “solidarity rights.” These appear to be rights of groups or nations, as can be read here. As I understand them, these are rights self-determination of groups.

A fuller discussion of the range of rights is beyond the scope of this post – but it is useful to understand that in the US we usually think of rights in terms of civil and political rights – freedom of the press, the right to vote, the right of habeas corpus, etc. The second generation of rights includes social, economic, and cultural rights, for example: the right to food and the right to education. As I understand them, solidarity rights are rights of groups than of individuals as well as the rights of people to what is common.


About John Donaghy

Permanent deacon, ordained in the Catholic diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, in 2016. Missionary in Honduras since June 2007, living and working in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.
This entry was posted in 2007 Aparecida document, bishops, evangelization, Guest Writers, John Donaghy. Bookmark the permalink.

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