How Can Goods be Universal?



The Universal Destination of Goods is a major theme of Catholic social teaching

The Universal Destination of Goods is a major theme of Catholic social teaching

To discuss the universal destination of goods we need to pick up where we left off in discussing the right to private property: YES – there is a right to private property…AND – human nature can lead to the distortion of that right when it is defined in isolation or with a certain exclusivity.

We must always recall that the right to private property is subject to modifications which may be imposed by the requirements of the common good and solidarity.


This dualism is long-standing and key to comprehending Catholic social teaching, which “has always understood the right to private property within the broader context of the right common to all…​the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, ​to the fact that goods are meant for everyone”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 14)

Indeed, “The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property.” (Pope Francis, 3.1)

Why? Because, “[t]he goods of the earth are destined for the whole human race”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2402) Therefore, “[f]or the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the ​universal destination of goods​”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2401)

And, it requires “respect for the right to private property” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2401) as well.


“[T]he logic of profit and that of the equal distribution of goods…do not contradict each other if their relationship is well ordered. Catholic social doctrine has always supported that equitable distribution of goods is a priority. Naturally, profit is legitimate and, in just measure, necessary for economic development.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

Three circles containing symbols of the three principles of catholic social teaching: human dignity, subsidiarity, and solidarity.

Three Key Principles

Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human DignitySolidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.

Human Dignity

This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image. 


Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.


Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)