One of the aspects in which Francis has caused most perplexity – especially in the western world – is his blatant aversion to capitalism, shown by criticizing the free market whenever he gets a chance, by his unconcealed partiality for a motley assortment of communist leaders, as well as by the transmission of messages of dubious content, which – if one has the heart to get to the bottom of them – contain unpleasant surprises.
One of the members of the Denzinger-Bergoglio network, a passionate theologian of the Social Doctrine of the Church just finished a study showing some surprising aspects of the Encyclical Laudato Si’ regarding private property. In observing the conclusions reached, at first we thought that he might be exaggerating, perhaps stimulated by a motivation far removed from the objectives of this page. However, in calmly examining his point of departure, basis, analysis and conclusions, we could not help but admire it, for our reader had pinpointed everything very well indeed… better than Francis himself in his controversial encyclical. So let’s get right to the matter at hand, part by part…
Laborem exercens, source of inspiration (with nuances) for Francis
Francis begins Chapter 4 of the Laudato si’ with an eloquent subtitle; ‘The Common destination of goods’ and he further wrote in number 93:
‘The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a ‘golden rule’ of social conduct and ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order’ (John Paul II. Encyclical Laborem excercens, no. 19, September 14, 1981). (Laudato Si, 93)
In this paragraph, Francis cites the encyclical Laborem excercens of Pope John Paul II twice. Yes, that’s right, twice. Because the first reference: ‘The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods’ corresponds to a paraphrase of number 14, a fact that is not mentioned. The second reference, as is indicated in the text, has been cited from number 19.
Now, these two references, having been extracted and juxtaposed outside of their original context used by Pope John Paul II, transmit imprecise ideas to most people, and they may even provide a basis for sophisms. Let us examine one of them, which is a serious matter.
If on one hand it may be affirmed that private property is subordinate to a universal right – that is, to the right of all men to make use of goods; and if, on the other hand, it is also affirmed that this right is a ‘golden rule of social conduct’ and ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order’, then, one could say that private property, being ‘subordinate’ to this ‘universal right’, should not necessarily be for individual use. Therefore, private property, in conceding its ‘private character’, in order to become ‘communitarian’ or ‘collective’, would fulfill more entirely its ‘universal destination’. Is it not due to this collectivization that it would be possible to alleviate its poorer brothers who have no possessions? This all sounds very well, doesn’t it?. But it is a mere sophism… as we shall see.
This gains strength when we read the second paraphrase that Francis subsequently presents. In it, once again the source of inspiration is omitted (Laborem excercens, no. 14) and besides, the doctrinal principle presented by its author, Pope John Paul II, is overlooked:
The reading of these three references obtained from the Laborem excercens, a direct citation from number 19, the two paraphrases of number 14 (moreover, from the same paragraph), together with the omission in indicating the author of the ideas [Note 1 – below] and the doctrinal context in which they are presented, oblige us to enter into an extensive clarification of the principles that Pope John Paul II taught, based on the Social Doctrine of the Church.
In light of these ‘lapses’ – let us denominate them in this manner….– a first point to clarify would be: In what doctrinal context did Pope John Paul II write these three references of the Laborem excercens, which are used within the Laudato si’ with such a surprising interpretation? What did this Pontiff teach regarding the right to private property in the referred number 14 of his encyclical Laborem excercens?
Reading the Laborem exercens in its context…
For the purpose of this analysis, the doctrinal aspects that Pope John Paul II recalled in number 14 of his encyclical Laborem exercens regarding the right to private property, may be synthesized in five points.
- The Holy Father presented a summary of the motives that brought Pope Leo XIII to publish his encyclical regarding the ‘Social Question’: Rerum Novarum. With this intent, a specific aspect referred to the contract verified between “those who do the work without being the owners of the means of production, and on the other side those [entre] who act as entrepreneurs and who own these means or represent the owners” (Laborem exercens, no. 14)
- Regarding this specific aspect, Pope John Paul II emphasized that the encyclical Rerum novarum, recalled and confirmed the doctrine of the Church regarding property and the right to private property, even when it treated of the means of production. Pope John Paul II drew attention to the fact that the same doctrine was taught by Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Mater et Magistra.
