Mary Ann Glendon, The Influence of Catholic Social Doctrine on Human Rights, 10 J. Cath. Soc. Thought 1 (2013).
In the history of Catholic social doctrine, surely one of the most important
developments has been the Church’s assimilation of what Pope Benedict
XVI has called the ‘true conquests of the Enlightenment’.1 Nowhere is that
phenomenon more striking than in the extent to which Catholic social doctrine
has appropriated, and even championed, human rights ideas. The influence
of human rights on Catholic social thought – and on the Holy See’s
international advocacy – has been widely discussed and debated. What has
received less attention is the reciprocal character of that relationship. Hence,
my assignment at this session is to initiate some reflection by the members
of the Academy on the ways in which Catholic social doctrine has influenced,
and might influence in the future, the theory and practice of human rights.
In this paper, I propose to trace that influence through five phases: first,
in the post-World War II human rights ‘moment’; second, in the Cold War
years; third, in the heady days when human rights ideas were among the
forces that led to the fall of oppressive regimes in South Africa and Eastern
Europe; fourth, in the contests over meaning, interpretation and implementation
that intensified in the 1990s; and finally in the pontificate of Pope
Benedict XVI whose 2008 speech at the UN contained several pointed
warnings about the future direction of the human rights movement.