Right of Private Property



Broadcast as reported by the Federal Communications Commission, Vatican City, September 1, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 711-714.

TODAY, at the end of the fifth year of the war, humanity, while turning its eyes to look at the road of tears and blood left behind in deep distress during this dark period of history, stands aghast at the abyss of misery into which the spirit of violence and domination of force have thrown it.

Without, however, letting itself be discouraged by memory of the past, humanity is anxiously seeking the causes of such a terrible disaster, both spiritual and material, and is determined to take measures against a repetition in different forms of this tremendous tragedy.

Before so many ruins many honest spirits rise again, as if waking up from a troubled dream, anxious to find, even in fields that up to now have been separated and distant, collaborators united in the effort and struggle for the great work of reconstruction of a world that has been shattered in its foundations and torn apart. There is certainly nothing more natural, nothing more timely, nothing more urgent, even when the most indispensable precautions have been taken.

For all those who glory in the name of Christian and profess the religion of Christ and live strictly abiding by His laws, this willingness and readiness of spirit to work in unity and in true fraternal solidarity do not mean only the fulfillment of moral obligations to perform civic duties out also to raise us to the dignity of obeying the basic principles of our conscience, supported and led by the love of God and our neighbors and strengthened by the warning indications of the present time and the very intensity of our effort, aiming at the salvation of peoples.

History in a Grave Hour

History is passing through a grave hour, decisive for all humanity. An old world lies in ruins. To see a new world arise from these ruins—a healthier world, better directed and legally more in harmony with the needs of human nature—is the craving of martyred peoples.

Who will be the architects? Who will draw up the basic plans for new institutions? Who will be the thinkers who will give it its definitive form?

To the sad and lamentable mistakes of the past other mistakes, not less deplorable, may perhaps follow and theworld may swing forever from one extreme to the other. Or perhaps the pendulum will stop, thanks to the action of wise leaders of the peoples, at directives and solutions of problems that do not oppose Divine Law and human and, above all, Christian conscience.

On the answer to this question depends the destiny of Christian civilization in Europe and all over the world, a civilization that, far from casting a shade over or harming all the peculiar and greatly varied forms of civilized life, is one in which every people can show their own character, is one with them and revives the highest principles, moral laws written by the Lord in the hearts of men, natural law deriving from God, the fundamental rights and inviolable dignity oi the individual.

In order to bend man's will to its principle it infuses into all human beings and into entire peoples those superior energies that no human power is able to confer and, like the power of nature's forces, protects from the poisonous germs that threaten the moral order and oppose its harmony.

Thus Christian civilization does not suppress or weaken racial elements in the most varied cultures but brings them into harmony in essential purposes, creating in this way that broad union of ideas and moral standards that constitute the firmest foundations of true peace, social justice and fraternal charity between all members of the great human family.

Period of Confusing Contrasts

The last few centuries have witnessed one of those confusing periods full of contrasts that fill history. On one side the very foundations of Christian civilization were undetermined; on the other, one saw that civilization differed among all people.

Europe and other continents are still living in varying degrees by the vital forces, principles and values of Christian ideology. Some people go so far as to forget this precious legacy, to neglect it and even to repudiate it. But the fact of the hereditary succession remains. A son may well repudiate his mother. He does not cease, however, to be biologically and spiritually bound to her.

All these children who have left and forgotten the paternal home must always feel, sometimes unconsciously, in the very voice of their blood, the echo of that Christian legacy that often, in their purposes and in their actions, prevents them from being entirely tempted and led by false values that they voluntarily or involuntarily accept.

Wisdom, devotion, courage, inventive genius, a feeling of fraternal love will finally determine the extent to which Christian ideology will succeed in maintaining and supporting the gigantic work of the reorganization of social, economic and international life on a plane defined by Christian morality and civilization.

Accordingly, we address to all our sons and daughters in this vast world and also to those who, although not belonging to the church, feel themselves bound to us in this hour of perhaps irrevocable decisions, an urgent appeal to cooperate in weighing the extraordinary gravity of the moment and to consider, above and beyond all such cooperation with other various ideological tendencies and social forces thai may perhaps be suggested by purely contingent motives, that fidelity to the legacy of Christian civilization and its powerful work against all atheistic and anti-Christian currents is a master key that cannot be sacrificed for any temporary; advantages or any shifting combinations.

