The catholic church and international law

Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Shannon Golden, Wenjie Liao

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Since the 1960s, the Catholic Church has been immensely influential in shaping international law. It provides a compelling example of how nonstate actors, relying on principled positions rather than resources, can alter the course of global policy making. The Church's authority rests on three distinct features: (a) independence from the nation-state system; (b) a centralized transnational bureaucracy; and (c) its enduring ideology. In this review, we elaborate on the Church's role in promoting peace, serving the poor, and blocking the institutionalization of access to contraception and abortion. Church ideology finds strong secular counterparts in the cases of promoting peace and support for the poor. It is on shakier ground when it ventures into gender issues, which it has done with zeal in recent years. Its primary allies on gender issues have been other religious organizations and Islamic states, reinforcing the religious rather than human rights basis for Church positions. The Church's role as the moral authority in the secular United Nations system is therefore less clear when it speaks about gender and sexuality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-411
Number of pages17
JournalAnnual Review of Law and Social Science
StatePublished - Oct 13 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright ©2017 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • Catholic Church
  • Gender
  • International law
  • Peace
  • Poverty
  • Religion


Dive into the research topics of 'The catholic church and international law'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this