God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity. This principle is based on the fact that the original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits (Gen 1:28-29). God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone. (section 171)This is the basis for the "universal destination of goods" principle, which states that "each person must have access to the level of well-being necessary for his full development" (section 172). It is a natural and inherent right that has priority over every social or economic system. "All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade must be subordinated to this norm; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application" (section 172), even if it requires "regulated interventions".
The principle of the universal destination of goods is an invitation to develop an economic vision inspired by moral values that permit people not to lose sight of the origin or purpose of these goods, so as to bring about a world of fairness and solidarity, in which the creation of wealth can take on a positive function. (section 174)This principle impinges upon the idea of property rights. "Private property and other forms of private ownership of goods 'assure a person a highly necessary sphere for the exercise of his personal and family autonomy and ought to be considered as an extension of human freedom ... stimulating exercise of responsibility, it constitutes one of the conditions for civil liberty'". In fact, the Church's social teaching "requires that ownership of goods be equally accessible to all, so that all may become, at least in some measure, owners" (section 176).
Property rights, however, are not "absolute and untouchable". Since God has given the earth to all and all have an equal right to it then property rights are subordinate to the universal destination of goods principle. This does not eliminate the idea property rights; it orders and regulates it. Private property is best understood as a means to the fulfillment of this principle. That is to say, private property has a social function related to the common good. Owners are obligated to consider how their property may be used in a way that contributes to the common good.
If the principle is true and "each person must have access to the level of well-being necessary for his full development" then those who are particularly destitute deserve special attention:
The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force. "This is an option, or a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods. Today, furthermore, given the worldwide dimension which the social question has assumed, this love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without health care and, above all, those without hope of a better future".This special attention to the poor flows not only from the teachings of Jesus, but also from the fact that he was himself one of the poor and focused his ministry on them. The Church has always worked "for their relief, defence and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere" and taught that Christians "should assist their fellow man in his various needs and fill the human community with countless works of corporal and spiritual mercy". This teaching goes beyond alms-giving alone, however, and encourages Christians to address "the social and political dimensions of the problem of poverty":
In her teaching the Church constantly returns to this relationship between charity and justice: "When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice". The Council Fathers strongly recommended that this duty be fulfilled correctly, remembering that "what is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity".Links:
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church