- In this regard Pope John Paul II affirmed: “The above principle, [the doctrine of the Church regarding private property], as it was then stated and as it is still taught by the Church, diverges radically from the programme of collectivism as proclaimed by Marxism and put into practice in various countries in the decades following the time of Leo XIII’s Encyclical.”
- Pope John Paul II also emphasized that: “At the same time it differs from the programme of capitalism practiced by liberalism and by the political systems inspired by it. In the latter case, the difference consists in the way the right to ownership or property is understood” (Laborem exercens, no. 14). Let us understand this point well. It is well known that the process of social changes generated by the Industrial Revolution from the second half of the 19th century onwards brought, as a consequence, unemployment and poverty to multitudes who, in emigrating from the countryside to the city were subjected to conditions lacking the most basic elements of hygiene, health and dignity. In this process, the ideologists, economists, and industrialists of the liberal schools, such as for example, that of Manchester, unscrupulously favored the accumulation of great capitals, based on the payment of an ‘unjust salary’. In the first item of his encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII firmly protested against this sin, which violates the seventh commandment of the law of God, and harms workers and their families.
- Having described the rejection that the Church manifested for Marxist collectivism and the program of capitalism practiced by liberalism, Pope John Paul II added the words that Francis utilized to compose the two paraphrases mentioned above. The first, which alludes to the ‘subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods’; and the second that emphasizes the ‘non absolute’ and ‘inviolable’ character of private property.
The great difference between the words of Pope John Paul II and Francis, are found in the following important doctrinal aspect: When Pope John Paul II addressed these topics he referred to the right that all people possess to use the goods created by God. In effect, the earth was given as an inheritance to all humans so that they might live from it. The economic liberalism of the 19th century, in denying workers a ‘just salary’, in practice disallowed them the possibility to form a patrimony for themselves and their family:
‘Christian tradition has never upheld this right as absolute and untouchable. On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone’ (John Paul II. Laborem Exercens, no. 14)
Incidentally, exactly this universal right, whether of the large, medium or smaller property owners, to use the goods of the earth, was the favorite target of the persecution of the ‘programme of collectivism as proclaimed by Marxism’ and brought about in numerous countries for decades, as Pope John Paul II himself emphasized in the same number 14 of the Laborem exercens, cited above.
That which the Polish pope strove to emphasize, Francis, on his part, by paraphrasing these ideas from the Laborem exercens, disregarding the historical contexts in which they were presented, and omitting a mention of its author and the doctrinal principles to which he alludes, inevitably presents paragraphs outside their original context. To facilitate its analyses, it is worthwhile to cite the second part, once again:
‘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’ (Laudato Si, no. 93).
Francis once again provokes doctrinal confusions, by presenting this paragraph with ideas as though they were of his own authorship, affirming that private property is not an ‘absolute’ or ‘inviolable’ right, and moreover, that a ‘social function’ weighs over it in any of its forms.
Francis and the ‘de-absolutization’ of private property?
What does it mean that this right (to property) was never recognized by ‘Christian tradition’ as absolute or inviolable?
We obtain a response by considering the historic and doctrinal circumstances exposed by Pope John Paul II in the Laborem Excercens, no. 14: ‘Within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone’. However, since in Laudato si’ Francis argues that private property was simply not recognized by ‘Christian tradition’ as an ‘absolute’ and ‘inviolable’ right, inevitably, some doubts arise:
- What historic facts or doctrinal teaching might be used to demonstrate that ‘Christian tradition’ never recognized the right to private property ‘as absolute or inviolable’?
- Was there at any time, within the context of ‘Christian tradition’, a ‘violation’ or a ‘de-absolutization’ of private property?
- Who has the power to ‘de-absolutize’ or ‘violate’ private property?
- For what motives may one ‘de-absolutize’ or ‘violate’ private property?
The affirmation presented in Laudato si’, having been written based on a paragraph that was taken out of context, and above all, having silenced the doctrinal foundation presented by its original author, does not offer to the reader a response to these questions.
