Pope Francis’s third encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, predictably deals with the plight of the migrant. This theme has characterized his pontificate, as he never loses an opportunity to take it up. Not all share his enthusiasm; most are apprehensive about what it means for the future.
Mass migration is a sensitive subject for many Catholics in the West. The European Union, for example, is engaged in a demographic and cultural suicide. While Europe is contracepting and aborting itself to death, it also faces hostile migrants that threaten member nations’ identity and well-being. Thus, unrestricted migration represents the death of Christian cultures, which are replaced with onerous governmental programs meant to be all things to all peoples.
For America, similar concerns prevail. A world without borders would overwhelm the nation’s ability to care for the hundreds of millions seeking new opportunities.
A Wrong Understanding of the Universal Destination of Created Goods
Amid this widespread concern, the pontiff’s encyclical declaring everyone to be brethren does not help. While the Christian West has generously received refugees, persecuted minorities and needy peoples, it is hard to accept that in pursuing their “dream of a better future,” everyone has an enforceable right to unrestricted entry into the country. However, this conclusion is part of the encyclical’s message.
“[R]e-envisaging the social role of property,” is the key, Pope Francis thinks, to eliminating world borders.
Traditionally, this social role did not mean that all property must be distributed to those claiming to be needy. Rather, private property’s proper use in production was paramount. As Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira affirms: “Private property and free enterprise are irreplaceable in expanding production. Pursuing this expansion is their principal social role” (“Função Social,” O Jornal, Sept. 30, 1972).
But Pope Francis calls for a “re-envisaging,” so that private property’s social role would now mean helping everyone obtain “sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.”
Francis recalls the principle of “the universal destination of created goods.” However, the traditional understanding of this principle does not deny private property. Rather, it undergirds it, as Pope Leo XIII teaches in his encyclical Rerum Novarum: “The fact that God has given the earth for the use and enjoyment of the whole human race can in no way be a bar to the owning of private property. God has granted the earth to mankind in general, not in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they like, but rather that no part of it was assigned to anyone in particular, and that the limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man’s own industry, and by the laws of individual races” (no. 8 – our emphasis).
Re-envisaging Property: A Stepping Stone to Erasing Borders
Fratelli Tutti uses the meaning disavowed by Pope Leo to create a stepping stone for the pope’s untrammeled immigration policy. The Argentine pope says that if all created goods belong to everyone, then “we can then say that each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere.”
He further states, “If all people are my brothers and sisters, and if the world truly belongs to everyone, then it matters little whether my neighbor was born in my country or elsewhere. My own country also shares responsibility for his or her development.”
Such shocking denials of national sovereignty fit with the internationalist framework of the pontiff’s dream for the world. The United Nations becomes the instrument for implementing this borderless world. The pope calls for investing the world body with executive powers, with “teeth,” to impose sanctions and enforce directives.
Such proposals are perplexing in light of the Church’s long history of aid to refugees and immigrants. The Church has always taught that the stranger must always be treated with charity, courtesy and respect. The Bible says, “Thou shalt not molest a stranger” (Exodus 22:9). No one contests the need to help those passing through a nation, especially when fleeing from persecution and injustice.
The Church likewise does not contest the right to emigrate since the world was indeed made for all. However, Saint Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between peaceful and hostile migrations (I-II, Q. 105, Art. 3). No nation is obliged to accept those who are aggressive and wish harm to its citizens. Nor must countries allow themselves to be overwhelmed by immigrants to the detriment of their citizens.
Immigrants must conform to the host country’s laws. It takes time for migrants to integrate into the local populations. Saint Thomas warns against granting immediate citizenship (which the encyclical encourages ). The Angelic Doctor claims that delaying citizenship is a matter of justice since the newly arrived will not be familiar with the nation’s affairs. He warns that “foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.”
A Universal Homeland Without Borders
Thus, there is nothing new in asking the faithful to treat immigrants well and even welcome them into their communities. However, the encyclical misleads when calling for a universal homeland where all may pursue their utopias. In these dangerous times of terrorism, the pontiff assumes universal goodwill, that all might be welcome. Such a policy disregards reality and the well-founded concerns about the violent behavior of those who have so terrorized this sinful world.
The pope extends this welcoming “encounter” yet further by proposing “a new network of international relations” as a means of ensuring “the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress.” He imagines “an ethics of international relations” aimed at achieving equality among the nations. Trade is also mentioned as readers are asked to consider “a different way of understanding relations and exchanges between countries.”
Even Pope Francis admits this “envisaging a new humanity” may “sound wildly unrealistic.” One might expect him to ask the faithful to turn to God for Whom all things are possible.
However, the encyclical’s message is not even addressed to the Catholic faithful. It appeals to “a single human family” where “all people of good will” are invited to dialogue. Thus, the discussion is reduced to the lowest possible denominator so that all might participate and none will be offended or excluded. When concluding his utopian migratory vision, the pope asked people to unite “on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family.”
The result is a shallow and secular appeal for a fraternity that is not rooted in Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith. It inspires nobody. Not only does the encyclical depart from traditional Catholic magisterium, but it is also “wildly unrealistic.”
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