How the Catholic Church Understands Human Rights

Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ writes:

In April 2021, Pope Francis’s universal intention is for fundamental rights. “We pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis,” he says.

Since Pope John XXIII in the 1960s, human rights have been of central importance to Catholic social teaching and practice. Yet the approach of the Church to human rights is often different from that of the secular world.

First, the Church emphasizes daily rights. When St John XXIII listed the fundamental rights in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in terris, he began with what today are regarded as economic ones. “Man has the right to live,” he says, “He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services.” Today, Pope Francis has the same emphasis, stressing in particular the rights to work, housing, land and food security – in Spanish, tierra, techo y trabajo. How important these prove to be during the COVID-19 pandemic!

Catholic social teaching roots human rights—economic and others—in the dignity of the human person. All the rights are interwoven, and all contribute to integral human development—the all-round development of each and every person along all dimensions of life from beginning to end, including future generations. Freedom connects them: people must be free to become active agents of their own development and care for our common home.

The second Catholic feature is that fundamental rights are not just individual. They are always rooted in the common good, not the satisfaction of individual desires. Hence Catholic social teaching has no truck with libertarian ideologies….

Third, our Catholic approach links fundamental rights with fundamental duties. St John XXIII regarded them as two sides of the same coin….While this reciprocity of rights and duties is to be found between persons, it also engages the state in its positive role of promoting the common good and actualizing human rights.

President Biden: Don’t Abandon the Women and Girls of Afghanistan

Photo by Sohaib Ghyasi on Unsplash

Habiba Sarabi, Fawzia Koofi and Sharifa Zurmati write:

After two decades of war, this can be a historic year of peace in Afghanistan. But, as Afghan negotiators, we are duty-bound to caution that peace must not come at the cost of our humanity. And it must not come at the cost of the rights of Afghan women, who have gained so much in recent years.

President Joe Biden’s announcement that he will withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by September, however, could challenge our efforts — especially if American troops leave before a long-term political solution is achieved. After years of conflict, we and other representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban are finally at the negotiating table in Doha, Qatar, where we are hammering out the details of what could become a durable peace deal. But if the Taliban does not believe the United States is firmly committed to a stable and democratic Afghanistan, that could spell trouble for our future talks.

Since the United States went to war with the Taliban, we have been able to make unprecedented progress toward democracy and human rights, all while improving the quality of life for Afghan women. Over the last two decades, the risk that an Afghan woman will die in childbirth has plummeted, while the life expectancy of an average Afghan woman has increased by almost 10 years. Meanwhile, the percentage of Afghan girls who attend secondary school has grown more than sixfold….

These are not simply humanitarian imperatives: Women contribute to Afghanistan’s stability. If they are unsafe or excluded, the country as a whole will be worse off, deepening the toll of a conflict in which thousands of Afghan and American troops have fought and died side by side — a sacrifice that women will never forget as we strive to create a better future for our children….

We press on because we know that an inclusive Afghanistan is the only path to a lasting, just peace and end to the war. We are not alone: Women of all walks of life do not want to return to an era in which their fundamental rights counted for nothing.
The Islamic Republic and the Taliban should engage meaningfully at the negotiating table, since there is no going back. For the Afghan people and the Afghan women, the only way is forward. And if Biden truly wants to play a role in brokering a genuine and enduring peace in Afghanistan, then we ask that he find a meaningful way to support peace through international diplomacy, even after American troops are gone.


Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for April 2021: People Who Fight for Fundamental Human Rights

Defending fundamental human rights demands courage and determination. I’m referring to actively combating poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land and housing, and the denial of social and labor rights. Often, in practice, fundamental human rights are not equal for all. There are first-, second-, and third-class people, and those who are disposable. No. They must be equal for all. In some places, defending people’s dignity can mean going to prison, even without a trial. Or it might mean slander. Every human being has the right to develop fully, and this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country. Let us pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis, that they may see their sacrifice and their work bear abundant fruit.

The Conservative and “Pro-Life” Catholic Leaders Who Are Backing Voter Suppression

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

Christopher White reports:

Conservative Catholic philanthropists and pro-life leaders are key players behind efforts to limit voter access in a number of states, where such suppression could obstruct the right to vote for economically marginalized populations and racial minorities for years to come….

In March, Georgia’s legislature — a state with a long history of denying racial groups and impoverished populations the right to vote — passed new legislation that limits the window in which voters may request mail-in ballots, prohibits groups or individuals from passing out food or water at polling locations, reduces the number of drop boxes for early voting ballots, and enacts new voter ID laws that are likely to disproportionately affect low-income individuals and persons of color.

