Laudato Si 93: The Common Destination of Goods

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Section VI of Chapter Two has only three paragraphs. The opening statement leans heavily on St John Paul who, perhaps with some difficulty for some of his followers, does not hold to absolutes in terms of private property. What do you make of the premise that some things cannot be owned?

93. Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone. Hence every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged. 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”.[Laborem Exercens 19] 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 favoring anyone”.[Centesimus Annus 31] These are strong words.

These words are indeed strong. Many in the First World would take exception to them. But it is also true that absolute collectivism is likewise an exaggerated view hung on the necks of those who would counsel restraint, perspective, and care for the needy. If only Jesus’ saying about two coats were treated with as much reverence as his ideals on marriage.

He noted 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 (humankind)”.[Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 33] He 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: AAS 71 (1979), 209] Consequently, he maintained, “it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favor only a few”.[Homily at Mass for Farmers, Recife, Brazil (7 July 1980): AAS 72 (1980): AAS 72 (1980), 926] This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity.[Cf. Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, 8: AAS 82 (1990), 152]

Does the sainted pope convince the skeptics among us? Or is he beyond his expertise?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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