The Pope Pans Private Property

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted October 20, 2020

Seven years into his pontificate as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis continues to stir the rhetorical pot—this time with a 43,000-word teaching letter called an encyclical. In “Fratelli Tutti” (“Brothers All”), the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics takes aim at capitalism—again.

For centuries the Catholic Church has permitted—even encouraged—its members to engage in commerce, trade, and industry as a means of personal and societal improvement. Now, however, Francis declares there are limits to this type of practice. According to a Wall Street Journal editorial, he directs his disapproval at “those who would have had us believe that freedom of the market was sufficient to keep everything secure,” pointing to the dilapidated world economies now ravaged after COVID-19.

In a separate Journal news report, more details of Francis’ opinion emerge: “The pope emphasizes that, according to the Catholic Church’s traditional social teaching, the right to private property is subordinate to the ‘universal destination of created goods,’ a principle he says extends beyond national borders. ‘Each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere,’ he writes.”

Does this tenet apply to your own property as well? 

According to the pope, it does: “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.”

To Francis, this “principle of the common use of created goods” supersedes all others. That means that what you own actually can and should be used by the public. In fact, the pope refers back to his previous encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” in declaring this most central of all principles an entrenched “Christian tradition.”

He appeals to the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37) and its depiction of a person who helped a stranger who was not of the same community. Writing at The Dialog, Catholic journalist David Gibson notes, “Pope Francis cautions that society today must not turn ‘its back on suffering.’ … He writes, ‘May we not sink to such depths!’ The parable ‘summons us to rediscover our vocation as citizens of our respective nations and of the entire world, builders of a new social bond.’”

Are Property Rights Human Rights?

But Steven Greenhut, writing at, disputes the pope’s thesis: “From his lavish Vatican surroundings, the pope describes property ownership as something secondary and even tawdry, yet even in doing so he reinforces the primacy of property. ‘To care for the world in which we live means to care for ourselves,’ Francis wrote. ‘Yet we need to think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home.’ Note the reference to a person’s home. One need not own a house to have a home, but ownership is the linchpin of our other freedoms—and the best assurance that we can provide for our families and help others.”

Greenhut adds, “As Pope Francis correctly noted, some people will use their resources to exploit others. But he conveniently forgets that injustices have existed throughout history. As the property-rights-based market economy has expanded, grueling poverty has receded worldwide. The population living in extreme poverty has dropped precipitously in tandem with the growth of the economic ‘dogmas’ that the pope decries. Perhaps there’s a connection.”

Rules of Wealth

Of course, many people still face extreme difficulties, and the pandemic hasn’t made life better for them. But is the confiscation or redistribution of personal wealth the answer?

As an illustration, were the federal government to somehow acquire every penny of the top 15 U.S. billionaires’ assets, totaling $921.9 billion, and then write a check to each person in this nation of 328.2 million people, an individual’s share would be $2,808.96—and that would be a one-time payment.

Much can no doubt be done by society, individuals, and charitable organizations to help those in need. But leaving the state in control of people’s wealth is a dangerous concept that has damaged the lives of tens of millions of individuals just in the past two centuries.

The Bible has a lot to say about wealth and, depending on how it is acquired and used, whether it is good or bad. “Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labor will increase,” we read in Proverbs 13:11. In other words, the person whose hard work, ingenuity, and inventiveness yield wealth can count on more wealth coming his way; the person who cheats his way to riches will lose what he’s gained. Similarly, “he who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (10:4).

And here is this instruction from God’s Word: “Let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity [compulsion]; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). What a person gives remains his individual choice. It is the person’s motive, the state of “his heart,” that matters to God.

Pastor Doug Batchelor addressed the topic of wealth by looking at the biblical counsel of the richest man who ever lived, King Solomon. His Bible study, “Rich Man, Poor Man,” demonstrates that human passions, whatever they are, can never be satisfied unless they are surrendered to the Lord.

One day, if you are stripped of your property rights—or more—be assured of what cannot be taken from you: your choice to follow the Lord.

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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