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We have recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration was certainly a conquest for humanity: it is based on the dignity of the person, and promotes and defends respect for peoples and for every one of their members. The Declaration has already been the object of the reflections of the Second Meeting of European Politicians and Lawmakers (Vatican City, October 1998), and the Third Meeting of American Politicians and Lawmakers (Buenos Aires, August 1999), both organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The Declaration has surely not eliminated the many attacks and violations of human rights that have been perpetrated during its 50 years in force. However, there is no doubt that recognition of its principles is always a notable stimulus for the spirit and practice of justice, both within nations and in relations between States, when its true "universality" is preserved and when it is not subject to fragmentation that can take away its original spirit.

Among the fundamental rights, the Declaration recognizes the Family as "the natural and fundamental group unit of society" (Art. 16). We now offer a reflection on the Rights of the Family in the context of the Universal Declaration, the fruit of a seminar in which a large group of experts in different disciplines took part.

For practical reasons and to aid their dissemination and knowledge, we are also offering the texts of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself and the Charter of the Rights of the Family of the Holy See in this publication. The Charter is in itself a deep reflection and development in the light of reason of what is already indicated in the Declaration. These documents are not always readily available.

The reflection we are presenting on the occasion of this fiftieth anniversary is an instrument for dialogue and a scientific exchange of ideas on themes that affect the fundamental values of the person and of society.

Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo

Most Rev. Francisco Gil Hellín


1.1. A Meeting Point

1. We, a group of experts and other persons committed to the cause of the family and life,1 have met at the invitation of the Pontifical Council for the Family, to reflect for three days (December 14-16, 1998) on the theme: "Human Rights and the Rights of the Family". We join with great hope in the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.2

2. With the present document (that is limited to some considerations of particular importance and which we are pleased to offer as the basis for further, deeper considerations), we wish to recognize the Declaration's significance and force, and go forth in the perspective both of its true universality and its complete application. We recognize the Declaration's value and on-going capacity to inspire because we share elements of the one same truth. Sharing the truth is a necessary condition for human coexistence. We certainly do not ignore the reservations to which the Declaration may have given rise: it could favor individualism and subjectivism. In this sense, various critiques have been made of it. However, it is good to stress the great convergence between this Declaration and Christian anthropology and ethics,3 despite the fact that the document makes no reference to God. There is also a conceptual proximity regarding the points admitted as being natural in that they are based on the common conscience of humanity. For this reason, it is certainly not a question of rights created by the Declaration but rather of rights which it recognizes and codifies. "The Universal Declaration is very clear: it recognizes the rights it proclaims, it does not grant them".4 Moreover, the Declaration recognizes "the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all the members of the human family",5 and this constitutes a "meeting point" for joint reflection and action.

3. Out of the sufferings of war, with the deep wounds and lacerations it inflicted, and the grave attacks on the dignity of persons and peoples, humanity united to affirm "the value of the human person",6 together with the due respect and protection. From all places and cultures, the nations of the world proclaimed universal truths, universal rights and universal values. Although the nations of the world are different, their delegates listened to the prompting of the spirit, the call of reason, the lessons of history, and the inclinations of the heart. Representing the peoples of the world,7 the nations agreed to forego ideologies and go beyond utilitarianism in order to recognize the ends grounded in the nature of each and every person. This brings in universal dynamics so that around the truth about man, many more nations than the original signers could adhere to the Declaration and, hopefully in the near future, all the nations of the world will do so.

4. We are aware that the "cold war" impeded application of the Declaration, but we are also aware of the great possibilities that the present era can derive from the so-called "globalization". This means a globalization that is not limited to purely economic aspects but involves other realities and dimensions that have to converge in recognition of the dignity of the human person and pass through a whole body of ethical values that have a binding force. This will all become a reality if we discover the way to encourage the recognition and application of human rights.

5. In his message of November 30, 1998, John Paul II paid explicit homage to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when he described it as "one of the most valuable and significant documents in the history of law".8 The rights articulated in the Declaration constitute an integrated whole with the affirmation of the dignity of every person as its common basis. The curtailment of any right violates a person's humanity. John Paul II has also stated—and this is a warning of great importance—that the selective use of the principles of the Declaration threatens "the organic structure of the Declaration which associates each right with other rights, duties and limits necessary for a just social order".9

6. For this reason, the present document is not just an "anniversary celebration" of the document published in 1948, but a call to all those who recognize the centrality of the human person and the family as the fundamental and irreplaceable nucleus capable of generating the society which will respond to the world we are hoping for. The building up of that society is a noble and difficult task of humanity.

7. We focused on two inseparable areas: the family and life in relation to the historic Declaration. In these areas, the document maintains all its importance and force and all the more at this time when attacks on the family's identity, which does not allow for any alternatives or substitutes, are spreading in an alarming way, and when threats against life are multiplying, brandishing a vocabulary of apparent justice that presumes to cover over a distortion of the reality and meaning of this sacred gift.

1.2. The Role of the Family

8. Taking into consideration that the 1948 Declaration was inspired by firmly anchored ethical and anthropological values consolidated by convictions regarding an objective moral order which were well-grounded at that time, and that it responded to cultural, socio-economic and political circumstances in a given historical setting, we nonetheless believe that it still maintains its complete force. The Declaration's ability remains intact to open and encourage an effective and fruitful dialogue with today's world with its questions and challenges. It is in this perspective that the promotion of "Human Rights" should be facilitated in the face of the many aspects of the present crisis.

9. One aspect of fundamental importance for the promotion of human rights is recognition of the "rights of the family". This implies the protection of marriage in the framework of "human rights" and of family life as an objective of every juridical system. The Charter of the Rights of the Family, presented by the Holy See, implies the conception of the family as a subject that includes all its members. The family is thus a whole which should not be divided up when it is being dealt with by isolating its members—not even for reasons of social substitution which, although necessary in many cases, should never put the family as a subject in a marginal position. The family and marriage need to be defended and promoted not only by the State but also by the whole of society. Both require the decisive commitment of every person because it is starting from the family and marriage that a complete answer can be given to the challenges of the present and the risks of the future.

10. Challenges such as threats to survival, the "culture of death", violence, the lack of safety, under-development, unemployment, migrations, distortions by the communications media, etc., can only be tackled successfully based on a conception of human rights that are developed through the family, thereby transforming the society that is generated in and by the family.