Nonetheless, taking as a reference some surprising contributions that Francis has made to the Social Doctrine of the Church, which he proudly declares that he follows, some conjectures may be made regarding his innovative doctrine. Let us examine five:
- Could it be possible that in Francis’ magisterium, private property could be ‘de-absolutized’ or ‘violated’ by the popular movements, ‘sowers of change’, whose ‘farm workers, laborers, communities and peoples’ want ‘real change, structural change’ since they live in a ‘system by now intolerable’ (Address by Francis to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, July 9, 2015).
- Could it be possible that in Francis’ magisterium private property could be ‘de-absolutized’ or ‘violated’ by the governments of his particular liking, that is, by ‘governments which make it their responsibility to put the economy at the service of peoples’ in order to ‘promote the strengthening, improvement, coordination and expansion of these forms of popular economy and communitarian production’? (Address by Francis to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, July 9, 2015).
- Could it be possible that in Francis’ magisterium private property could be ‘de-absolutized’ or ‘violated’ by the popular movements who ‘work tirelessly for the soil and crops of campesinos, for their lands and communities, for a more dignified local economy, for the urbanization of their homes and settlements; […] to build their own homes and develop neighborhood infrastructures and […] any number of community activities aimed at reaffirming so elementary and undeniably necessary a right as that of the three “L’s”: land, lodging and labor’ (Address by Francis to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, July 9, 2015).
- Could it be possible that in Francis’ magisterium private property could be ‘de-absolutized’ or ‘violated’ by the ‘workers united in cooperatives and other forms of community organizations’ that ‘were able to create work where there were only crumbs of an idolatrous economy’, as for example, ‘recuperated businesses, local fairs and cooperatives of paper collectors’, testimonies ‘of that popular economy which is born of exclusion and which, slowly, patiently and resolutely adopts solidarity forms which dignify it? (Address by Francis to the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, July 9, 2015).
- So, it seems that Francis’ magisterium of private property really can be ‘violated’ or ‘de-absolutized’ by the ‘Agrarian Reform’ that he vehemently incited to put into practice by the groups of Marxist orientation who attended his address at the I World Meeting of Popular Movements. (Address at the First World Meeting of Popular Movements, Rome, October 28, 2014)
These are questions that don’t seem so farfetched, when we start putting together this confusing puzzle. But along with these concerns, there is another, just as perplexing:
The ‘social purpose of property’ according to Francis…
What are we to understand when Francis affirms that: ‘The Christian tradition (…) has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property’ (Laudato si’, no. 93)?
Since according to Laudato si’, private property is a right which ‘Christian tradition has never recognized (…) as absolute or inviolable’, how are we to understand this ‘social purpose’? Would this ‘social purpose’ consist of a redistribution of the goods from those who have possessions with those who do not? If so, how would this redistribution be carried out if the owners do not wish to share their goods, since they are ‘standing up to an idolatrous system which excludes, debases and kills’? Should they be ‘liberated’ by ‘violating’ and ‘de-absolutizing’ their property by means of demonstrations or agitating the masses as is normally done by certain ‘popular movements’, directed by close friends of Francis, such as Juan Grabois of the ‘Workers Confederation of Popular Economy’ in Argentina and João Pedro Stédile of the ‘Landless Workers Movement’ in Brazil?
Juan Grabois – agitator with communist affiliations, promoter of the manifestations in the peripheries and industrial districts of Buenos Aires – great friend of Francis.
Joao Pedro Stedile, head of the ‘Landless workers movement’ (Movimento sem terra – MST), in Brazil.
Or could it be that the social purpose of property consists in it passing from its individual condition to a communitarian state through the governmental action of those leaders who have manifested a special ‘understanding’ toward Francis and vice versa, such as Evo Morales, Nicolás Maduro, Rafael Correa, Raúl Castro and other such representatives of socialism?
