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Archive for February 18th, 2013

The first fundamental principle upon which Catholic social doctrine rests is the right to ownership of private property…”

So begins a sentence in the first of a three part article on Catholic social teaching in Sophia, the quarterly journal of the Melkite Catholic Diocese of Newton.

The idea would be laughable were it not for the fact that it was published in a Catholic periodical. My puzzlement over how any editor could have allowed such a false rendering of CST to be printed was resolved when I saw that the author, one Deacon Paul Leonarczyk, was production head for the magazine.

Lest one think that perhaps Fr Paul was really trying to say something else, he later reiterates the notion: “”…the fundamental principle that forms the foundation of all Catholic social doctrine is ‘the sacred and inviolable’ right to the private ownership of property…”

This is absurd; in every social encyclical there are lines that refute this, that emphasize that the right to private property, which the Church does in fact endorse, is not an absolute right, but is contingent on the greater principle of the common good not being violated. If one is to speak of a fundamental and foundational principle that would be the universal destination of goods. Here is the Catechism:

2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

2404 “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.”188The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

2405Goods of production – material or immaterial – such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.189  (Emphasis added.)

And here is Paul VI:

If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.

I could go on.

In the second part of his series Fr Deacon Paul uses the libertarian distortion of insisting on “subsidiarity” divorced from solidarity, which possesses a certain primacy, to promote ideas found nowhere in papal thought.

All of this was frustrating to read, but not to worry.

In a letter to the editor a certain Christopher Dodson, who signs himself “the only Melkite in North Dakota” very ably refutes the good deacon’s errors, displaying a deep knowledge of the subject. And kudos to Sophia for publishing his letter.

Would that this was the only example of attempted dissembling of Catholic social thought in the Eastern churches; a few months ago Eastern Christian Bulletin Services, which provides the bulletins used by most Byzantine Catholic and many Orthodox churches, issued as an insert a guide to the Year of Faith. Among other things it made reference to a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam. This is an idea common to neoconservative readings of modern history, but nowhere endorsed by the Pope. It is purely the creation of whoever wrote the thing.

I intended to write and challenge the statement, but alas, never found the time.

Let’s hope that the Lone Melkite rose to the occasion.

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