11. We are aware that it is possible and even necessary to introduce and carry forward a dialogue based on human reason regarding society and the principles and ethical requirements that must guide human coexistence.10 No other way can be seen to proceed on common bases with non-believers. However, we would like to develop our reflection in a vision in which faith and reason converge. Reason is enriched when enlightened by faith, and faith makes a depth and a density possible that serve the dignity of the person and of peoples.11

2.1. The Foundation of Brotherhood

12. The characteristics that make up man's being have always been sought. In our century, man has been studied sufficiently on the basis of the many human sciences; nonetheless, the question, Who is man?, has never been asked so insistently. This paradox has not been solved: while, on the one hand, man, his dignity, freedom, greatness and power have never been spoken about so much, on the other hand, he has never been so trampled under foot, subjected to dreadful massacres, and humiliated by violence, especially by the powerful.12 World wars, fratricidal wars (which every war is because "every man is my brother") and tribal wars are a dark chapter in history, and still more the attacks made on the weakest and the innocent, a category of persons who are trampled on in so many ways.13 Since ancient times, it has been thought that man is characterized by his reason. Euripides thus stated that "the intellect is God in each one of us".14 Along the same lines, Plato 15 and Aristotle 16 chose reason as the distinctive human faculty. After Boethius' well-known, "Individua substantia rationis naturae", St. Thomas Aquinas continued in this direction and recognized that man is a person and that this is what is most perfect in the whole of nature: perfectissimum in omni natura. Man is a living, bodily and spiritual being; he is a structured whole. He is distinctum subsistens in intellectuali natura.

13. The concepts of person and dignity are related to one another but not identical. The person refers to being in its highest degree of perfection with its three characteristics of subsistence, spirituality and totality. Dignity refers first to a quality of being, a value that can be opposed to a countervalue. Every person as such has an innate dignity that must be recognized and respected.17 However, the personal being, as a free and evolving being, is called to take on another dignity by developing his or her human possibilities. In this sense, a person also has an acquired dignity that is attained as one perfects in the human order.

14. As the image of God, man has been created through an act of love. God wanted to give man a nature that was different from the whole created order. Man stands out among the other created beings; he transcends them. We all share in existence in a personal way through God the Creator himself. As a personal creature endowed with reason and free will and called to eternal happiness, each human being reflects something of divine magnificence. This is the ultimate, indispensable foundation of our brotherhood.

15. The family is the pre-eminent, most favorable and irreplaceable place for the recognition and development of a personal being on its way to complete dignity. In the family the first steps in human development are taken. In it one is forged not only in the maternal uterus but, as St. Thomas points out, in a "spiritual uterus".18 In this family and formational context, the process of education and promotion of a human being begins. A person who does not receive this initial promotion in the family will be greatly hampered in achieving the human fullness to which heshe is called as a person.

2.2. The Family: the Basis of Society

16. Respect for human rights is necessary for the human development of persons in the community. These values include life itself, health, knowledge, work, the community and religion. Above all, "the family is in fact a community of persons whose proper way of existing and living together is communion: communio personarum".19 The values essential to the family can only be achieved when a man and a woman give themselves to one another totally in marriage, a community of love and life, and are willing to fully accept the gift of new life in procreation and in education. Parents give that new life a home in which the child can grow and develop. All the rights that are necessary by nature for the development of the person in hisher wholeness become real in the family in the most effective way. The family, by its very nature, is a subject of rights, the foundational element of human society, and the most necessary force in the full development of the human person. The importance of the family's social mediation is undeniable. This is something that maintains all its value, despite the changes that have affected the family over the course of history.

17. Since all men are persons, the Holy Father has defined the fundamental institution of society as a "communio personarum".20 "The family is indeed—more than any other human reality—the place where an individual can exist ‘for himself' through the sincere gift of self. This is why it remains a social institution which neither can nor should be replaced: it is the ‘sanctuary of life'".21 Consequently, to promote this existential project in a human being means first of all to recognize his reality as a person and his innate dignity. To achieve this end, it is becoming increasingly necessary to give value to the family and to the different members who comprise it.


3.1. Dignity and Equality

18. The concept of the dignity of a human being must always be the key to interpreting the 1948 Declaration. This is mentioned in the first paragraph of the Preamble, taken up in the first article, and subsequently repeated throughout the whole Declaration. All the affirmations, principles and rights mentioned in the Declaration were written and must be interpreted in the light of the dignity of a human being.

19. The Declaration gathers up the fruits of humanity's historical heritage. Moreover, the Christian understanding of man makes it possible to arrive at a deeper foundation of this reality by making it known that man is the only being who has worth in himself and not only by reason of the species. Furthermore, man has been created in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:27) and thus endowed with an absolute value. The human creature is wanted and loved by God as an end in itself.22 Therefore, man is not an instrument, a means or something that can be manipulated.

20. The Universal Declaration begins by affirming that it recognizes the innate dignity of all the members of the human family as well as the equality and inalienability of their rights.23 It thereby records that this dignity is a reality that emanates from man's essence, i.e., from his nature. Therefore, this is a reflection of the substantial and spiritual reality of the human person and not a creation of the human will, a concession by public authorities, or a product of cultures or historical circumstances.

21. In the Declaration, the dignity of the human being is put in relation to the reason and conscience with which the human being is endowed 24 and thus to his free will. The Encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) also expressly emphasizes this.25 In this way it is made clear that dignity is not a generic, a merely formal or an empty concept but a meaningful one, as the subsequent articles of the Declaration specify: that is, the dignity and the possibility of every real person to achieve hisher own personality and rights, not in an abstract way but concretely, as a woman or man, wife or husband, child or parent.

22. On the other hand, the Declaration affirms and recognizes the full equality of every person 26 and hence prohibits all forms of discrimination or limitations of one's rights on the basis of "race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status".27 This equality is also shown clearly by recognizing that every person is entitled to rights at every stage of hisher development and at every moment of hisher existence.

3.2. Every Human Being

23. Every human being possesses this dignity, as affirmed by the Declaration in which almost every article begins with expressions such as "every human being", "every member of the human species", "every human individual without any distinction", etc. The enumeration of the rights and duties which the Declaration includes thus offers both juridical and ethical guidelines that make it possible to focus on many human situations, both those which existed at the time the Declaration was written, and those brought about by the subsequent social changes and innovations introduced through the development of technology, the economy, and political institutions within States.

24. Everything that is stated about the dignity, rights and duties of the human being holds equally for men and for women. The common dignity of men and women and their reciprocity is the authentic basis for affirming their complete dignity. Reciprocity implies in fact that there is neither a static and undifferentiated equality between men and women, nor an inexorable and irreconcilable conflictual distinction.28

3.3. Work and the Family

25. As both a right and a duty,29 work expresses and fulfills the dignity of human beings. It demonstrates their ability to dominate the world around them; it contributes to the development of their personality,30 and makes the growth of civilization possible. The whole of society and the organizations and policies of the States must generate conditions that will lead to making it possible for everyone to work. We cannot forget that "work constitutes a foundation for the formation of family life, which is a natural right and something that man is called to. These two spheres of values—one linked to work and the other consequent on the family nature of human life—must be properly united and must properly permeate each other. In a way, work is a condition for making it possible to found a family, since the family requires the means of subsistence which man normally gains through work".31

26. The specific contribution that a father and a mother offer through their work to society should be recognized. What a mother contributes to the family and through it to society deserves greater attention; moreover, this has attracted the attention of some of the most distinguished thinkers of our times. This specifically maternal contribution can be seen more obviously in the area of up-bringing, health, education, religious formation and all the activities that affect the well being of the family and its members. John Paul II has stressed the importance of this contribution many times.32 Naturally, emphasis on the mother's contribution should not overshadow the importance of the father's specific contribution because their contributions are complementary.

