The Catholic Churchhas expressed human rights issues in various platforms since time immemorial.In recent times, the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiffs has been used as the principle means of human rights interventions. The Popes have successfully used Encyclicals to convey various facets of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.
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Consequently, the social doctrine, (preceded by the excellent input of Leo XIII and augmented by the consecutive contribution of the Magisterium) has been integrated into doctrinal corpus (Paul II2). This paper will therefore discuss some Catholic teachings on human rights issues.
The Encyclical of Paul VI (which declares that the social issue is a global phenomenon) brings out a moral fact based on an objective assessment of the reality. In this context, the originality of the EncyclicalPopulorumProgressio gives credence to the moral evaluation of the social issue.
As a result, politicians and inhabitants of rich countries viewed as individuals (particularly if they are Christians) have the moral duty to take into consideration the relationship between their behaviorand the poverty that is prevalent among millions of people. In the Encyclical, Pope Paul VI terms this moral duty as the duty of solidarity(Paul II 7).
Alternatively, the originality of the Encyclical Populorum Progressioalso addresses the fundamental concept of development (perceived within the universal interrelationship framework) which changes significantly. Real development cannot be realized if accumulation of resourcesis done at the peril of human development and without due consideration for the spiritual, cultural and social dimensions of the masses.
The concept of development (viewed as the social doctrine of the Catholic Church) is aptly captured in the concluding paragraph of the document which asserts that peace is now regarded as the new name of development (Paul II 8).
As a matter of fact, if the social matter has attained a universal appeal, the reason could be that the demand for justice can only be achieved at that level. If this demand is overlooked, then the victims of injustice could respond with aggression to restore universal parity. Individuals who are denied a fair share of resources initially destined for everyone could resort to violence in order to air their grievances. The Encyclical raises an important question that merits our consideration:
How can one justify the fact that huge sums of money, which could and should be used for increasing the development of the people, are instead utilized for the enrichment of individuals or groups, or assigned to the increase of stockpiles of weapons(both in developed countries and in the developing ones) thereby upsetting the real priorities? Ifdevelopmentis the new name for peace, then military preparations are the major enemy of the integral development of people (Paul II 9).
The concept of development can be assessed with respect to this statement by Pope Paul VI. The world is currently characterized by greed and deception and most governments are least concerned about the spiritual and human rights ofthe masses. On the other hand, peace would be realized in the world if perfect justice prevailed among all people.
It is worthy to note that the basic tenet of the Encyclical PopulorumProgressio was so popular during the 1960s and the 1970s era. During this period, people were optimistic about the prospect of conquering (without extreme actions) the economic backwardness of the deprived masses through the industrialization process.
Within this historical perspective, the United Nations (UN) also supported the development programs of poor countries. In fact, a number of bilateral and multilateral measures were adopted by the UN to assist developing countries.
At the same time, the Catholic Church felt it had a moral obligation to comprehend the tribulations created by the new situation and suggest solutions(Massaro 75). The Church wanted to play a major role in supporting these remedial measures through a religious platform (Paul II12). Some of the suggested solutions were based on three fundamental teachings.
The Catholic teaches three fundamental aspects about human being. These are: human dignity; human as a social mortal; and the concept of transcendental humanism. Human dignity is a major social teaching that was first recorded in Pope Leo XIII’sRerum Novarum (22).
The concept of human dignity(promulgated by the Church) is based on the Biblical account that God created human beings in His own image. Given that human dignity is an innate attribute given by God, every person has a right to it without any kind of prequalification (Vatican II Council 12).Therefore, according to Catholic teachings, human dignity precedes any manmade prequalification.
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The importance of humans as social creatures is also promulgated by Catholic social teaching. For example,EncyclicalGaudium et spes states that all people are integral members of a family. The document states further that the human family can only develop genuinely if its members nurture love amongst themselves towards the commongood(human rights).
In other words, real development (such as attainment of human rights) can only be realized if each and every member of the family works together towards the common good. This notion becomes more and more poignant especially in the globalization era where technical development is alleviating obstacles that previously divided people (Vatican II Council 23).
According to the Gaudium et spes, one of the prominent aspects of the contemporary world is the escalating interrelationship between men on one hand and the advancement supported mainly by modern technical development (Vatican II Council 25). Nonetheless, real development can only be achieved if there is mutual respect for the spiritual dignity of the masses.
The concept of transcendent humanism is explicitly addressed by Pope Paul VI in Populorum Progressio. This concept is based on the notion that the main aim of a person is to attain self-fulfilment via development. Transcendent humanism entails shifting from poor human conditions to ones that befit human stature. According to Pope Paul VI, this attainment is essentially associated with human dignity as well as the right to access fundamental material resources needed to prosper (Vatican II Council 25).
It is worthy to note that social encyclicals were authored by the Catholic Church to address emerging social issues on the world platform. For example,EncyclicalPopulorum Progressio (The Development of People) was written in 1967 in response to widespread colonialism during that time. On the other hand, EncyclicalSollicitudo rei Socialis (On Social Concern) was authored in 1987 in response to the growth of global trade.
Pope Benedict also lends credence to the intricacy of the social problem. In assessing the society’s reaction to the challenges of Populorum Progressio, he asserts that the current social problems (such as human rights issue) are not only new but also have significant impacts on the current and future wellbeing of the masses. In spite of the wonderful benefits of globalization to international commerce, widespread inequalities are still present in the society (Massaro 76).
Massaro, Thomas SJ. “Living Justice: Catholic social teaching in action.” Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc: New York, 1961. Print.
Pope Leo XIII.“Rerum Novarum: On the Conditions of the Working Classes – 1891.” Catholic Truth Society:London, 1960. Print.
Pope Paul VI.“Populorum Progressio: On the Development of Peoples – 1967.” Daughters of St Paul: Boston, 1969. Print.
Vatican II Council.“Gaudium et spes: Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World –1965.”Society of St Paul: Homebush, 1978. Print.