Social purpose of property
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - October 18, 2020 - 12:00am

This is my third column on the third and latest papal encyclical – Fratelli Tutti – of Pope Francis.  The theme is on Fraternity and Social Friendship. Some readers have failed to realize that the pope is referring to “social friendship” and not to friendships that we are aware of in our daily lives.

In my first two columns on this topic, I discussed a framework for reading and understanding the encyclical; and the next column was on the Introduction and Chapter 1. There are eight chapters, but I do not intend to write about the other chapters at length. For this column I will just write about certain excerpts or sections in the encyclical that aroused my special interest. I want to encourage everyone, Christians and non-Christians, to read this document.

In the last section, Pope Francis said: “In these pages of reflection of universal fraternity, I felt inspired by Saint Francis Assisi, but also by others of our brothers and sisters who are not Catholics: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more.”

In Chapters 3 to 4, the document covered a wide variety of topics. I read these quickly and then went back and read more deeply the topics that personally interested  me. Perhaps this is one approach you can take.

It is evident that the pope is really concerned with the need for human dignity for everyone, especially the poor. This is a theme that he has talked about lengthily especially in his first encyclical. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 3:

“Every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country. People have this right even if they are unproductive or were born with or developed limitations. This does not detract from their dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but on the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity.

“Some societies accept this principle in part. They agree that opportunities should be available to everyone, but then go on to say that everything depends on the individual. From this skewed perspective it would be pointless to favor an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or less talented to find opportunities in life... Investments in assistance to the vulnerable could prove unprofitable, they might make things less efficient. No. What we need in fact are states and civil institutions that are present and active, that look beyond the free and efficient working of certain economic, political and ideological systems and are primarily concerned with individuals and the common good.”

Pope Francis then points out that there should be equal opportunities for those born rich and those born poor. Those born into economically stable families, receive fine education and grow up well nourished naturally possess great talent, will have much more opportunities compared to someone born in dire poverty, to those lacking a good education and have very little access to adequate health care.

This is a message that the pope emphasized in the next paragraphs. He says: “If a society is governed primarily by the criteria of market freedom and efficiency, there is no place for such claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink is to practice doublespeak.”

I remember a television interview that I had many years ago where I advocated that public schools should have the same quality and financial support as private schools. I was told by the other panelists that was impossible. I said I had a simple solution. I said that we should have a law that requires children of every person in public life, whether appointed or elected, from the highest official to the lowest, to attend only public schools. This will guarantee that public schools will get the financial assistance and infrastructure they badly need.

There are those who claim that if the poor are poor then it is their fault. This was of course said by a rich person.

In Chapter 3, Pope Francis continues to share the same views he first proposed in his first encyclical and which some people consider radical. He says that “...if one person lacks what is necessary to live with dignity, it is because another person is detaining it.” He quotes St. John Chrysostom: “Not to share our wealth with the poor is to rob them and take away their livelihood. The riches we possess are not our own but theirs as well.” Also St. Gregory the Great: “When we provide the needy with their basic needs, we are giving them what belongs to them.”

Chapter 3 needs to be carefully read, especially by the wealthy, because it discusses the “Social Role of Property” which maintains that “the right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right... The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights and the dignity of the poor or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment.”

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An invitation to online classes:

Young writers’ hangout, Oct. 24, 2-3 p.m. Contact 0945.2273216.


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