27. Concretely, in a family, a man and a woman complement one another's work and cooperate with one another for the full realization of their conjugal life and the upbringing and well being of their children. Keeping in mind that motherhood—together with fatherhood—is part of the most excellent gift from the Creator to humankind, namely, the transmission of life, the organization of society and the laws of the States should make it possible for the structure and the remuneration of work to aid women in fulfilling their vocation as mothers, and in the gestation and up-bringing of their children.33


4.1. The Key to the Other Rights

28. The affirmation of the dignity of every human being has as its immediate and fundamental consequence the fundamental right to life which is recognized in article 3 of the Declaration: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person". Human beings have this right from the very moment their existence begins, i.e., from the moment of conception and not only from birth.34

29. From the first instant of his conception, man received his personal reality from God. The person has a dignity in his being that is innate: that is, both the person and his dignity are situated on the ontological plane. It does not matter what manifestations man may have during the course of his evolution; from the moment of his conception, he is always a person whose dignity must be recognized in every circumstance of his existential process.

30. First of all, man has the right to life, the fundamental key to all the other rights as an inviolable right that is guaranteed and protected in every situation, not only by State laws and policies, but also through a real culture of life, "for no offense against the right to life, against the dignity of any single person, is ever unimportant".35 This is a right that is fundamental, in the strongest meaning of the term, because the other rights would lose their consistency through the lack of a subject and support. A distinction must be made between a fundamental right and its value and nobility. There are other rights that take on a greater height and nobility to the point that it is right and licit to give or risk one's life for them.

4.2. Protection Before and After Birth

31. Article 3 of the 1948 Declaration states that "Everyone has the right to life". This principle was developed by the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1959, whereby "a child, because of its lack of physical and mental maturity, requires special protection and care, including due legal protection both before and after birth". This same statement was later incorporated into the "Preamble" of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, approved by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1989.

32. This should be considered a fundamental principle of the system of international protection of human rights (ius cogens 36) since it is undoubtedly incorporated into the common conscience of the subjects of the international community.

33. International Law thereby affirms a principle of the Roman-canonical juridical tradition whereby the unborn human individual exists as a person. The rights of the unborn and their personality were already formulated by Ulpian, Justinian, Gratian and other teachers of law since ancient times. Judaic, Christian and Moslem thought converge along these lines.

34. On the other hand, any legislative attempt that presumes to encourage the "right" to abortion or other forms of negating unborn life clashes with what has matured in international legislation. Such legislation is called upon to coherently "guarantee to the unborn the right to come into the world, in the same way to protect the newly born, especially girls, from the crime of infanticide; assure the handicapped that they can fully develop their capacities, and ensure adequate care for the sick and the elderly".37

4.3. The Rights of the Unborn Child

35. In coherence with these guidelines of juridical thought reaffirmed by the international community and its juridical system, we state that:

36. From the first moment of his existence through the fertilization of the ovule, a human being is endowed with his own innate, special dignity and enjoys the rights that correspond to him according to the stage of his development; 38

37. From the beginning of his prenatal life, a human being is an individual who has the right to life and personal safety;

38. From the beginning of his life, a human being has the right to recognition of his juridical personality, with all the consequences derived from such recognition;

39. The unborn person is a "child" in the sense of, and with the attributes set down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child;

40. The unborn child has a right to legislation that guarantees its survival and development to the greatest degree possible; 39

41. The concrete population planning policies or measures that include or imply threats to the survival or health of the unborn child should be considered contrary to the right to life and human dignity;

42. The unborn child has a right to legislation that protects it from any experimentation on its person, or from being subjected to medical procedures that do not have the protection or improvement of its health as their direct object; moreover, the cloning of humans must be prohibited, as well as any other procedure that threatens the dignity of the unborn child: "Life can never be downgraded to the level of a thing.40

4.4. Duties of the Family and the State Toward the Unborn Child

43. The family is the primary institution for the protection of children's rights. For this reason, the child's interest requires its conception to take place in marriage and through the specifically human act of conjugal union. "The gift of human life must be actualized in marriage through the specific and exclusive acts of husband and wife, in accordance with the laws inscribed in their persons and in their union".41

44. The bond between the mother and the conceived child, and the irreplaceable function of the father make it necessary for the unborn child to be welcomed into a family which assures, as far as possible and in accordance with natural law, the presence of its mother and its father. The father and the mother, as a couple, with the characteristics proper to them, procreate and raise the child. The child thus has the right to be welcomed, loved and recognized in a family. In this sense, the Convention on the Rights of the Child represents a very significant step forward which must be applied.

45. The unborn child has a right to be identified by its parents' name, to its heritage, and thus entitled to protection of its identity.42

46. The unborn child has a right to a standard of life sufficient for its full psycho-physical, spiritual, moral and social development, even in the event that its parents' marriage bond is broken.43

47. Parents have the primary responsibility of raising and educating their children in order to ensure their integral development and an adequate level of social, spiritual, moral, physical and mental well being in order to achieve this. For this purpose, both the laws and the services of the State are called on to cooperate in giving the family adequate support.44

48. In conformity with the principle of subsidiarity, only when the family is not in a position to protect the interests of the unborn child to a sufficient degree shall the State have the duty to provide special measures for its protection, in particular: assistance to the mother before and after delivery, the cura ventris, prenatal adoption and guardianship. Similarly, the State can only intervene in family life when the dignity of the child and its fundamental rights are seriously endangered, taking solely into consideration "the child's higher interest", without any form of discrimination.45

49. By reason of their particular condition and the abuses to which they are exposed, girls and young women require special provisions for their protection.

50. Like all handicapped persons, handicapped children are all the more entitled to the protection and assistance required by their condition. Therefore, the State should help the family to accept the handicapped, favor their integration into society, and to let them benefit from the special provisions for their condition so that they can fully enjoy all their fundamental rights.46

51. The task of deepening the meaning of the right to adoption is very topical, while always keeping in mind that "the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration",47 without mixing this with other kinds of consideration, as noble as they may seem. In the light of this higher interest, the categorical rejection must be confirmed of the alleged right to adoption by "de facto unions", and especially by same sex unions. In such cases, the child's integral formation would be seriously jeopardized.


5.1. Participation and Freedom

52. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights exhorts all human beings to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.48 In this statement, the document is in harmony with Christian social thought and its defense of human solidarity. As fully entitled members of the human family, every man and every woman has the right and responsibility to participate in social, political and cultural life locally, nationally and internationally. The human person participates in the human family by his very nature. Our humanity is shared and the fact that we are persons binds us to the rest of the human community in an immediate and irrevocable way. By virtue of the bonds of solidarity and brotherhood, we can speak about a human family, the family of peoples.

