Rights from the Catholic perspective


After looking around a little, I cannot find Catholic discourse about what a “right” is, and the topic is coming up a lot in or society.
What are rights based on? Generally I realize that a person has rights to all the “human” things. What are the sources of rights? Why and how are they limited?
Rights to bear a child? Rights to be married? It seems most talk of rights is in relation to the denial of something.

Anyone have a good source from the Catholic perspective?
(not interested in a debate)


Rights are based on natural law, rooted in the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of our Father Creator. It was either John Paul or Benedict - I forget which - that compared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be the greatest treatise on the subject since the Apostle Paul. We Catholics use other language, but that document is nonetheless a masterpiece that we can all relate to.


“Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”

However, the most important thing about this is while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others. This is Key and a big reason why there exists such a sweeping debate about marriage.


Very good question! I expressed this thought to some people a week ago. People nowadays say “this is a right” and “that is a right” but when you ask them “What is a right?”, I’m guessing they wouldn’t have a good answer!

I’m interested to know what others have to say.

This article might be helpful which might give you ideas as to what to search for next, or possibly, other sources you might want to consider looking at:


A good start might be studying Aquinas. He’ll discuss the Eternal Law, Natural Law, and Human Law. Although studying the Summa and his works may be intense. So a summary of Aquinas may be helpful. There are books that go over each part or certain parts of his works, if I am not mistaken.

To understand what a right is, you also have to understand what is right and what is wrong. There are many factors that justify what is a right and what is not (such as theology, the Church’s teachings, etc.), but I’m interested in how your studying this will go for you! I think that even reading Church documents such as Dignitas Personae or Humanae Vitae will give you a feel for how it is they come to what is a right and what is not. If you can get the feel for it, you’re a step farther!


I am not an expert in this area, but your question led me to search for information on it.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, rights are mentioned in many places, but I didn’t find much regarding the basis or source of rights.

A wider search found this:
The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences,
Fifteenth Plenary Session (May 2009):
Catholic Social Doctrine and Human Rights
This web page first has a link (the button labeled “Download PDF”) to the entire conference proceedings, and following that, links to individual articles taken from it.

It is a huge document, 630 pages. Not all of it is in English. I have only skimmed some of the English parts, and I don’t expect to finish them all, but the parts I did read look very relevant to your question. If you like to read a lot, this should be a good source.


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