Seeks Sympathetic Welcome

This invitation, which we trust will find a sympathetic welcome from millions of souls through the world, aims chiefly at achieving loyal and effective collaboration in all those fields in which the creation of a more just juridical order is demanded by the very idea of Christianity. This is especially true of all those formidable problems that are related to the organization of an economic and social order more in harmony with the eternal law of God and more in keeping with human dignity.

Christian thought insists in this new order on the raising of the proletariat, and the achievement of this in a firm and generous way appears to every true follower of Christ not only as an earthly progress but also as fulfillment of a moral obligation.

After bitter years of want, restrictions and, especially, of anxious uncertainty, mankind awaits at the end of the war a profound and final improvement of its conditions.

Promises of statesmen and many suggestions and proposals of scientists and technicians have given rise, in the victims of an unhealthy social and economic order, to a senseless hope of a millenium of universal happiness. This feeling offers a fertile ground for propaganda for a most radical program and prepares minds to an understandable but unreasonable and unjustifiable impatience that does not expect anything from organic reform and -everything from subversion and violence.

Confronted with these extreme tendencies, the Christian who earnestly meditates upon the needs and misfortunes of the time remains faithful to those standards that experience, balanced reason and Christian and social ethics indicate as the foundation and principles of any just reform.

Principle of Pope Leo XIII

Leo XIII, in his encyclical "Rerum Novarum," laid down the principle that any legitimate economic and social order should rest on the indisputable foundation of the right to private property. The Church has always acknowledged the natural right to property and the handing of this.

It is not less true that private property is a natural fruit of labor, a product of intense activity of man, acquired through his energetic determination to ensure and develop with his own strength his own existence and that of his family and to create for himself and his own an existence of just freedom, not only economic but also political, cultural and religious.

Christian conscience cannot admit as right a social order that denies the principle or renders impossible and useless in practice the natural right to ownership of commodities and means of production. Nor can it accept systems that acknowledge the right to private ownership according to an altogether false conception and that are opposed to a true and healthy social order. Therefore, whenever capitalism bases itself upon such erroneous conceptions and arrogates unlimited right to property without any subordination to the common good the church has condemned it as contrary to the rights of man.

Indeed, we see an ever-increasing mass of workers come up against those effective concentrations of economic wealth, often hidden under anonymous forms that succeed in evading their social duties, thereby preventing the worker from building up his own effective property. We see small and medium property owners compelled to wage a defensive struggle increasingly arduous and without hope of success.

On the one hand we see vast wealth dominate private and public economy and often civic life. On the other we see innumerable multitudes of those who, deprived of any direct or indirect security in their lives, take no further interest in the values of spirit, abandon their aspirations toward true freedom and blindly serve any political party, slaves of anyone who can somehow promise them bread and security. Experience has shown how much tyranny mankind is capable of under such conditions, even in the present times.

By defending private ownership the church, therefore, also pursues a lofty ethical-social aim. She does not intend to protect in principle the rich and the plutocrat against the poor. On the contrary, ever since its origins the church has always protected the poor and the weak against the tyranny of the powerful and has always championed the just claims of workers against any injustice.

Impulse in Private Property

The aim of the church is to render the institution of private ownership such as it should be in accordance with the plans of Divine wisdom and the dictates of nature: one of the elements of the social order, a necessary premise of human initiative, an impulse to labor for the advantage of the temporary and transcendental aims of the goal, the prize of freedom and dignity of man, who was created to the image of God and to whom was assigned, ever since the beginning, domination over matter.

If a worker is deprived of hope to acquire some personal property, what other natural stimulus can be offered him that will inspire him to hard work, labor, saving and sobriety today, when so many nations and men have lost everything and all they have left is their capacity for work?

Do we, perhaps, intend to perpetuate economic conditions of wartime, whereby in certain countries the State controls all means of production and provides for everybody and everything at the cost of severe discipline? Or are we to submit to the dictatorship of a political group that, as a ruling class, will control the means of production but will lack bread and therefore the will to work of individuals?

