Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Popes and Private Property
Folha de S. Paulo, June 6th 1971 (*)
“This letter is about your article entitled, “Private Property.” There you tried to justify the TFP position on private property on the basis of some papal quotations. That would have been fine if they had been from contemporary Popes. It so happens that the most recent Pontiff you cited was Pius XII, who died in 1958. You made not mention at all of the documents of John XXIII or Paul VI. You seem to have completely ignored the Second Vatican Council.
“Now, as you know very well, the Church went through vast mutations under those two Popes who were so open-minded, advanced, and humane. The Council put an end to the stifling atmosphere in which Catholic culture was blanching and opened doors and windows for the refreshing breezes of modern culture. All of this gave the Church an entirely new physiognomy. I know that this new look does not please you. But—what a magnificent compensation!—it attracted sympathies for Religion from the most far-flung ideological positions.
“So it is that a lucid, categorical, and kind-hearted atheist, Salvador Allende (I imagine you frown as you read the name), was able to write these magnificent words about the new Church:
The Catholic Church has undergone fundamental changes. For centuries she defended the interests of the powerful. After John XXIII, the Church has found her way to make the Gospel of Christ a reality, at least in some places. I had the opportunity to read the declaration of the Bishops at Medellin, and the language that they used is the same that we have been using since our initiation into political life some thirty years ago. At that time we were condemned for language that today is employed by Catholic bishops. I do not believe that the Church will be a factor of opposition to the Popular Unity Government. On the contrary, it will be an element in our favor, because we shall b e trying to convert Christian thinking into reality. Furthermore, there will be complete freedom of religious belief.
“Naturally, (my anonymous correspondent goes on) the concepts came to the knowledge of Paul VI and the Chilean Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez. What did they do? Did they disagree? Were they horrified? Di they refuse the Marxist President’s outstretched hand? Pius XII and his predecessors had condemned the ‘policy of the extended hand.’ Paul VI’s behavior was quite different. He resolutely shook hands with Allende. And so did the Chilean Cardinal. Both smiled with pleasure. In the name of the Pope, the Cardinal visited the Marxist chief, gave him a copy of the Bible, embraced him and promised his collaboration.
“Silence is consent, the proverb goes. Smiles, visits, congratulations, and collaboration are much more than mere consent.
“Again I say, Pius XII and his predecessors, especially Pius X, for whom I see you have a penchant, would have done exactly the opposite of what Paul VI did.
“But thing in the Church have changed completely. And contrary to what you think, such change is possible.
“Indeed, only that part of the Church’s teachings contained in dogmatic ex cathedra definitions is immutable. But the documents on private property that you have cited are not dogmatic definitions. Therefore, they may be changed. And change they did. They have changed so much that you can cite nothing form John XXIII, Paul VI or the Council, in the same vein as the previous pontifical documents.
“Get yourself out of this one, Dr. Plinio. The conclusion one reaches is that you knew the weak point in your argumentation (that is, the leftist position of the new Church), and were trying to pass over it in silence. You undoubtedly hoped that no one would touch the sore point. Well, here is my finger buried in the wound. New let’s see how you wiggle out of this one, if you do manage to.”
Many people don’t answer anonymous letters. But when one of them expresses not merely the opinion of a faint-hearted and aggressive writer, but rather that of a whole family of souls, I am glad to answer out of consideration for all of them. Especially because in addition to its impertinence and rudenss, this letter has some flashes of wit and even of intelligence.
Since I have fully transcribed my anonymous correspondent’s long letter to show that I do not fear his invectives, not enough room is left to answer everything he wrote. To reply, I have selected a key point which, once overthrown, will drag down everything he alleges in its fall.
First I would like to say a word about St. Pius X. I don’t have a “penchant” for him. Since he is a Saint canonized by the Church, I have real devotion to him. He is a very great Saint. I ask him to incline from the heights of heaven to open the eyes of all who think like my correspondent.
My argumentation shall be expounded calmly and clearly. Let my anonymous correspondent, or whoever thinks like he does, say what is wrong with it:
1. The teachings of the Popes preceding John XXIII cited in my article on Private Property are essentially the same as those of all the previous Popes who have treated this matter;
2. However, when a long succession of Popes affirm the same doctrine in documents of the ordinary Magisterium (each one, therefore, not having per se the character of an infallible teaching), such a succession confers a dogmatic character on the doctrine in question;
3. Since this is true of the essential content of the texts on private property that I have cited, these texts contain dogmatic truths;
4. If any Pope were to teach the contrary in a non-dogmatic document, he should not be followed by the faithful. Non-infallible and ordinary teaching cannot prevail over dogmatic teaching;
5. Therefore, I am completely at ease relying on the texts on which I took my stand. The “weak point” the anonymous writer thought he had seen in my argumentation actually does not exist.
For the sake of brevity, I will pass over many other gravely erroneous affirmations of my anonymous correspondent.
The key point of this whole argumentation is number 2. If it stands, the rest of the argumentation cannot be rejected. If it is overthrown, all the rest falls as well.
The question is, then: What is the basis for the assertion contained in point 2?
Crusade for a Christian Civilization (March-April 1976, p. 18-30) published a notable study on this point. It fully demonstrates that teachings of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church can take on the character of infallibility in fields such as this. In fact, it mentions private property as an example. The succession of Popes who affirmed the legitimacy of private property is very long and continuous. Let my anonymous writer read that article and then write me again if he wishes. I simply advise him to work carefully if he tries to answer it. That study has circulated all over the world without raising objections.
(*) Tradition, Family, Property - Newsletter, 1, 24, 1980.