Is Stealing a Virtue?

Published December 14, 2009

I am profoundly disappointed in Caritas in Veritate, the encyclical issued on June 29, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. It contains no fewer than six endorsements of wealth redistribution by government. It must be understood that wealth redistribution by government involves the use of its coercive powers to take resources from those who have earned them and give them to those who have not.

Previous popes have seen a serious danger in such a forced redistribution. John Paul II in his Centisimus Annus quotes Rerum Novarum by Leo XIII as follows. “To remedy these wrongs [the unjust distribution of wealth and the poverty of the workers], the Socialists encourage the poor man’s envy of the rich and strive to do away with private property, contending that individual possessions should become the common property of all. …; but their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that, were they carried into effect, the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are moreover emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community.”

I am no theologian, but wealth redistribution by the government looks to me to be a violation of the seventh commandment against stealing. Indeed, the new encyclical appears to raise the status of this kind of theft from a sin to a virtue.

Jim Johnston ([email protected]) is a policy advisor to, and member of the Board of Directors of, The Heartland Institute.