This ‘social purpose’ in Laudato si’ is also not explained by Francis. Nonetheless, those who wish to examine the innovative vision contributed to the Magisterium of the Church with regard to private property, can read the addresses that he made to the Popular Movements (Rome, October 28, 2014/ Santa Cruz de la Sierra, July 9, 2015), which were the object of analysis of the Denzinger-Bergoglio (here and here). Let each one draw his own conclusions…
Having attempted to clarify these preliminary doctrinal aspects taught by Pope John Paul II regarding the right to Private Property, we invite you to the study of the other sections, which are no less important, regarding the reference that Francis made to his illustrious predecessor when he spoke of the “the common destination of goods”. Don’t miss the other parts of this series, for they bring many surprises…
In the first part of this study, undertaken by our specialist in Social Doctrine, we examined the “peculiar” use that Francis made of some references from John Paul II’s Encyclical Laborem exercens. One of the points that still remains to be dealt with is regarding an affirmation of the Polish Pontiff: “the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone” – a fact that was brought up and taken advantage of by the current Bishop of Rome in his controversial Encyclical Laudato Si’.
Why did John Paul II indicate this as ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order’? The answers to this question is found in number 19 of the Laborem excercens. The doctrine presented by Pope John Paul II may be summarized in three points:
- The Pope explained that the ‘the principle of the common use of goods’ is established on the basis of ‘the fundamental relationships between capital and labor’, that is, in ‘wages’. In effect, he emphasized that the ‘remuneration for work, are still a practical means whereby the vast majority of people can have access to those goods which are intended for common use: both the goods of nature and manufactured goods. Both kinds of goods become accessible to the worker through the wage which he receives as remuneration for his work’.
- For this reason Pope John Paul II added: “Hence, in every case, a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly. It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particularly important one and, in a sense, the key means.”
- This ‘key means’ of verifying justice, analyzed from the perspective of the Social Doctrine of the Church, is of great transcendence. In effect, as Pope John Paul II himself affirmed: ‘This means of checking concerns above all the family. Just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and for providing security for its future.’
The splendid continuity of the Social Doctrine of the Church…until Francis arrived
There is actually something that had been affirmed previously in the great social encyclicals (a quick perusal of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum or of John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra suffices to observe this), and opportunely recalled by John Paul II, in harmonic continuity with his predecessors. Therefore, it is clearly affirmed, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, that denying the relation between ‘capital and work’ – whose foundation is established on a ‘wage’ – is the same as denying every worker his right to acquire property; whether goods of nature created by God, or those manufactured by man. This right is what permits the worker, as the years go by, to form a patrimony for his own well-being, and that of his wife and children. It is exactly this patrimony that would constitute the family inheritance in the future.
At the same time, in light of these considerations it becomes clear that this right to acquire private property, fruit of a ‘just wage’ is ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.’ In effect, it was precisely because of the attempt to destroy this ‘first principle’, that all of the Popes – with the exception of Francis – have consistently condemned and censured the collectivism promoted by communism and socialism. (see here, here, here, and here)
Francis – after having omitted that ‘work’ and ‘wage’ are the foundation of private property, and the key to understanding the concept of ‘the common destination of goods’ – once again cites Pope John Paul II, outside of the doctrinal context. The latter, on the contrary, recalled this doctrine with great emphasis, saying that ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone’ (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus). Seeking to reinforce his argument, Francis did not utilize another citation out of context, but rather preferred to use rhetoric. By an adjectivization he attempts to touch the sentiments of his readers, declaring that the references that he had just cited from Centesimus annus, no. 31, are ‘strong words’.
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’. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone” (Encyclical Centesimus Annus , 31). These are strong words (Laudato Si’, 93).
‘Strong words’: John Paul II in favor of class struggle?
Why does Francis affirm that the words of Pope Paul II are “strong”? Could it be because they speak of “excluded” and “favoring”? That is, of owners and non-owners? Of the rich and the poor? Is this the dimension that John Paul II refers to? What teaching did he present in number 31 of his Encyclical Centesimus annus, published in 1991, precisely to pay homage to Leo XIII for the 100 years of his magisterial Encyclical Rerum novarum?
