Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Should companies or individuals have the right to own land or any natural resource forever? As part of the earth, doesn't it belong to everybody?

In the book of Genesis (1:26-29) God entrusted the earth and all of its resources to the stewardship of the human race, to provide for our own needs by mastering them through labour, so that we might benefit from their fruits. This is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of all as well as for assisting us in providing for our basic needs. The right to acquire or receive private property in an honest manner, does not, however, negate the original gift of the earth to the entire human race. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in no. 2403, underscores that "the universal destination of goods is primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise".

The Vatican II document, Gaudium et spes (no. 69:1) spells it out clearly: "In his use of things, man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself". In this sense, the owners of properties (and all the natural resources contained in them) are stewards of Providence.

Those who own not only property, but also factories or any other sort of commercial ventures, are morally obligated to make them benefit the greatest number of people. Owners, and those they place in positions of authority, have a right to use profits with moderation, but never forgetting the needs of the less fortunate, the sick and the disabled. Our dominion over mineral, vegetable and animal resources is not absolute: it must always take into account the quality of life of ones neighbours, including generations to come. We are all called to a religious respect for the integrity of creation (Centesimus annus, nos. 37-38).