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NEWS: November 25, 2020
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Atila Sinke Guimarães
FRATELLI TUTTI, RADICALLY AGAINST PRIVATE PROPERTY - After analyzing the form of Fratelli tutti and its new input against Capitalism, let me take a look in its position on private property.

Sound Catholic doctrine has always considered that the common good of society comes from the good of each of its elements. When many individuals progress, they give more to society, whose government acquires the means – by collecting just taxes – to provide for general needs that no individual or groups can afford – power plants, highways, police, armed forces, etc. This is how the common good and the private good harmonize.

Traditional papal teaching on private property

The Catholic Church has always defended private property. It is in the essential cell of the political-economic order, similar to the family in the social order.

Leo XIII

Leo XIII: Private property is absolutely necessary

Leo XIII was very clear when he taught: “Private property … is the natural right of man: the exercise of this right, especially as members of society, is not only lawful, but it is absolutely necessary.” (1)

Echoing Leo XIII and the theologians who follow the unanimous teaching of the Church, Pius XI emphasized that “nature, rather the Creator himself, has given man the right of private property not only that individuals may be able to provide for themselves and their families, but also that the goods which the Creator destined for the entire family of mankind may, through this institution, truly serve this purpose. All this cannot be achieved except through the maintenance of a certain and definite order.” (2)

These statements of two Popes show that private property is according to the very nature of man and essential for society. This doctrine taught by them is only a sample of an enormous collection of other such documents constantly affirming the legitimacy of private property in its many social and political-economic aspects.

One of these aspects is that, if there is someone who uses his wealth to oppress individuals and even the State itself, the latter should have the means to intervene, stop this abuse and take measures to return the situation to its organic balance.

Conciliar Popes at variance with Tradition

Now then, the Conciliar Popes have slowly sabotaged this traditional doctrine by introducing ideas that favor Socialism in their teachings. Already in the 1950s the role of the “social function of the property” was being strongly exaggerated by progressivists to weaken the principle of private property. This was done to allow the State to dramatically increase taxes over private property in behalf of “the common good.”

Then, in the beginning of the ‘60s, John XXIII affirmed in Mater et Magistra that man should increase and develop “social relationships” to go beyond the capacities of the single individual. It was a quite banal statement, but it so happened that in most languages the expression “social relationships” was translated to “socialization,” giving a clear impression that the Pope was adhering to Socialism. In Populorum progressio Paul VI encouraged the State to control private initiatives under the pretext of helping the latter to expand in developing countries.

John Paul II with Fidel Castro

To preach the universal destination of property out of context favors Communism

John Paul II in Centesimus annus relativized private property by opposing it to the general principle that all goods of nature, including land, belong to all. Benedict XVI in Caritas in veritate also enforced State and international interventions in the private sphere, promoted self-management in businesses and agrarian reform in the countryside.

Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium went beyond all his predecessors by stating that all social inequalities must disappear, declaring war on Capitalism and waving many of the banners of Communism.

Fratelli tutti, further radicalism

So, now Francis in Fratelli tutti takes his teachings on private property to a further degree of radicalism. In effect he states:

“I would like to echo a statement of Saint John Paul II whose forcefulness has perhaps been insufficiently recognized: ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone.’ For my part, I would observe that the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.

“The principle of the common use of created goods is the first principle of the whole ethical and social order; it is a natural and inherent right that takes priority over others. All other rights having to do with the goods necessary for the integral fulfillment of persons, including that of private property or any other type of property, should – in the words of Saint Paul VI – ‘in no way hinder [this right], but should actively facilitate its implementation.’

The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods. This has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society. Yet it often happens that secondary rights displace primary and overriding rights, in practice making them irrelevant.” (§ 120) (Emphasis added)

These principles seem intended to establish new juridical and moral orders.

I observe that the first text of Fratelli tutti highlighted above – “Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property” – is frontally denied by the previous quotes of Leo XIII and Pius XI.

Indeed, Leo XIII taught the right to private property is absolutely necessary. Pius XI in his turn said the right to private property was given to man by nature or rather the Creator himself and is indispensable for the accomplishment of the goal God has for all the goods of Creation. Exactly the opposite of what Francis affirmed.

Pius XII

Pius XII teaches the opposite of Francis
on private property

The following teaching of Pius XII also contradicts Francis:

The right of the individual and the family to property is a consequence of the essence of the person, it is a right of his personal dignity. Yes, it is a right laden with social responsibilities; however, it is not exclusively a social function.” (3)

Pius XII, therefore, reinforced the teaching of Leo XIII and Pius XI when he stated that the right to private property is a consequence of the essence of the person.

Regarding Francis’ pretense that all forms of private property are subordinated to their social purpose, Pius XII also said that although private ownership has social duties, it is not exclusively a social function.

The conclusion regarding this first text of Fratelli tutti: It is easy to see that Francis is wrong. He does not have any base to affirm what he did. In other words: Catholic tradition has always taught that the right of private property is essential, a demand of nature and absolutely indispensable.

Is private property a secondary right?

As for the second part highlighted above – “The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods” – it is a sophism.

Fisherman

Once the fish is caught, it belongs to the fisherman; it is no longer part of the universal destination of goods

How can I prove this? The universal destination of all goods is only valid until the moment someone takes possession of one or another of those goods, declares it his own and acquires property rights over it. For example: All the fish that exist in the ocean and are in international waters are destined for all men. But the moment that a man in his boat catches some of those fish, they belong to him. Jus utendi, fruendi and abutendi – he has the right to use them, take advantage of them or destroy them.

The same principle applies to lands. At the beginning of History all the lands of the world had a universal destination. To the measure that different persons, groups, peoples and nations took possession of those lands, the juridical aspect of the universal destination of goods changed. Those goods passed to be properties of their owners.

So, to enter the picture after all of those lands are possessed and divided and allege that they still fall under universal destination is a pretext to take those lands from their legitimate owners. Logically speaking, this characterizes a sophism; juridically speaking, it constitutes the base for institutional theft; morally speaking, well, since I am running out of space, I can address this topic another time.

Next, who benefits from this sophism? It obviously benefits International Socialism. Insofar as the Conciliar Church preaches an essential subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, it is actually demanding that the State or the United Nations determine what the best destination for those properties is.

This is a position that, as much as I know, goes far beyond any other revolutionary statement of the progressivist conciliar Popes on private property. It is radically anti-Catholic; it is radically socialist.

To be continued

  1. Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, Petrópolis: Vozes, p. 17.
  2. Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno, São Paulo: Paulinas, 1969, p. 20, § 45.
  3. Pius XII, Radio message to the Katholikentag of Vienna, on September 14, 1952, in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, vol. XIV, p. 314.