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Is inequality really the root of social ills?

Social Inequality:
Popes Leo XIII and Pius X versus “Pope” Francis

“Pope” Francis is currently in Colombia, and, as always, he’s got a lot to say.

In yesterday’s meeting with authorities, the diplomatic corps, and representatives of civil society, Francis gave an address in which he said the following:

Just laws are needed, which can ensure harmony and which can help overcome the conflicts that have torn apart this nation for decades; laws are required which are not born from the pragmatic need to order society but rather arise from the desire to resolve the structural causes of poverty that lead to exclusion and violence. Only in this way can there be healing of the sickness that brings fragility and lack of dignity to society, leaving it always vulnerable to new crises. Let us not forget that inequality is the root of social ills [cf. Evangelii Gaudium 202].

(“Pope urges Colombia’s leaders to peace and reconciliation: Full text”, Vatican Radio, Sep. 7, 2017)

So here the papal pretender from Argentina basically asserts that just as social inequality is an evil that must be fought, so social equality is a good that must be sought and worked for. This he has done on various occasions before. But is this the traditional Roman Catholic teaching?

Certainly it is a noble goal to alleviate poverty, and the Gospel obliges individuals to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46; Jas 2:14-17; 1 Jn 3:17). But is it the job of the state to ensure social equality among all its people? Do all people have the right or the duty to be equal in all things?

We must never forget that equality and justice are two entirely different concepts. A state of affairs can be unequal and yet just, no less than it can be equal and yet unjust (cf. Mt 20:1-16). With this in mind, let us take a look at what Popes Leo XIII and Pius X have taught about the social question.

On Dec. 18, 1903, Pope St. Pius X issued an Apostolic Letter motu proprio entitled Fin Dalla Prima Nostra, in which he presented in summary fashion in the context of the lay Catholic Action movements the teachings of his predecessor Leo XIII on the social question. Among them the following truths are of particular relevance to Francis’ claim that inequality is the root of social ills:

I.  Human society, as established by God, is composed of unequal elements, just as the different parts of the human body are unequal; to make them all equal is impossible, and would mean the destruction of human society. (Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris.)

II.  The equality existing among the various social members consists only in this: that all men have their origin in God the Creator, have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, and are to be judged and rewarded or punished by God exactly according to their merits or demerits. (Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris.)

III.  Hence it follows that there are, according to the ordinance of God, in human society princes and subjects, masters and proletariat, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, nobles and plebeians, all of whom, united in the bonds of love, are to help one another to attain their last end in heaven, and their material and moral welfare here on earth. (Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris.)

IV.  Of the goods of the earth man has not merely the use, like the brute creation, but he has also the right of permanent proprietorship and not merely of those things which are consumed by use, but also of those which are not consumed by use. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

V.  The right of private property, the fruit of labor or industry, or of concession or donation by others, is an incontrovertible natural right; and everybody can dispose reasonably of such property as he thinks fit. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

VI.  To heal the breach between rich and poor, it is necessary to distinguish between justice and charity. There can be no claim for redress except when justice is violated. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

VII.  The following are obligations of justice binding on the proletariat and the workingman: To perform fully and faithfully the work which has been freely and, according to equity, agreed upon; not to injure the property or outrage the person of masters; even in the defense of their own rights to abstain from acts of violence, and never to make mutiny of their defense. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

VIII.  The following are obligations of justice binding on capitalists: To pay just wages to their workingmen; not to injure their just savings by violence or fraud, or by overt or covert usuries; not to expose them to corrupting seductions and danger of scandal; not to alienate them from the spirit of family life and from love of economy; not to impose on them labor beyond their strength, or unsuitable for their age or sex. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

IX.  It is an obligation for the rich and those who own property to succor the poor and the indigent, according to the precepts of the Gospel. This obligation is so grave that on the Day of Judgment special account will be demanded of its fulfillment, as Christ Himself has said (Matthew 25). (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

X.  The poor should not be ashamed of their poverty, nor disdain the charity of the rich, for they should have especially in view Jesus the Redeemer, who, though He might have been born in riches, made Himself poor in order that He might ennoble poverty and enrich it with merits beyond price for heaven. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

XI.  For the settlement of the social question much can be done by the capitalists and workers themselves, by means of institutions designed to provide timely aid for the needy and to bring together and unite mutually the two classes. Among these institutions are mutual aid societies, various kinds of private insurance societies, orphanages for the young, and, above all, associations among the different trades and professions. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

(Pope Pius X, Apostolic Letter Fin Dalla Prima Nostra, nn. I-XI)

In this motu proprio, St. Pius X draws from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicals Quod Apostolici Muneris, Rerum Novarum, and Graves de Communi Re, as well as from an instruction of the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs under the same Pope. Pius X makes clear in his document that “nobody may dare depart from [these rules] in the smallest particulars”.

Thus we see that far from being the cure for or prevention of social ills, a complete equality of men would actually mean the very destruction of society.

Francis has admitted that he has been majorly influenced in his life by a Communist woman named Esther Ballestrino de Careaga. This influence is more than apparent.