As we can see, by de-contextualizing of the words of the Encyclical Centesimus annus, once again Francis passes over the same and important principle of the Social Doctrine of the Church, affirmed above: ‘private property’ and the ‘common destiny of goods’ have as their foundation man’s labor.
In effect, in number 31 of the Encyclical Centesimus annus, Pope John Paul II – having made a list of the teachings of the Church regarding the right to private property and the common destiny of goods, right from Leo XIII in 1891 to the year of 1991 – moves on to analyze: ‘the question concerning the origin of the material goods which sustain human life, satisfying people’s needs and are an object of their rights’. The important teachings of the Pope regarding this particular aspect may be summarized in three points:
- Pope John Paul II affirmed that ‘The original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits” (Gen 1:28).
- After having presented this principle element of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pope John Paul II added the words cited by Francis: ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone’.
- Next, Pope John Paul II concludes with this significant clarification: ‘This is the foundation of the universal destination of the earth’s goods. The earth, by reason of its fruitfulness and its capacity to satisfy human needs, is God’s first gift for the sustenance of human life’.
When we consider the words of Pope John Paul II in their doctrinal context: What do they contain that may be labeled as “strong”? Is it not a basic point of justice that all who labor have the right to obtain private property for themselves and family members? Was it not private property itself – of large, medium or small land owners we insist once again – that became a favorite target of Marxist collectivism, which literally annihilated it with blood and fire? Consequently, it is not unusual that due to this fateful, undeniable historic reality, that Pope John Paul II has expressed quite a critical estimation of Karl Marx and his ideology, as is clear in various pronouncements of his pontificate.
But in a particular way, the criticisms that the Pope presented in this same Encyclical Centesimus annus, were consigned in number 41. What reaction would these censures proffered by Pope Woytila regarding Karl Marx’s ideology have received if read at the World Meeting of Popular Movements? What would Evo Morales or other important organizers of these two events, have declared? Would they have described them as strong words? Detestable expressions? Or unfortunate ones?
Marxism criticized capitalist bourgeois societies, blaming them for the commercialization and alienation of human existence. This rebuke is of course based on a mistaken and inadequate idea of alienation, derived solely from the sphere of relationships of production and ownership, that is, giving them a materialistic foundation and moreover denying the legitimacy and positive value of market relationships even in their own sphere. Marxism thus ends up by affirming that only in a collective society can alienation be eliminated. However, the historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency.” (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus Annus, no. 41, May 1, 1991)
At the same time, it is suggestive that in the same number 31 of the Encyclical Centesimus annus, cited by Francis, Pope John Paul II taught the same doctrine regarding private property that had been exposed almost 10 years before in the Laborem excercens, no.19. What is this doctrine? It may seem repetitive, however, it deals with the foundation of private property and the common destiny of goods, and is precisely the key doctrinal point omitted by Francis in Laudato si’.
The earth was given by God to all men so that they dominate it: it does not yield its fruits without a response from man: his own work
- Pope John Paul II taught in the Centesimus annus, n. 31 that ‘the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work.’ In effect, ‘it is through work that man, using his intelligence and exercising his freedom, succeeds in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home. In this way, he makes part of the earth his own, precisely the part which he has acquired through work; this is the origin of individual property.’
- In an attempt to create a just balance, the Pope adds: “Obviously, he also has the responsibility not to hinder others from having their own part of God’s gift; indeed, he must cooperate with others so that together all can dominate the earth.”
- At the same time, in introducing number 32 of the Centesimus annus, he declares that ‘there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-how, technology and skill. The wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources’.
These teachings of Pope John Paul II permit us to determine the existence of natural inequalities that are become evident in man’s work, such as varying levels of intelligence, talent and knowledge, as well as working capacity and the quality of production. As such, it is basic justice that those who work harder, or are more talented and capable, obtain greater profit, benefitting themselves and their family, in the first place, their wife and children. This particular aspect concerning the distributive justice that the harder working and more dedicated men and women deserve, can never be sufficiently emphasized in these times of confusing ideas, demagogy and populism.