53. For participation to achieve its full meaning, it must be consciously practiced and chosen. The social virtue of solidarity is the will to participate in the search for social justice. It should not be forgotten that "the exercise of solidarity within each society is valid when its members recognize one another as persons". This implies that "those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess. Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of solidarity, should not adopt a purely passive attitude or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate rights, should do what they can for the good of all".49 Solidarity therefore means accepting our social nature and affirming the bonds we share with all our brothers and sisters. Solidarity creates a context in which mutual service is favored. Solidarity creates the social conditions for the respect and support of human rights. The ability to recognize and accept the whole range of rights and corresponding obligations that are based on our social nature can only be exercised in an atmosphere enlivened by solidarity. This also holds in the light of the growing interdependence which "must be transformed into solidarity, based upon the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all".50

5.2. Commitment to the Weakest

54. Our solidarity with the whole human family implies a special commitment to the most vulnerable and marginalized. They should be a privileged category for the love and care of others. The natural unity of the human family cannot be fully achieved when peoples are suffering from poverty, discrimination, oppression and social alienation that lead to isolation and detachment from the community at large.

55. However, our commitment in love must be voluntary if it is to be virtuous. In a special way, solidarity urges us to seek relations that tend toward equality on the local, national and international levels. All the members of the human community should be incorporated in the fullest way possible into the circuits of productive and creative relations.51

56. The peoples of the Third World in particular have suffered the onslaughts of the enemies of life and thus deserve our special attention. Diseases such as AIDS, malaria, etc., crop failures, drought, war, famine and corruption continue to sow innocent victims in many countries. These ills impede the peoples' full development and productivity and keep them from joining the rest of the human family on an equal footing. Frequently, production and economic growth in production take place leaving these peoples aside. Solidarity requires the international community to continue working to achieve global strategies that lead to combating disease and hunger and to promoting authentic human development. The normative dimension of solidarity requires us to make an effort to set up relations with the developing countries that aim at equality. In this process, however, those who enjoy the privileges of overabundance have a corresponding obligation: namely, to give generously so as to put the less fortunate in a position to achieve standards of life by themselves which are in accordance with human dignity.

57. However, it is necessary to proceed with caution so that interventions in foreign countries will be respectful of the integrity of local cultures and economies. Too often, in the name of solidarity, foreign aid goes to corrupt governments and does not reach those who need it most. Moreover, many forms of intervention create local distortions that give rise to dependence rather than equal conditions by destroying the means for self-sufficiency. The aid programs in the name of solidarity should be designed in such a way as to integrate solid economic, cultural and political principles into the logic of solidarity. In this way, solidarity will make a significant unity of peoples possible in the context of human diversity.

5.3. Solidarity Between Men and Women

58. As the first natural community, the family is the exemplary place for solidarity. In the family human beings gradually become aware of their dignity, acquire a sense of responsibility, and learn to give attention to others. In the family, solidarity develops beyond the spouses' love relation and extends to the relations between parents and children, siblings, and inter-generational relations.

59. The true communion of solidarity incorporates and is built on the reciprocity of the genders. Men and women share the benefits and burdens of solidarity equally. They are complementary: "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Gn 1:27). In order to manifest that human beings are the image of the trinitary God, they must unfold their existence according to two complementary modes: the masculine and the feminine. Human existence is thus sharing in the existence of a God who is a communion of love.

60. Equal dignity does not mean undifferentiated uniformity. Having been called by the Creator to live in relations of communion, reciprocity and solidarity, men and women contribute in an original way to the family and to society. A true "culture of equality" is one which accepts and respects the original contributions of both men and women.

61. As persons, men and women share fundamental common dimensions and values. In each of them, however, the values are different in strength, interest and emphasis, and such diversity becomes a source of enrichment. Therefore, solidarity is fully achieved when women and men cooperate with one another in reciprocal and complementary relations.


6.1. Civil Society, Political Society

62. The Church recognizes and supports the State's indispensable duty to defend and promote human rights. Political institutions have the natural responsibility to provide a fair juridical framework so that all the social communities can cooperate in achieving the common good. The principle of subsidiarity itself is a principle of the common good. This common good has to be considered on the broadest level as being universal. Therefore, human rights—and especially the rights of the family—can only develop by acting in conformity with solidarity. "The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good'52".53

63. The Universal Declaration not only explicitly recognizes the distinction between the society and the State, but it also gives value to the contribution to the common good by many communities that make up what Tocqueville called "civil society" in contrast with "political society". The raison d'être of political society is the exercise of power with recourse to coercion, if necessary. It is for this reason that the exercise of power should be strictly controlled by constitutional rules. The State cannot intervene in the areas where the initiative of individuals, communities and undertakings is sufficient.

64. This distinction confirms the well-grounded principle of subsidiarity. Whereas political society has constant recourse to power, its agents and rules, civil society makes use of affinities, voluntary alliances and natural forms of solidarity. This distinction thus clarifies the rich reality of the family: it is the central nucleus of civil society; it surely has an important economic role but its roles are many and, above all, it is a community of life, a natural community. Moreover, since it is founded on marriage, it presents a cohesion that is not necessarily found in the intermediate bodies.

65. During the last decades, a negative impact has been produced because the family has suffered the same attacks which the State has made on other intermediate bodies by suppressing them and trying to govern them in its own image. When the State claims the power to regulate family bonds and emits laws that do not respect this natural community, which is prior to the State,54 it is feared that the State may make use of families in its own interests, and instead of protecting them and defending their rights, it will weaken or destroy them in order to dominate peoples.

66. The Universal Declaration warns about these deviations. It recognizes the right of a man and a woman to marry 55 and to found a family. In line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II recalled that the family is the "first and living cell of society".56 The Declaration emphasizes that this "fundamental and natural" 57 cell requires the protection not only of the State but also of society. Therefore, the Declaration promotes the development of the family in the midst of other communities, while stressing the unique character of this natural institution.

6.2. The Family, First Educator

67. The Declaration also recognizes the right to private property not only as individuals but also in association with others.58 It recognizes the right to religious freedom, including the right of believers to associate with others in worship and education.59 Lastly, the Declaration emphasizes the fact that parents have the right to choose and guide their children's education.60

68. In this regard, it is good to recall that the family's educational mission has its normal complement in the educational institutions. Parents "share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity".61 It should not be forgotten that "all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization".62

69. Naturally, as many psycho-pedagogical studies indicate, a child's early years are decisive in the subsequent formation of its personality. Therefore, the fact that parents can entrust their children to educational institutions of their choice is not only of interest to the children but also to society.

