The Popes And Distribution of Wealth?

The distribution of wealth is something which raises a good many hackles. I was on the radio recently about the nature of a good economic system as that can be defined using the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. I mentioned the distribution of goods and someone sent the station an e-mail saying that they took my advice, looked it up in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, determined it was wrong, thanked God that he didn’t have to listen to the Compendium, and then called me a Communist. Great!

Jesus separating the sheep from the goats based on when they helped the poor.

The truth, though, is that the distribution of goods is an integral part of the Social Teaching. Now what liberal members of the Democratic party think about the distribution of goods is usually not what the Popes had in mind. For clarity’s sake, I thought I would provide some of the key texts from our Holy Fathers that touch on the distribution of goods. Let me just point out that the following texts are not from obscure, seldom-read missives buried beneath the sands of time. The following texts are the very foundation of the Social Doctrine of the Church. To deny them is to deny doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Pope Leo XIII Rerum novarum:

33. …It would be irrational to neglect one portion of the citizens and favor another, and therefore the public administration must duly and solicitously provide for the welfare and the comfort of the working classes; otherwise, that law of justice will be violated which ordains that each man shall have his due. To cite the wise words of St. Thomas Aquinas: “As the part and the whole are in a certain sense identical, so that which belongs to the whole in a sense belongs to the part.”( Summa theologiae, IIa-Ilae, q. lxi, are. l, ad 2m.) Among the many and grave duties of rulers who would do their best for the people, the first and chief is to act with strict justice – with that justice which is called distributive – toward each and every class alike.

Pope Pius XI Quadragessimo anno:

5. The same feeling those many Catholics, both priests and laymen, shared, whom a truly wonderful charity had long spurred on to relieve the unmerited poverty of the non-owning workers, and who could in no way convince themselves that so enormous and unjust an in equality in the distribution of this world’s goods truly conforms to the designs of the all-wise Creator.


57. But not every distribution among human beings of property and wealth is of a character to attain either completely or to a satisfactory degree of perfection the end which God intends. Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits….

58. To each, therefore, must be given his own share of goods, and the distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is laboring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice.


76. What We have thus far stated regarding an equitable distribution of property and regarding just wages concerns individual persons and only indirectly touches social order, to the restoration of which according to the principles of sound philosophy and to its perfection according to the sublime precepts of the law of the Gospel, Our Predecessor, Leo XIII, devoted all his thought and care.

Pope John XIII Mater et magistra

74. As Our Predecessor Pius XII observed with evident justification: “Likewise the national economy, as it is the product of the men who work together in the community of the State, has no other end than to secure without interruption the material conditions in which the individual life of the citizens may fully develop. Where this is secured in a permanent way, a people will be, in a true sense, economically rich, because the general well-being, and consequently the personal right of all to the use of worldly goods, is thus actuated in conformity with the purpose willed by the Creator.” (Cf. AAS 33 (1941) 200) From this it follows that the economic prosperity of a nation is not so much its total assets in terms of wealth and property, as the equitable division and distribution of this wealth.


82. Justice is to be observed not only in the distribution of wealth, but also in regard to the conditions in which men are engaged in producing this wealth. Every man has, of his very nature, a need to express himself in his work and thereby to perfect his own being.

and this whole section

The Effective Distribution of Property

113. But it is not enough to assert that the right to own private property and the means of production is inherent in human nature. We must also insist on the extension of this right in practice to all classes of citizens.

114. As Our Predecessor Pius XII so rightly affirmed: The dignity of the human person “normally demands the right to the use of the goods of the earth, to which corresponds the fundamental obligation of granting an opportunity to possess property to all if possible.” (33) This demand arises from the moral dignity of work. It also guarantees “the conservation and perfection of a social order which makes possible a secure, even if modest, property to all classes of people.” (34)

115. Now, if ever, is the time to insist on a more widespread distribution of property, in view of the rapid economic development of an increasing number of States. It will not be difficult for the body politic, by the adoption of various techniques of proved efficiency, to pursue an economic and social policy which facilitates the widest possible distribution of private property in terms of durable consumer goods, houses, land, tools and equipment (in the case of craftsmen and owners of family farms), and shares in medium and large business concerns. This policy is in fact being pursued with considerable success by several of the socially and economically advanced nations.

Vatican II Gaudium et spes in footnote #10

As for the determination of what is superfluous in our day and age, cf. John XXIII, Radio-television message of Sept. 11, 1962: AAS 54 (1962) p. 682: “The obligation of every man, the urgent obligation of the Christian man, is to reckon what is superfluous by the measure of the needs of others, and to see to it that the administration and the distribution of created goods serve the common good.”

Pope John Paul II Laborem exercens

2. …The disproportionate distribution of wealth and poverty and the existence of some countries and continents that are developed and of others that are not call for a levelling out and for a search for ways to ensure just development for all. This is the direction of the teaching in John XXIII’s Encyclical Mater et Magistra, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council, and in Paul VI’s Encyclical Populorum Progressio.

In Solicitudo rei socialis

9. …We are therefore faced with a serious problem of unequal distribution of the means of subsistence originally meant for everybody, and thus also an unequal distribution of the benefits deriving from them. And this happens not through the fault of the needy people, and even less through a sort of inevitability dependent on natural conditions or circumstances as a whole.

So, yes, the equitable distribution of wealth ought to be pursued by men and by state.

The two big questions to be answered are:

1) How does this jibe with the forcefully defended right to private property, a natural right? and

2) How does the state or the citizen go about doing this distributing?

Well, more on these things tomorrow and this week.