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Former pontifical council staff member questions new document on water rights

March 29, 2012

A layman who formerly worked as a policy analyst for the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace has raised questions about the pontifical council’s new document on water rights--and by implication, the teaching of Blessed John Paul II, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and Pope Benedict XVI on the right to water.

“The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life,” Pope Benedict taught in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate. “It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.”

Kishore Jayabalan, now director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office, comments:

[T]here are at least two reasons why the “right to water” doesn’t exist: 1) States are neither able nor willing to pay for “free” water, and 2) it would interfere with the property rights of those who, for example, own land with abundant supplies of water. These would seem to be quite understandable, but not insurmountable, concerns for those who care about the common good. There are many ways for necessary goods to be produced, distributed and consumed through a novelty called commerce, the supposed “excess” of which is criticized by the Holy See …

If States are reluctant to recognize the “right to water,” why does the Holy See insist on it so regularly? One likely explanation is that most States and the Holy See have very different understandings of human rights. Does a right fundamentally entail freedom from state coercion or entitlement to a government-provided benefit? Should all human goods and needs, which obviously go beyond basic rights such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” be considered human rights? If so, who will protect and provide them, i.e., the State, civil society or individuals? Is accommodation or synthesis possible among these divergent understandings of rights, some of which would limit the scope and reach of governmental (and ecclesiastical) power while others would expand them? More basically, aren’t these notions of rights and government based on fundamentally different understandings of human nature, on which we are unlikely to agree at anything approaching a universal level?

It ought to be clear that such questions are central to our understanding of the liberal human rights project, much larger than that of providing “free” water for all.


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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Mar. 29, 2012 10:07 PM ET USA

    I don't think the Acton Institute has ever disagreed with liberal capitalism on anything, have they?

  • Posted by: Contrary1995 - Mar. 29, 2012 6:54 PM ET USA

    The Acton Institute is engaged in the hopeless task of reconciling unfettered free market capitalism with Catholicism. No one can be both a Classical Liberal and a faithful Catholic. If you doubt me, ask G.K. Chesterton.