70. Nonetheless, as the example of many countries indicates, including countries that are considered "developed", an effective means of destroying the family consists in depriving it of its educational function under the false pretext of giving all children equal opportunities. In this case, the "rights of children" are invoked against the rights of the family. The State often invades areas proper to the family in the name of democracy which ought to respect the principle of subsidiarity. We find ourselves before an omnipresent and arbitrary political power. The State or other institutions appropriate the right to speak on behalf of the children and remove them from the context of the family. As so many unfortunate past and present experiences reveal, the ideal for a dictatorship would be to have children without families. All attempts to substitute the family have failed.

6.3. Defend the Sovereignty of the Family

71. Today the family needs special protection by the public authorities. While the family has been oppressed by the State at times, now the family also finds itself exposed to attacks by private groups of non-governmental organizations, transnational bodies and public organizations. The State has the responsibility to defend the sovereignty of the family because it constitutes the fundamental nucleus of the social fabric.

72. Moreover, to defend the sovereignty of the family is to contribute to the sovereignty of nations. Today, in the name of ideologies of Malthusian, hedonist and utilitarian inspiration, the family is the victim of forms of aggression that go as far as to question its existence. The communications media propagate the total separation of the unitive and procreative purposes of the conjugal union 63 and trivialize multiple pre and para-marital sexual experiences, thereby weakening the family institution. In various countries, the average age at marriage has increased significantly as well as the age when women have their first child. The number of marriages that end in divorce has reached alarming proportions.64 The "broken and recomposed" families, for which children suffer very much, generate poverty and marginalization. There is a contrast between the recognized primary and decisive role of the family (very significant in many surveys), and the neglect and hostility to which the family institution is subjected and the erosion the family is suffering in some regions and nations.

73. What is worse is that under the impulse of international public organizations, presumably "new models" of the family are being put forth which include single parent homes and even homosexual unions. Some international UN agencies, supported by powerful lobbies, wish to impose "new human rights" on sovereign nations, such as "reproductive rights", which include access to abortion, sterilization, easy divorce, a "lifestyle" for young persons that favors the trivialization of sex, and the weakening of parents' lawful authority in their children's education.65

74. While an exacerbated liberal individualism is exalted together with a subjectivist ethic that encourages the unbridled search for pleasure, the family also suffers the resurgence of new expressions of Marxist socialism. One tendency which appeared at the Beijing Conference (1995), presumes to introduce the "gender ideology" into the culture of peoples. This ideology affirms, among other things, that the greatest form of oppression is man's oppression of woman, and that this is institutionalized in monogamous marriage.66 The ideologists then conclude that in order to end this oppression, it is advisable to put an end to the family based on monogamous marriage. Marriage and the family, rooted in the heterosexual union, are allegedly the products of a culture that appeared at a precise moment in history but which ought to disappear so that women can be freed and occupy their rightful place in productive society.

75. We are aware that the Holy Father, and in following his footsteps the Pontifical Council for the Family, have already spoken out many times about these ideologies which are not only anti-life and anti-family but also destructive of nations. On the threshold of the third millennium, the pastoral care of life, that is received and transmitted generously in the family, stands out as a priority need for the Jubilee Year: "Each family, in some way, should be involved in the preparation for the Great Jubilee. Was it not through a family, the family of Nazareth, that the Son of God chose to enter into human history?".67


76. The various rights of individuals and communities mutually reinforce a culture of freedom in which human beings can contribute to the common good. In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms in many ways that human beings are perfected through individual initiative, private associations and political engagement for the sake of the common good. The Declaration, for example, recognizes the right to intellectual property,68 whereby the invention, distribution and use of knowledge are not merely or solely achievements of the State. As John Paul II observed, "man's principal resource is man himself".69 The Universal Declaration wisely recognizes that an essential part of the freedom of association 70—which includes freedom to associate in labor unions 71—is the right whereby individuals cannot be compelled by the State to join an association.72 All these rights, which individuals and private associations enjoy, are vital for the development of "civil society". They constitute a safeguard against totalitarianism.

77. The practical recognition of the rights of the institution of the family in the framework of the development of human rights cannot ignore the original words, the end and the spirit of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration recognizes in the natural institution of marriage a mutual self-giving in love between a man and a woman—which constitutes a stable union open to the procreation and education of their offspring—as the principal foundation of the family. We call upon all peoples and nations to give careful attention to the norms of the Universal Declaration and not to curtail their beneficial and salutary protection.

78. "The future of humanity passes through the family".73 For this reason, it is in the treatment that peoples give to the family through recognition of its fundamental, irreplaceable value or, on the contrary, through the various forms of neglect, hostility and harassment that hinder its mission, that the future of humanity will pass.


(1) We offer the rich contribution of commissions that worked on various topics. Due to the working method, there may be some repetitions which nonetheless enrich the reflections. Some experts from the Acton Institute also cooperated in this endeavor.

(2) The Pontifical Council had the opportunity to commemorate this event in advance when it held the Second Meeting of European Politicians and Lawmakers from October 22-24, 1998 on the theme: "Human Rights and the Rights of the Family". The conclusions of this meetings were published in L'Osservatore Romano (November 18, 1998, p. 7). The text containing the speeches delivered on that occasion have already been published in Italian (Pontifical Council for the Family, Diritti dell'uomo: Famiglia e Politica, LEV 1999), and the Spanish and French editions are being prepared. We are also planning to hold the Third Meeting of Politicians and Lawmakers of America in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from August 3-5, 1999 on the theme: "Family and Life 50 Years After the Universal Declaration of Human Rights".

(3) Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, 11463, 144.

(4) John Paul II, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1999, 81298, 3.

(5) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble.

(6) Cf. Charter of the United Nations, Introduction.

(7) Even when the number of signers was relatively small.

(8) John Paul II, Message to H.E. Mr. Didier Opertti Badán, President of the 53rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, 301198.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 6893, 99.

(11) Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, 29998, Foreword; 102.

(12) Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, 18.

(13) Cf. Ibid., 12.

(14) Fragment 1018-Nauck.

(15) Cf. First Alcibiades, 133c.

(16) Cf. Eudemian Ethics, 1248 to 2830.

(17) Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, ST, I, q. 29, a. 3; I, q. 29, a. 3, ad 2.

(18) ST, II-II, 10, 12.

(19) John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, 2294, 7.

(20) Cf. Ibid., 6,7; John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, 15888, 23.

(21) Gratissimam Sane, 11.

(22) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the Modern World, 71265, 24.

(23) Cf. Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1999, 3.

(24) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 1.

(25) Cf. Pacem in Terris, 9.

(26) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 1.

(27) Ibid., art. 2.

(28) Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Women, 29695, 8.

(29) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 23; cf. also Gaudium et Spes, 26.

(30) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 22.

(31) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens, 14981, 10.

(32) Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio 23, 25; Laborem Exercens, 19; Message for the XXVIII World Day of Peace, 81294, 1995, 5, etc.

(33) Cf. Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family, 241183, articles 9 and 10.

