LS 93-95: The Common Destination of Goods
Estimated reading time: 3 mins
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”71. 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”72. These are strong words. 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 man”73. 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”74. Consequently, he maintained, “it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few”75. This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity76.
94. The rich and the poor have equal dignity, for “the Lord is the maker of them all” (Prov 22:2). “He himself made both small and great” (Wis 6:7), and “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). This has practical consequences, such as those pointed out by the bishops of Paraguay: “Every campesino has a natural right to possess a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life. This right must be guaranteed so that its exercise is not illusory but real. That means that apart from the ownership of property, rural people must have access to means of technical education, credit, insurance, and markets”77.
95. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shall not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”78.
71 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens (14 September 1981), 19: AAS 73 (1981), 626.
72 Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 31: AAS 83 (1991), 831.
73 Encyclical Letter (30 December 1987), 33: AAS 80 (1988), 557.
74 Address to Indigenous and Rural People, Cuilapán, Mexico (29 January 1979), 6: AAS 71 (1979), 209.
75 Homily at Mass for Farmers, Recife, Brazil (7 July 1980): AAS 72 (1980): AAS 72 (1980), 926.
76 Cf. Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, 8: AAS 82 (1990), 152.
77 Paraguayan Bishops’ Conference, Pastoral Letter El campesino paraguayo y la tierra (12 June 1983), 2, 4, d.
78 New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, Statement on Environmental Issues (1 September 2006).