000‘Social mortgage’ and Agrarian reform: Francis and his peculiar concept of private property (III)

In other parts of this study (see here and here), 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?

  1. 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’.

sollicitudoIn 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.

Jesús R. Mercader Uguina

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.


  1. The duty of charity of those who possess material goods and most especially the goods of the spirit

389_001A 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.

Mexico 1979: The agrarian reality of the indigenous peoples and farm workers

mexicoreformaIn order to profoundly understand the words of Pope John Paul II, carefully extracted and woven together in the Laudato si’, it is worthwhile to situate them within their historical context. What was the socio-political scenario in which this discourse of Pope John Paul II took place? Who were the governors of Mexico in the year 1979? Did the Mexican state, promoter of a process of Agrarian Reform that had already been in effect for 54 years, grant its benefactors (farm workers and indigenous) the right to private property of the lands for their cultivation? What was the situation of agriculture and the life of the Mexican indigenous peoples and country people at this point in history? We shall now analyze some unquestionable historical facts.

The political revolutionary forces have always boasted that the first Socialist Agrarian Reform of History (1915) was implanted in Mexico. With the objective of consolidating this bloody revolutionary process, and at the same time attempting to regroup all of the political forces that encouraged them, The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was founded in 1929. The directors of this group, from that time until the year 2000, exercised the political power of the Mexican nation without interruption. During these decades they continued carrying out the process of socialist Agrarian Reform, culminating only in 1992.


warmanArthur Warman Gryj, anthropologist and ex-Minister of the Agrarian Reform in Mexico, affirmed that during a period of 77 years (1915-1992) 100 million hectares was granted to 3.5 million farm workers, that is to say, the equivalent of more than half of the actual Mexican territory and approximately two thirds of the total rural property of the country. Naturally the directors of the Revolutionary Institutional Party gave all governmental support to this Agrarian Reform; however, it was never able to achieve the goals of economic and social well-being promised. The concrete facts indicate that as the years went by, the farm workers fell into the most extreme poverty. And what is worse and most dramatic in this situation is that neither they nor their descendents were property owners of the lands granted by the Mexican government for their cultivation! (FAO, La reforma agraria mexicana: una visión de largo plazo [The Mexican agrarian reform: a long-term visualization] by Arturo Warman in ‘Land Reform, Land Settlement and Cooperatives’)

Note: The ownership of the land, according to the process of Mexican Agrarian Reform, was communitarian. As Arturo Warman Gryj explains: ‘The lands that had been granted in usufruct remained as a property of the nation for concession to a civil corporation: the ejido or the community. […] The parcels that were granted for personal use to the ejido- title-holder were subject to restrictive conditions: the land should be personally cultivated by the owner, it could not be maintained inactive, sold, leased nor used as a guarantee; it was inalienable but could be inherited by a successor chosen by the titular as long as it had not been fragmented. The fulfillment of these conditions implied sanctions that annulled without compensation the rights of use of the parcel and the ownership of the ejido’.

Observing this historic and socio-political background, it can be observed that the agrarian ejidosystem based on the ejido [which translates loosely as ‘common land’ or ‘cooperative’] — and fully active in Mexico during the year of Pope John Paul II’s visit — was clearly socialist. In the first place, the Mexican State had confiscated an immense agrarian patrimony from legitimate property owners, violating the 7th and 10th commandments of the Law of God. In the second place, through this expropriation, the Mexican State became the greatest landowner of the nation; and having subdivided this agricultural capital into ejidos in order to destine them to farm workers and indigenous peoples, it committed a second injustice. In effect, as the ejidatario was not the owner of the land, and therefore prohibited to sell, lease or use it as a guarantee, he was obliged to unite to a cooperative subsidized by the State. Therefore, the Mexican ejidatario, obliged to work the earth and depend on a State cooperative, was nothing other than a simple worker of the State. In other words, the farm workers and indigenous ejidatarios lived imprisoned within a clearly socialist agricultural regime.

Private property according to the Social Doctrine of the Church

On the contrary, as the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches, , the earth was given by God to be dominated by all men through their work. In other words, the earth was not granted by the Creator so that a political organization would confiscate, control and administer it in an absolute manner through a absolute leader and the followers of a faction or single political party. The earth was also not given to men so that a clique of associates, unconditional devotees of Marx, Lenin, Fidel, Mao, Ché Guevara and Chávez, as well as other politicians and ideologists, self-proclaimed owners and lords of a territory within a nation, would thus restrict its use relegating its dominion to particular individuals, either through excessive taxes or arbitrary confiscation.



As Pope John Paul II emphasized, the “Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property” because it is in accord with justice and natural right. In effect, as the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches, since man is owner and lord of his own acts, he shall be the owner and lord of his work. Once the fruit of this work is accumulated, it becomes his own private property, for the personal benefit of the worker, as well as that of his family. Teaching this principle, Pope Leo XIII affirmed with great wisdom that assets are the same “wages [of the worker] under another form.” Therefore, the private property acquired by the worker should be of his dominion in the same way as the wages earned with his work (Encyclical Rerum Novarum, no. 5).

Here is an important paragraph of the same encyclical:

It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. If one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases. Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and, for greater security, invests his savings in land, the land, in such case, is only his wages under another form; and, consequently, a working man’s little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his full disposal as are the wages he receives for his labor. But it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels. Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum, no. 5 ).

100 years after the failure of the Mexican Agrarian Reform: a message for Francis

Consequently, the remembrance of the first centenary in 2014 of the first Agrarian Reform in History — the failed Mexican Agrarian Reform— categorically confirms the perspicacity of all of the Popes from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI, who affirmed that economic ruin, misery and oppression are the typical fruits of communism and socialism. (see: here). (More here)

Thus, the words that Francis pronounced during his discourse at the I World Meeting of Popular Movements, in Rome on October 28 2014, encouraging in a surprising manner the promoter of Agrarian Reform, brought up some serious questions (see: here):

 Francis greets Evo Morales during the I World Encounter of Popular Movements. Rome, October 28, 2014

Francis greets João Pedro Stédile of Brazil’s ‘Landless Workers Movement’ during the I World Encounter of Popular Movements. Rome, October 2014
  • Is this Agrarian Reform promoted by Francis conformed to the Social Doctrine of the Church?
  • What are the countries that Francis mentioned in a generic way and which of these, according to his criteria, should be submitted to Agrarian Reform?
  • Consequently, what is the successful model of Agrarian Reform that Francis can propose for its application within such countries?
  • Do these successful models of Agrarian Reform really exist?
  • Are there foundations for conjecture that the model would be that of the Cuban Agrarian Reform initiated by Fidel Castro in 1959, and recycled in 1993, since it has been maintained until the present day?

Regarding this last question: judging by the ‘sentiments of special consideration and respect’, as well as the friendship that Francis manifested toward Fidel Castro (see note 1 at the end) in honoring him with a visit to his very residence in Habana, one is inclined to opt for an affirmative response. But could this be possible? Who can respond, if not Francis himself?

Clearly, this apprehension will linger on, just as the other uncertainties and perplexities that Francis never ceases to provoke day after day with his gestures, attitudes and innovations. However, perhaps the most serious consequence consists in the profound disorientation, conflicts and problems of conscience that Francis creates for the faithful in omitting truths and essential principles consistently taught by the Magisterium of the Church. The sad reality of this pontificate…

Well, as promised, the study, which is divided in parts, is full of surprises….don’t miss the last and final part!

Note 1: The official publicity organ of the Central Comité Central of the Cuban Communist Party, in the daily Granma, published this cordial encounter in these terms:
Source Granma: https://youtu.be/R4Si2TcKqg8
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