(34) Cf. Ibid., art. 4.

(35) Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1999, 4.

(36) Cf. Vienna Declaration and Program of Action.

(37) Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1999, 4.

(38) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Vitae on Respect for Unborn Life and the Dignity of Procreation, 22287, I, 1.

(39) Cf. Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 6.

(40) Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1999, 4; cf. Donum Vitae, I, 6.

(41) Donum Vitae, Introduction, 5.

(42) Cf. Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 8.

(43) Cf. Ibid., art. 27.

(44) Cf. Ibid., art. 17 and 18.

(45) Cf. Ibid., art. 20.

(46) Cf. Ibid., art. 23.

(47) Ibid., art. 21.

(48) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 1.

(49) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 301287, 39.

(50) Ibid., 39.

(51) Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 1591, 42.

(52) Ibid., 48.

(53) Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1883.

(54) Aristotle already noted that the family is prior and superior to the State (cf. Nicomachean Ethics, Ch. VIII, No. 15-20). The Holy Father introduced the concept of the "sovereignty" of the family (cf. Gratissimam Sane, 17).

(55) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 16, 1.

(56) Second Vatican Council, Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem on the Apostolate of the Laity, 11, quoted in Familiaris Consortio, 42.

(57) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 16.

(58) Cf. Ibid., art. 17, 1.

(59) Cf. Ibid., art. 26, 3.

(60) Cf. Ibid., art. 26, 3.

(61) Gratissimam Sane, 16.

(62) Ibid.

(63) Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, 25768, 11.

(64) In some countries, this proportion reaches one-third.

(65) Many are asking themselves about the "rights", e.g. of the UNFPA (UN Fund for Population Activities) campaigns, and of some interventions by organizations such as UNICEF with regard to the rights of the family.

(66) According to this ideology, men and women's roles in society would be merely the product of history and culture, and people are free to choose their sexual orientation, regardless of their biological sex.

(67) John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 101194, 28.

(68) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 27, 2.

(69) Centesimus Annus, 32.

(70) Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 20, 1.

(71) Cf. Ibid., art. 23, 4.

(72) Cf. Ibid., art. 20, 2.

(73) Familiaris Consortio, 86.


December 10, 1948


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, therefore,

The General Assembly

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11

1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.

2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14

1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15

1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16

1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17

1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21

1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26

1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27

1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29

1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.


October 22, 1983



The "Charter of the Rights of the Family" has its origins in the request formulated by the Synod of Bishops held in Rome in 1980 on the theme "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World" (cf. Propositio 42). His Holiness Pope John Paul II, in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (No. 46), acceded to the Synod's request and committed the Holy See to prepare a Charter of the Rights of the Family to be presented to the quarters and authorities concerned.

It is important to understand correctly the nature and style of the Charter as it is now presented. The document is not an exposition of the dogmatic or moral theology of marriage and the family, although it reflects the Church's thinking in the matter. Nor is it a code of conduct for persons or institutions concerned with the question. The Charter is also different from a simple declaration of theoretical principles concerning the family. It aims, rather, at presenting to all our contemporaries, be they Christian or not, a formulation—as complete and ordered as possible of the fundamental rights that are inherent in that natural and universal society which is the family.

The rights enunciated in the Charter are expressed in the conscience of the human being and in the common values of all humanity. The Christian vision is present in this Charter as the light of divine revelation which enlightens the natural reality of the family. These rights arise, in the ultimate analysis, from that law which is inscribed by the Creator in the heart of every human being. Society is called to defend these rights against all violations and to respect and promote them in the entirety of their content.

The rights that are proposed must be understood according to the specific character of a "Charter". In some cases they recall true and proper juridically binding norms; in other cases, they express fundamental postulates and principles for legislation to be implemented and for the development of family policy. In all cases they are a prophetic call in favour of the family institution, which must be respected and defended against all usurpation.

Almost all of these rights are already to be found in other documents of both the Church and the international community. The present Charter attempts to elaborate them further, to define them with greater clarity and to bring them together in an organic, ordered and systematic presentation. Annexed to the text are indications of "Sources and references" from which some of the formulations have been drawn.

The Charter of the Rights of the Family is now presented by the Holy See, the central and supreme organ of government of the Catholic Church. The document is enriched by a wealth of observations and insights received in response to a wide consultation of the Bishops' Conferences of the entire Church as well as of experts in the matter from various cultures.

The Charter is addressed principally to governments. In reaffirming, for the good of society, the common awareness of the essential rights of the family, the Charter offers to all who share responsibility for the common good a model and a point of reference for the drawing up of legislation and family policy, and guidance for action programmes.

At the same time the Holy See confidently proposes this document to the attention of intergovernmental international organizations which, in their competence and care for the defence and promotion of human rights, cannot ignore or permit violations of the fundamental rights of the family.

The Charter is of course also directed to the families themselves: it aims at reinforcing among families an awareness of the irreplaceable role and position of the family; it wishes to inspire families to unite in the defence and promotion of their rights; it encourages families to fulfil their duties in such a way that the role of the family will become more clearly appreciated and recognized in today's world.

The Charter is directed, finally, to all men and women, and especially to Christians, that they will commit themselves to do everything possible to ensure that the rights of the family are protected and that the family institution is strengthened for the good of all mankind, today and in the future.

The Holy See, in presenting this Charter, desired by the representatives of the World Episcopate, makes a special appeal to all the Church's members and institutions, to bear clear witness to Christian convictions concerning the irreplaceable mission of the family, and to see that families and parents receive the necessary support and encouragement to carry out their God-given task.



Considering that:

A. The rights of the person, even though they are expressed as rights of the individual, have a fundamental social dimension which finds an innate and vital expression in the family;

B. the family is based on marriage, that intimate union of life in complementarity between a man and a woman which is constituted in the freely contracted and publicly expressed indissoluble bond of matrimony and is open to the transmission of life;

C. marriage is the natural institution to which the mission of transmitting life is exclusively entrusted;

D. the family, a natural society, exists prior to the State or any other community, and possesses inherent rights which are inalienable;

E. the family constitutes, much more than a mere juridical, social and economic unit, a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society;

F. the family is the place where different generations come together and help one another to grow in human wisdom and to harmonize the rights of individuals with other demands of social life;

G. the family and society, which are mutually linked by vital and organic bonds, have a complementary function in the defense and advancement of the good of every person and of humanity;

H. the experience of different cultures throughout history has shown the need for society to recognize and defend the institution of the family;

I. society, and in a particular manner the State and International Organizations, must protect the family through measures of a political, economic, social and juridical character, which aim at consolidating the unity and stability of the family so that it can exercise its specific function;

J. the rights, the fundamental needs, the well-being and the values of the family, even though they are progressively safeguarded in some cases, are often ignored and not rarely undermined by laws, institutions and socio-economic programs;

K. many families are forced to live in situations of poverty which prevent them from carrying out their role with dignity;

L. the Catholic Church, aware that the good of the person, of society and of the Church herself passes by way of the family, has always held it part of her mission to proclaim to all the plan of God instilled in human nature concerning marriage and the family, to promote these two institutions and to defend them against all those who attack them;

M. the Synod of Bishops celebrated in 1980 explicitly recommended that a Charter of the Rights of the Family be drawn up and circulated to all concerned;

the Holy See, having consulted the Bishops' Conferences, now presents this "Charter of the Rights of the Family" and urges all States, International Organizations, and all interested Institutions and persons to promote respect for these rights, and to secure their effective recognition and observance.