In response, the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy organization, praised Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for signing the bill into law, saying his “leadership has helped galvanize an election integrity movement surging toward restored trust & confidence in elections where it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

The Susan B. Anthony List is led by Catholic convert Marjorie Dannenfelser, who spearheaded Trump’s pro-life coalition in 2016 and 2020….

Shortly after Trump’s defeat last November, the Susan B. Anthony List joined forces with the American Principles Project to launch the Election Transparency Initiative, a $5 million voting reform campaign targeting states with “close 2020 margins and a pro-life GOP-controlled legislature.”…

A key backer to the two organizations behind the Election Transparency Initiative is Catholic philanthropist Sean Fieler, president and chief investment officer of the New York City hedge fund Equinox Partners. Fieler is a board member of the Susan B. Anthony List and chairman of the American Principles Project board….Fieler also serves as a board member of the Manhattan Institute, the Acton Institute, the Witherspoon Institute, and is the chairman of the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund….

Princeton University Professor Robert P. George, also one of the project’s founders and a current board member, is one of the nation’s leading conservative constitutional law scholars and also serves on the board of the Heritage Foundation, which through its advocacy arm, Heritage Action for America, plans to spend $24 million on voter restriction efforts….

In a parallel effort, the Honest Elections Project, which warns that the legitimacy of elections is under attack, is financially backed by Leonard Leo’s 85 Fund, which has pledged tens of millions of dollars into conservative election efforts across the country….

Both Crawford and Daniels have been active in the pro-life movement for many years and are concerned that Catholic pro-life leaders seem to have embraced a strategy motivated by partisan politics rather than objective truth.

“Instead of talking about how best to protect and support unborn children and their mothers, some pro-life groups are lobbying and fundraising for racially charged voter restriction efforts,” said Daniels. “It’s another sign of the moral costs of the transactional politics of the last four years.”…

You can read the full report here.

10 Years of Murder, Destruction, and Brutal Repression in Syria

Arwa Damon writes:

Long gone is the illusion that any reporting out of Syria will change the realities on the ground. That was painfully eliminated early on.

It ripped many of us journalists to shreds, left us flailing, wondering what more we could have done, or what we should have done better. It gutted us to hear from contacts and activists, who became friends over the years, repeatedly ask: “why doesn’t anyone care?”

Eventually, they went silent, many of them either killed or disappeared.

In Idlib, I stare down at a fresh mural that commemorates 10 years of war, its colors almost too bright, too bold against the gray tones of the rebel-held city. It depicts the passage of the Syrian war, beginning with an image of demonstrators calling for the downfall of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The same artist painted a mural of George Floyd in the ruins of a bombed out building, out of solidarity with the notion that they, Syrians, know what it is like not to breathe.

To not breathe because of chemical weapons. To be suffocated by the thick dust and debris of bombs, and crushed under the weight of a totalitarian system.

When I close my eyes, I can still hear the excitement in protesters’ voices during the early days of the uprising a decade ago. How full of hope they were, how utterly convinced that, if they just hung in there long enough, there would be change. Surely, they thought, if world powers saw their suffering, something would be done.

Oz Katerji writes:

But this solemn date marks only the start of the Syrian revolution, not the opening shot of the Syrian civil war, which began only after months of a brutal crackdown that had already left thousands of people dead at the hands of the regime’s security forces. That violence, initiated by President Bashar al-Assad, began the largest human-made human catastrophe since World War II, on a scale so unfathomable that the United Nations officially abandoned trying to count the death toll in January 2014. It’s a conflict that isn’t over—and that never had to happen.

The U.N.’s last attempt at an estimate was 400,000 dead, issued by then-Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in 2016. Even at that time, the number barely reflected the actual human cost. It became impossible to count the death toll from the daily bombardments, and even more impossible to set a figure for those who later succumbed to their wounds, died from preventable diseases, or starved to death as a result of barbaric sieges—or the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who disappeared, summarily executed or tortured to death in the Assad regime’s death camps. The circle of suffering goes beyond the dead: rape victims, torture victims, traumatized children, widows and widowers, displaced people. It’s a list with no end….

The Syrian civil war must be defined not by the defiance and courage of those who took to the streets in 2011 but instead by the slogan Assad’s personal militias used to drive fear into the hearts of the Syrian people: “Assad or no one. Assad or we burn the country.” This is the only promise the regime has ever kept. This is why it is wrong to mark this date as the start of the Syrian civil war: Syrians did not choose to become the victims of a violent military crackdown for one man’s lust for power; it was a crime perpetrated against them.