By John Garvey, President
The Catholic University of America Magazine, Fall 2013

On October 2 we announced a new affiliation with Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng (see news story on page 4). Mr. Chen joins our Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies as a distinguished visiting fellow. He will also serve as a senior distinguished fellow in human rights at the Witherspoon Institute, and senior distinguished adviser focused on Internet freedom and human rights for persons with disabilities at the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice. 

Mr. Chen is a human rights luminary and I am delighted that he will have a home at Catholic University. He is a self-taught lawyer who heroically defended basic human rights in China, and landed in jail for his troubles.  Mr. Chen fought the Chinese government’s barbaric one-child policy and brought international attention to the horrific practice of forced abortions in China. He has actively advocated for persons with disabilities, the poor, and women. His courage is all the more impressive because he has been blind since a young age.

Mr. Chen’s commitment to protecting the rights of the poor and vulnerable resonates with our mission at Catholic University. As I noted at the National Press Club conference announcing our new partnership, the Catholic Church is deeply committed to defending basic human rights. Pope John XXIII wrote in Pacem in Terris 50 years ago:

Any well-regulated and productive association ... in society demands the acceptance of one fundamental principle: that each individual ... is truly a person ... endowed with intelligence and free will. As such he has rights and duties. ... These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable.

The American Catholic bishops have likewise repeatedly urged us all to work for the protection of human rights. In a statement on faithful citizenship in 2007, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote:

Human Life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. ... Human dignity is respected and the common good is fostered only if human rights are protected and basic responsibilities are met.

As the bishops’ university, we have a role to play in protecting human dignity and advocating for human rights. Mr. Chen will find at Catholic University a supportive and welcoming home for his advocacy. I am confident that his presence will add to our academic strength and inspire important dialogue about Catholicism and human rights on campus. 

It is also my hope that our students will be moved by Mr. Chen’s heroic activism. He is a remarkable example of dedication and commitment to a worthy cause. We want to inspire our students to live virtuously, and to be heroes when heroism is called for. Mr. Chen’s courageous commitment to protecting human dignity and advancing human rights has inspired people around the world to be better advocates for those in need. I think he will inspire our students to do the same.