Pope Francis sent out a strong message Thursday during a videoconference with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), when he affirmed that private property is a “secondary,” not primary, right.
The Pope also touched on reconstruction of global economies post-pandemic during his talk.
"Sometimes, when talking about private property, we forget that it is a secondary right which depends on a primary right: the universal destination of goods," the leader of the Catholic Church told the summit in Geneva.
"At this time of reflection, in which we try to shape our future action and shape an international post-Covid-19 agenda, we should pay special attention to the real danger of forgetting those who have been left behind," Francis said.
The Argentine pontiff also analysed the impact of recent increases in unemployment, as well as the toll the Covid-19 pandemic has taken on the economy globally. Francis called on his listeners to take advantage of this "crucial moment in social and economic history" as an opportunity for cooperation among employers, unions, and political leaders.
The pope emphasised the difficulties businesses have in an effort to get ahead, remarking that "some run the risk of total or partial bankruptcy.” He acknowledged that 2020 brought an “unprecedented loss of employment" worldwide.
“Business activity is essentially a noble vocation aimed at producing wealth and improving the world for all,” he said. Along the same lines, Francis argued (as he had in his third encyclical, Fratelli Tutti) that above the right to private property "there is the prior and precedent right of subordination of all private property to the universal destiny of the goods of the Earth and, therefore, everyone's right to use them".
Universal destination of goods is a Catholic concept which asserts that the results of God’s creation are meant to be shared among humankind as a whole, while also leaving wiggle room for the individual right to private property.
"We should continue exercising special care for the common good," stressed the highest authority of the Catholic Church in a later part of his video message.
The Pope suggested that once the pandemic is over, reconstruction of the world economy should aim to include "decent and dignified working conditions”, with the "right to organise" upheld as a central pillar.
"Unions are an expression of the prophetic profile of society. Unions are born and reborn so many times that, like the biblical prophets, they give a voice to those who do not have it, " said the pontiff. Even so, he warned: "When a union is corrupt, it cannot do this anymore and rather becomes a stagnation of pseudo bosses, also distanced from the people.”
The pope also highlighted the needs of migrants and the most vulnerable workers, particularly those in the informal economy, and criticised the fact that these sectors are often left out of national health plans.
In the context of the pandemic, Francis considered that vulnerable workers’ fragile status further "complicates early detection, testing, diagnosis, contact tracing and seeking medical attention for Covid-19 for refugees and migrants. Therefore, the risk of outbreaks among these populations increases.”
Referring to the unique needs of informal workers, Francis argued that "it is very necessary to ensure that social assistance reaches the informal economy, paying special attention to the particular needs of women and girls."
“A society cannot progress by discarding,” he said, referring to “an even worse virus than Covid-19 — selfish indifference”. “This virus spreads by thinking that life is better if it's better for me, and that everything will be okay if it's okay for me.”
"This is how it begins and ends: by selecting one person instead of another, discarding the poor, sacrificing those left behind in this so-called 'altar of progress'. It is completely a dynamic of constructing new elites at the cost of discarding many people and many communities.”