Not even a potpourri of references to social encyclicals, taken out of context and magically woven together can convince us of this:
I am sure that I haven’t said anything more than what is contained in the Church’s social teaching. (Francis, in-flight press conference from Santiago de Cuba to Washington D.C., September 22, 2015)
We have already analyzed four (distorted) references of Pope John Paul II made by Francis in the text Laudato si’.
Now we will examine a different text of the Polish pontiff, this time extracted from the Encyclical Solicitudo rei socialis, no. 33, which figures, once again, in the famous number 93 of Laudato Si’:
[Saint John Paul II] forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that ‘a type of development which did not respect and promote human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples – would not be really worthy of man’ (Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 33). (Laudato Si’, 93)
This citation has served as a basis for another three references that allude to Private Property; specifically, regarding the cultivation of the earth as a gift of God in benefit for all men. Once again, here we observe the importance of reading the documents that are cited within their historic context; above all when it is a magisterial work presented with the character of an encyclical. In this particular case, the words that Pope John Paul II directed to the indigenous and country people of Cuilápam de Guerrero, Oaxaca, during his first trip to Mexico in 1979:
He [Saint John Paul II] clearly explained that ‘the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them’ (Address to Indigenous and Rural People, Cuilapán, Mexico, 29 January 1979, 6). (Laudato Si´, 93)
In this paragraph two basic points of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and a third of socio-politico order, are emphasized. The latter is deduced from the historical context in which these words were pronounced. First of all we will analyze two basic points.
The legitimacy of the right of property and the ‘social mortgage’ that weighs over it
In this passage, Pope John Paul II has emphasized with precision that ‘the Church defends’ ‘private property clearly’ since it is a ‘legitimate right’. This is an important aspect to emphasize, for, as a ‘legitimate right’, private property is made accessible to all men through work, inheritance or donation as the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches.
At the same time, Pope John Paul II emphasizes that upon this legitimate right, weighs a ‘social mortgage’. What does this mean?
The duty of justice of the property owners in relation to the workers
To adequately respond it is necessary to clarify an elemental aspect: What is a mortgage? As the economics manuals explain, mortgage is the right that weighs upon certain assets so as to guarantee the payment of a debt or the fulfillment of an obligation. In this way the owner of the asset that was mortgaged does not lose the right to its use. Therefore, when Pope John Paul II made use of this concept of ‘social mortgage’, as he himself explained, he wanted to emphasize this fundamental principle of the social Doctrine of the Church that assets should serve ‘the general purpose that God gave them’.
In effect, the Pope repeated this doctrine when, in his Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, no. 42, he reflected about the ‘social responsibilities’ and ‘use of goods.’ In this number 42 he explains that this ‘social mortgage’ is based in the fact that private property ‘has an intrinsically social function, based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods.’ And then he added this important observation: ‘In this concern for the poor, one must not overlook that special form of poverty which consists in being deprived of fundamental human rights, in particular the right to religious freedom and also the right to freedom of economic initiative.’
The words of Pope John Paul II recalled the teachings imparted in the Rerum novarum by Pope Leo XIII and years later summarized by Pope Saint Pius X. In this summary composed of seven points, the obligations of justice that property owners of the goods of production should employ in relation to their workers, are indicated. (Pope Pius X, Motu proprio Fin dalla prima (“social Sillabus”), December 18, 1903).
The first and most important of these obligations was regarding the payment of a ‘just wage’ agreed upon with the worker. Pope Leo XIII strongly insisted upon this point (cf. Rerum novarum, no. 3.15, 32-33), since “to defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven. ‘Behold, the hire of the laborers…which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth; and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth’ (Jas 5:4) (Rerum novarum, no. 20).”
With regard to the rest of the obligations it is necessary to emphasize that more than 130 years after the publication of the Rerum novarum, they were all introduced in the labor legislations of western nations. Naturally, we refer to the nations that were not, or are currently not subjugated by socialist and communist regimes. In effect, within the regimes of Marxist orientation the legislation blocked, and continues to critically reduce, the ‘just wage’, ‘private property’ and other elemental rights of the workers.