Future social and economic-policy organizing activity of the State, of local bodies, of professional organizations will not be able to achieve their lofty aims in continuing the fruitfulness of the social life and normal returns of a national economy unless they respect and protect the vital function of private property in its personal and total value.

State May Correct Evils

When distribution of property is an obstacle to this end, which is not necessarily an outcome of private inheritance, the State should in the common interest intervene, regulate its activities or issue a decree of expropriation with suitable indemnity.

Similarly, small and medium holdings in agriculture, the arts, trade and industry must be guaranteed and supported. Cooperative unions must provide them with the advantages of big business. In large concerns, which still are most productive, the possibility must be afforded of harmonizing the labor contract with the social contract.

Nor should the suggestion be put forward that technical progress is toward the establishment of gigantic concerns and organizations that must inevitably cause the collapse of a social system based upon the private ownership of individuals.

No, technical progress will not necessarily and inevitably determine economic life. Too often it has yielded timidly to egoistic exigencies and calculations greedy to increase capital indefinitely. Why, therefore, should it not bow before the necessity of maintaining and insuring private property for all as a cornerstone of the social order? Even technical progress regarded as a social fact must not prevail over the general good, but must be governed by it and be subordinate to it.

At the end of this war, which has overwhelmed all activities of human life and directed them into other channels, the problem of the future aspect of the social order will be a subject of keen strife between various tendencies. In this struggle the Christian social idea has the arduous but noble task of bringing forward and demonstrating to those who follow other doctrines in theory and in practice that in this sphere, so important to the peaceful development of human relationships, the postulates of true equity and Christian principles can be closely joined, guaranteeing salvation and well-being to all who can give up their prejudices and passions and listen to the preaching of truth.

We are confident that our faithful children throughout the Catholic world, filled with the Christian social idea, will contribute, even at the cost of considerable renunciations, in the progress toward that social justice for which all true disciples of Christ must hunger and thirst.

Appeal for Help for Italy

A call to all Christians for vigilance and promptitude to face the immense duties that now seem to be approaching must not make us lose sight of the heavy troubles of the present. No one will be surprised if, although our love embraces equally all the peoples of the earth, our solicitude in this respect and at this time draws us particularly toward Italy and Rome.

Direct military operations, which raged over a large part of Italian soil, are now far away from the Eternal City. But direct and indirect consequences of the conflict have far from ceased.

The city that Mary, sacred to the Roman people, mother of divine love, protected in the hour of danger no longer echoes to the roar of battle. But the struggle against misery, hunger, unemployment and economic discomfort in this part of Italy has reached such a point that, especially with the approach of winter, it demands a prompt and effective remedy.

No one is ignorant of the fact that in great wars hard necessities of a military nature take precedence over all other considerations. On the other hand, anyone who does not allow himself to be led by particular policies, but devotes himself to the imperious necessity of satisfying essential civilian needs, will acknowledge and recognize the harmful influence and damage that systematic requisitioning and export or destruction of valuable means of transport have caused to supplies of foodstuffs in sufficient quantities and at reasonable prices.

Everyone will also understand that this abnormal state of affairs aggravated by equally large-scale destruction, requisitioning and destruction of powerful means of production, has produced a paralysis in economic life of which the material and spiritual repercussions on the people grow more serious and evident every day.

Cooperation Is Necessary

So much evil will not be remedied by sterile accusations, but by sincere and generous collaboration of all who hold responsibility and authority and can serve the interests of the country. Is it not perhaps desirable that for the public good there should be cooperation between all upright, honest, forthright and experienced people immune from all taint of crime and real abuse, even if in the past they found themselves in another political camp? Would not such an action open the way to a union of souls?

No people plunged into a material and moral abyss can lift themselves up by their own efforts and their own power. On the other hand, no people rightly jealous of their own honor would wait for their revival to come solely from the efforts of others and not at the same time from the effort of their own will and energies.

Certainly, knowing as we do the deep misery into which vast areas of Italy have fallen, we remind those whose countries have ample resources and abundant food harvests of their obligation not to hold them bade for the sake of greater profits from those who are starving, mindful of the terrible punishments that the eternal judge reserves for those who have no pity for their suffering brethren.