Article 1

All persons have the right to the free choice of their state of life and thus to marry and establish a family or to remain single.

a) Every man and every woman, having reached marriageable age and having the necessary capacity, has the right to marry and establish a family without any discrimination whatsoever; legal restrictions to the exercise of this right, whether they be of a permanent or temporary nature, can be introduced only when they are required by grave and objective demands of the institution of marriage itself and its social and public significance; they must respect in all cases the dignity and the fundamental rights of the person.

b) Those who wish to marry and establish a family have the right to expect from society the moral, educational, social and economic conditions which will enable them to exercise their right to marry in all maturity and responsibility.

c) The institutional value of marriage should be upheld by the public authorities; the situation of non-married couples must not be placed on the same level as marriage duly contracted.

Article 2

Marriage cannot be contracted except by free and full consent duly expressed by the spouses.

a) With due respect for the traditional role of the families in certain cultures in guiding the decision of their children, all pressure which would impede the choice of a specific person as spouse is to be avoided.

b) The future spouses have the right to their religious liberty. Therefore to impose as a prior condition for marriage a denial of faith or a profession of faith which is contrary to conscience, constitutes a violation of this right.

c) The spouses, in the natural complementarity which exists between man and woman, enjoy the same dignity and equal rights regarding the marriage.

Article 3

The spouses have the inalienable right to found a family and to decide on the spacing of births and the number of children to be born, taking into full consideration their duties towards themselves, their children already born, the family and society, in a just hierarchy of values and in accordance with the objective moral order which excludes recourse to contraception, sterilization and abortion.

a) The activities of public authorities and private organizations which attempt in any way to limit the freedom of couples in deciding about their children constitute a grave offense against human dignity and justice.

b) In international relations, economic aid for the advancement of peoples must not be conditioned on acceptance of programs of contraception, sterilization or abortion.

c) The family has a right to assistance by society in the bearing and rearing of children. Those married couples who have a large family have a right to adequate aid and should not be subjected to discrimination.

Article 4

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.

a) Abortion is a direct violation of the fundamental right to life of the human being.

b) Respect of the dignity of the human being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human embryo.

c) All interventions on the genetic heritage of the human person that are not aimed at correcting anomalies constitute a violation of the right to bodily integrity and contradict the good of the family.

d) Children, both before and after birth, have the right to special protection and assistance, as do their mothers during pregnancy and for a reasonable period of time after childbirth.

e) All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, enjoy the same right to social protection, with a view to their integral personal development.

f) Orphans or children who are deprived of the assistance of their parents or guardians must receive particular protection on the part of society. The State, with regard to foster-care or adoption, must provide legislation which assists suitable families to welcome into their homes children who are in need of permanent or temporary care. This legislation must, at the same time, respect the natural rights of the parents.

g) Children who are handicapped have the right to find in the home and the school an environment suitable to their human development.

Article 5

Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children.

a) Parents have the right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions, taking into account the cultural traditions of the family which favor the good and the dignity of the child; they should also receive from society the necessary aid and assistance to perform their educational role properly.

b) Parents have the right to freely choose schools or other means necessary to educate their children in keeping with their convictions. Public authorities must ensure that public subsidies are so allocated that parents are truly free to exercise this right without incurring unjust burdens. Parents should not have to sustain, directly or indirectly, extra charges which would deny or unjustly limit the exercise of this freedom.

c) Parents have the right to ensure that their children are not compelled to attend classes which are not in agreement with their own moral and religious convictions. In particular, sex education is a basic right of the parents and must always be carried out under their close supervision, whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them.

d) The rights of parents are violated when a compulsory system of education is imposed by the State from which all religious formation is excluded.

e) The primary right of parents to educate their children must be upheld in all forms of collaboration between parents, teachers and school authorities, and particularly in forms of participation designed to give citizens a voice in the functioning of schools and in the formulation and implementation of educational policies.

f) The family has the right to expect that the means of social communication will be positive instruments for the building up of society, and will reinforce the fundamental values of the family. At the same time the family has the right to be adequately protected, especially with regard to its youngest members, from the negative effects and misuse of the mass media.

Article 6

The family has the right to exist and to progress as a family.

a) Public authorities must respect and foster the dignity, lawful independence, privacy, integrity and stability of every family.

b) Divorce attacks the very institution of marriage and of the family.

c) The extended family system, where it exists, should be held in esteem and helped to carry out better its traditional role of solidarity and mutual assistance, while at the same time respecting the rights of the nuclear family and the personal dignity of each member.

Article 7

Every family has the right to live freely its own domestic religious life under the guidance of the parents, as well as the right to profess publicly and to propagate the faith, to take part in public worship and in freely chosen programs of religious instruction, without suffering discrimination.

Article 8

The family has the right to exercise its social and political function in the construction of society.

a) Families have the right to form associations with other families and institutions, in order to fulfill the family's role suitably and effectively, as well as to protect the rights, foster the good and represent the interests of the family.

b) On the economic, social, juridical and cultural levels, the rightful role of families and family associations must be recognized in the planning and development of programs which touch on family life.

Article 9

Families have the right to be able to rely on an adequate family policy on the part of public authorities in the juridical, economic, social and fiscal domains, without any discrimination whatsoever.

a) Families have the right to economic conditions which assure them a standard of living appropriate to their dignity and full development. They should not be impeded from acquiring and maintaining private possessions which would favor stable family life; the laws concerning inheritance or transmission of property must respect the needs and rights of family members.

b) Families have the right to measures in the social domain which take into account their needs, especially in the event of the premature death of one or both parents, of the abandonment of one of the spouses, of accident, or sickness or invalidity, in the case of unemployment, or whenever the family has to bear extra burdens on behalf of its members for reasons of old age, physical or mental handicaps or the education of children.

c) The elderly have the right to find within their own family or, when this is not possible, in suitable institutions, an environment which will enable them to live their later years of life in serenity while pursuing those activities which are compatible with their age and which enable them to participate in social life.

d) The rights and necessities of the family, and especially the value of family unity, must be taken into consideration in penal legislation and policy, in such a way that a detainee remains in contact with his or her family and that the family is adequately sustained during the period of detention.