A perfect example of such injustice is Cuba. In this Caribbean nation, as Jesús R. Mercader Uguina, Chaired Professor of Labor and Social Security Law of the University Carlos III of Madrid demonstrated, the recent reforms to the Cuban Labor Code continue violating numerous principles and international norms with respect to labor rights in an inflexible manner (See: ‘The Latest Labor Reforms in Cuba, (2009-2014)’ – in Spanish only, especially pages. 27-28).
English DzB addition: Similar studies are also available in English on the same site. for example, “Cubans still do not anticipate any positive changes to their situation in the near future. […] Cubans remain preoccupied by economic concerns, and many have trouble meeting basic, daily needs” (See the study: Real change for Cuba: how citizens view their country’s future, especially the Conclusions on p. 30).
These appear to be the same type of violation to human rights which Pope John Paul II pointed out in the cited passage of number 42 of his Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis. In effect, we recall that the Pope denounced the ‘special form of poverty which consists in being deprived of fundamental human rights, in particular the right to religious freedom and also the right to freedom of economic initiative’ (Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, no. 42).
As such, the recent Apostolic journey of Francis to Cuba could not help but awaken new perplexities among millions of Catholics. His silence with respect to the grave violations of human rights committed by the Castro brothers during almost half a century became notorious. This Apostolic journey constituted a paradigmatic testimony to the constant omissions that the Bishop of Rome Jorge Mario Bergoglio incurs in historic, philosophical and theological dimensions, according to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. It is most remarkable how these lamentable omissions always end up favoring all of those who have never hidden their hostility and rejection toward the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
The duty of charity of those who possess material goods and most especially the goods of the spirit
A second aspect related to the ‘social function’ and the ‘social mortgage’ of those who possess more material goods, refers to the obligation to help the brothers and sisters in need. This obligation has its foundation in the virtue of Christian charity practiced by the Church for two thousand years. With respect to this dimension, Pope Leo XIII observed a balanced criteria: “True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, ‘for no one ought to live other than becomingly’ (S. Th. II-II, q.32 a.6). But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. ‘Of that which remaineth, give alms’” (Lk 11:41), (Rerum Novarum, no. 22).
The same Pope Leo XIII explained these duties as not belonging to the ambit of justice, and therefore except in cases of extreme necessity, they may not be demanded by law:
“But the laws and judgments of men must yield place to the laws and judgments of Christ the true God, who in many ways urges on His followers the practice of almsgiving – ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’;(Acts 20:35) and who will count a kindness done or refused to the poor as done or refused to Himself – ‘As long as you did it to one of My least brethren you did it to Me’ (Mt 25:40). To sum up, then, what has been said: Whoever has received from divine bounty a large share of temporal blessings, whether they be external and material, or gifts of the mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfecting of his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as the steward of God’s providence, for the benefit of others. ‘He that hath a talent,’ said St. Gregory the Great, ‘let him see that he hide it not; he that hath abundance, let him quicken himself to mercy and generosity; he that hath art and skill, let him do his best to share the use and the utility hereof with his neighbor” (Saint Gregory. Homily on the Gospels, 9, no. 7), (Rerum novarum, no.22).
In this section we have attempted to clarify the intricate concepts related to the ‘social function’ and the ‘social mortgage’ that binds private property. We consider it important to emphasize the argument presented by Pope Leo XIII with respect to spiritual goods. In this respect, may we speak of a ‘social function’ and of a ‘social mortgage’ that weighs over the ‘spiritual goods’? Without a doubt, the response is affirmative, however with a certain clarification to be emphasized. Since spiritual goods are of a superior character than strictly material goods, such as private property, they demand greater obligations of those who possess them, in favor of their brothers and sisters in need. Hence the importance of insisting with respect to the spiritual works of mercy: ‘Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2447).
Returning to the presentation of the topic, ‘private property’, presented by Francis in the Laudato si’, we now pass on to a third, important topic which the cited discourse of Pope John Paul II directed to the farm workers and indigenous Mexicans in 1979, permit us to analyze.