Rights and Responsibilities

Learning More About Catholic Social Teachings

Rights and Responsibilities

Human dignity is respected and the common good is fostered only if human rights are protected and basic responsibilities are met. Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible, and a right to access to those things required for human decency—food and shelter, education and employment, health care and housing, freedom of religion and family life. The right to exercise religious freedom publicly and privately by individuals and institutions along with freedom of conscience need to be constantly defended. In a fundamental way, the right to free expression of religious beliefs protects all other rights. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities—to one another, to our families, and to the larger society. Rights should be understood and exercised in a moral framework rooted in the dignity of the human person.

Scriptural Foundations

Catholic social teaching recognizes three sets of rights: the right to life (including food and shelter), economic rights (including education and employment), and political and cultural rights (including religious freedom). With rights come responsibilities to others, to our families and to the common good of all.

Right to life

Quotes from Official Church Documents

  • “It is not right…for either the citizen or the family to be absorbed by the state; it is proper that the individual and the family should be permitted to retain their freedom of action, so far as this is possible without jeopardizing the common good and without injuring anyone,”
    -Pope Leo XIII, On the Condition of Workers (Rerum Novarum), no.52.
  • “[The State] has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation to work actively for the betterment of the condition of [workers].”
    -Pope John XXIII, On Christianity and Social Progress (Mater et Magistra), no.20
  • Beginning our discussion of the rights of man, we see that every man has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and finally the necessary social services. Therefore a human also has the right to security in cases of sickness, inability to work, widowhood, old age, unemployment, or in any other case in which he is deprived of the means of subsistence through no fault of his own.”
    -Pope John XXII, Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris), no.11
  • “[The Catholic tradition calls for] a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.”
    -Pope John Paul II, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum (Centesimus Annus), no.35

From: Leader’s Guide to Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, USCCB. 2001.

For further reading of the Church Documents:

References from the Catechism

  • 2459 - Man is himself the author, center, and goal of all economic and social life. The decisive point of the social question is that goods created by God for everyone should in fact reach everyone in accordance with justice and with the help of charity.

  • 2461 - True development concerns the whole man. It is concerned with increasing each person's ability to respond to his vocation and hence to God's call (cf. CA 29).

Practicing Faithful Citizenship

Prayer for Basic Rights*

Lord of Wisdom,
awaken us to our duty
to care for the basic needs
of all people.
Strengthen with hope
people denied
their human rights and freedoms.
Provide us all with the voice
to cry out for justice
for the poor and the oppressed.

*From Being Neighbor: The Catechism and Social Justice, USCCB, April, 1998