Article 10

Families have a right to a social and economic order in which the organization of work permits the members to live together, and does not hinder the unity, well-being, health and the stability of the family, while offering also the possibility of wholesome recreation.

a) Remuneration for work must be sufficient for establishing and maintaining a family with dignity, either through a suitable salary, called a "family wage," or through other social measures such as family allowances or the remuneration of the work in the home of one of the parents; it should be such that mothers will not be obliged to work outside the home to the detriment of family life and especially of the education of the children.

b) The work of the mother in the home must be recognized and respected because of its value for the family and for society.

Article 11

The family has the right to decent housing, fitting for family life and commensurate to the number of the members, in a physical environment that provides the basic services for the life of the family and the community.

Article 12

The families of migrants have the right to the same protection as that accorded other families.

a) The families of immigrants have the right to respect for their own culture and to receive support and assistance towards their integration into the community to which they contribute.

b) Emigrant workers have the right to see their family united as soon as possible.

c) Refugees have the right to the assistance of public

authorities and International Organizations in facilitating the

reunion of their families.



A. Rerum Novarum, no. 9; Gaudium et Spes, no. 24.

B. Pacem in Terris, Part 1; Gaudium et Spes, nos. 48 and 50; Familiaris Consortio, no. 19; Codex Iuris Canonici, no. 1056.

C. Gaudium et Spes, no. 50; Humanae Vitae, no. 12; Familiaris Consortio, no. 28.

D. Rerum Novarum, nos. 9 and 10; Familiaris Consortio, no. 45.

E. Familiaris Consortio, no. 43.

F. Gaudium et Spes, no. 52; Familiaris Consortio, no. 21.

G. Gaudium et Spes, no. 52; Familiaris Consortio, nos. 42 and 45.

I. Familiaris Consortio, no. 45.

J. Familiaris Consortio, no. 46.

K. Familiaris Consortio, nos. 6 and 77.

L. Familiaris Consortio, nos. 3 and 46.

M. Familiaris Consortio, no. 46.

Article 1

Rerum Novarum, no. 9; Pacem in Terris, Part 1; Gaudium et Spes, no. 26; Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no. 16, 1.

a) Codex Iuris Canonici, nos. 1058 and 1077; Universal Declaration, no. 16, 1.

b) Gaudium et Spes, no. 52; Familiaris Consortio, no. 81.

c) Gaudium et Spes, no. 52; Familiaris Consortio, nos. 81 and 82.

Article 2

Gaudium et Spes, no. 52; Codex Iuris Canonici, no. 1057; Universal Declaration, no. 16, 2.

a) Gaudium et Spes, no. 52.

b) Dignitatis Humanae, no. 6.

c) Gaudium et Spes, no. 49; Familiaris Consortio, nos. 19 and 22; Codex Iuris Canonici, no. 1135; Universal Declaration, no. 16, 1.

Article 3

Populorum Progressio, no. 37; Gaudium et Spes, nos. 50 and 87; Humanae Vitae, no. 10; Familiaris Consortio, nos. 30 and 46.

a) Familiaris Consortio, no. 30.

b) Familiaris Consortio, no. 30.

c) Gaudium et Spes, no. 50.

Article 4

Gaudium et Spes, no. 51; Familiaris Consortio, no. 26.

a) Humanae Vitae, no. 14; Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, November 18, 1974; Familiaris Consortio, no. 30.

b) Pope John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 23, 1982.

d) Universal Declaration, no. 25, 2; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Preamble and no. 4.

e) Universal Declaration, no. 25, 2.

f) Familiaris Consortio, no. 41.

g) Familiaris Consortio, no. 77.

Article 5

Divini Illius Magistri, nos. 27-34; Gravissimum Educationis, no. 3; Familiaris Consortio, no. 36; Codex Iuris Canonici, nos. 793 and 1136.

a) Familiaris Consortio, no. 46.

b) Gravissimum Educationis, no. 7; Dignitatis Humanae, no. 5; Pope John Paul II, Religious Freedom and the Helsinki Final Act (Letter to the Heads of State of the nations which signed the Helsinki Final Act), no. 4b; Familiaris Consortio, no. 40; Codex Iuris Canonici, no. 797.

c) Dignitatis Humanae, no. 5; Familiaris Consortio, nos. 37 and 40.

d) Dignitatis Humanae, no. 5; Familiaris Consortio, no. 40.

e) Familiaris Consortio, no. 40; Codex Iuris Canonici, no. 796.

f) Pope Paul VI, Message for the Third World Communications Day, 1969; Familiaris Consortio, no. 76.

Article 6

Familiaris Consortio, no. 46.

a) Rerum Novarum, no. 10; Familiaris Consortio, no. 46; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no. 17.

b) Gaudium et Spes, no. 48 and 50.

Article 7

Dignitatis Humanae, no. 5; Religious Freedom and the Helsinki Final Act, nos. 4b; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no. 18.

Article 8

Familiaris Consortio, nos. 44 and 48.

a) Apostolicam Actuositatem, no. 11; Familiaris Consortio, nos. 46 and 72.

b) Familiaris Consortio, nos. 44 and 45.

Article 9

Laborem Exercens, nos. 10 and 19; Familiaris Consortio, no. 45; Universal Declaration, nos. 16, 3 and 22; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, no. 10, 1.

a) Mater et Magistra, Part II; Laborem Exercens, no. 10; Familiaris Consortio, no. 45; Universal Declaration, no. 22 and 25; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 7, a, ii.

b) Familiaris Consortio, nos. 45 and 46; Universal Declaration, no. 25, 1; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, nos. 9, 10, 1 and 10, 2.

c) Gaudium et Spes, no. 52; Familiaris Consortio, no. 27.

Article 10

Laborem Exercens, no. 19; Familiaris Consortio, no. 77; Universal Declaration, no. 23, 3.

a) Laborem Exercens, no. 19; Familiaris , nos. 23 and 81.

b) Familiaris Consortio, no. 23.

Article 11

Apostolicam Actuositatem, no. 8; Familiaris Consortio, no. 81; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, no. 11, 1.

Article 12

Familiaris Consortio, no. 77; European Social Charter, no. 19.



1. Introduction

1.1. A Meeting Point

1.2. The Role of the Family

2. Society: A Communion of Persons

2.1. The Foundation of Brotherhood

2.2. The Family: the Basis of Society

3. The Person: HisHer Dignity and Rights

3.1. Dignity and Equality

3.2. Every Human Being

3.3. Work and the Family

4. The Right to Life

4.1. The Key to the Other Rights

4.2. Protection Before and After Birth

4.3. The Rights of the Unborn Child

4.4. Duties of the Family and the State Toward the Unborn Child

5. Solidarity and Brotherhood

5.1. Participation and Freedom

5.2. Commitment to the Weakest

5.3. Solidarity Between Men and Women

6. The Rights of the Family and Subsidiarity

6.1. Civil Society, Political Society

6.2. The Family, First Educator

6.3. Defend the Sovereignty of the Family

7. Conclusion

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Charter of the Rights of the Family