We also urge those peoples whose economic capacities have not been seriously damaged by the war to extend to the people of Italy, within possible limits and without prejudice to what is due to other equally needy nations, that assistance which is most required, especially in the early stages of their rebirth.

We freely acknowledge what has already been done and we know what is still further planned in this respect by the Allied powers, just as we willingly recognize the efforts made by the Italian authorities. No one more than ourselves, whose apostolic mission affords every opportunity of knowing the sorrows and miseries of the oppressed, feels deeper gratitude toward all those who in Italy and abroad have cooperated and are still cooperating in this noble work.

Handicapped by Lack of Ships

Unfortunately, we have been unable to obtain the use of ships for the transport of food and the repatriation of refugees. We are nevertheless confident that we will soon have other means of bringing succor to many unfortunate people. And just as in the past, and certainly in the future, we feel deepest gratitude to all those who try to bridge the gap between the slenderness of the available resources and the immeasurable extent of our urgent needs.

In this reciprocal helpfulness between the peoples, already begun during the war and despite the limitations that this entails, we discern an awakening of generosity that is not less wise from the political than it is noble from the human point of view. I feel that in the heat of battle and the passionate clash of opposing interests this generosity may weaken, but will not be extinguished, as it has its roots in nature itself and in the Christian conception of life, and it can come to full flower immediately the sword has finished its bitter task.

We have certainly no more ardent desire than that the day should soon come when, the roar of battle having died away, peace, security and prosperity would be restored to that large part of tortured humanity that has reached the limits of its moral and material strength.

Innumerable people are longing for that day, just as the shipwrecked long for the morning star; nevertheless, many already feel that transition from the violence of the storm to the great calm of peace may still be painful and bitter. They realize that the passage from cessation of hostilities to the establishment of a normal way of life may entail hidden and even more serious difficulties for all citizens. It is therefore all the more urgent that a feeling of solidarity-should rise between the peoples so that the world should be healed more quickly and lastingly.

Need for a World Body

In our Christmas speech of 1939 we already expressed a hope for the creation of international organizations that, avoiding the omissions and deficiencies of the past, would be really capable of preserving peace in accordance with the principles of justice and equity in the face of all external danger.

Now in the light of such terrible experience, when the attention of statesmen and peoples is centered on the possibility of setting up a new universal organization for peace, we willingly express our sympathy and hope that concrete realization of this ideal will correspond in the widest possible measure to the nobility of the aim, the maintenance of security and peace throughout the world for the benefit of all.

No one perhaps invokes the end of the conflict and rebirth of the spirit of concord between nations as much as millions of prisoners of war and civilian internees, compelled by war to eat the bitter bread of captivity and forced labor in foreign lands. Grief for the sorrows of mothers, wives and children and for the long separation from all people and things they love destroys and consumes them and fills them with a sense of isolation and abandonment that only those who can penetrate the deep anguish of their hearts can measure.

Since this war, with all that necessarily or arbitrarily arises from it, has led to the most gigantic and tragic migration of peoples known to history, it will be a work of noble humanity, clear-sighted justice and administrative wisdom if these unfortunates are not kept waiting beyond the strictly necessary time for their liberation, already far too long delayed.

Force May Be Required

Such a solution naturally would not exclude certain, perhaps indispensable, precautions, but it Would be the first ray of sunshine in the blackness of the night, a symbolic herald of a new era in which all nations that love peace—great and small, strong and weak, victors and vanquished—will share no less in the rights and duties than in the benefits of true civilization.

The sword can—and indeed at times must open the road to peace. The shadow of the sword may be cast over the transition from the cessation of hostilities to the formal conclusion of peace. The threat of the sword may loom inevitably within juridically necessary and morally justifiable limits even after the conclusion of peace, to safeguard the observance of rightful obligations and prevent a temptation to conflict.

But the soul of a peace worthy of the name and purifying the spirit of the solution is justice, which impartially measures out to everyone what is due and takes from all their just due—justice, which does not give everything to everyone but gives love to all and wrong to no one; justice, which is worthy of truth and the mother of healthy freedom and assured greatness.