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April 18, 2016

The Panama Papers scandal has revealed - as if we did not already know - that the wealthy have different modus operandi than the rest of us poor sods. Those who labour for a salary or an hourly wage would find no benefit in setting up offshore shell companies to avoid paying taxes.

One source of scandal in these revelations is that billionaires strenuously avoid paying taxes to the countries that make them wealthy. Do they have any sense of social responsibility? Are they not grateful to the countries and the people from whom they draw their wealth? Apparently not.

We can all get sucked into believing that we deserve all our money and possessions. However, the more wealth one has, the less likely that one has earned it all.

Top corporate executives receive scandalous salaries and benefits. Then there is inherited wealth. To pass on one's wealth and property to the children at the end of life can be an act of caring and even love. But no recipient of an inheritance can claim to deserve their windfall.

Catholic social teaching has a principle called the universal destination of goods. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the principle is stated succinctly: "God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone" (171).

No one should have more than their fair share. No one should live in splendour while others are shackled to abject poverty. This is the basis of communism; it is also a principle of the Catholic faith.

A major difference between Catholicism and communism is how the principle is applied. Catholicism calls for voluntary adherence; communism would expropriate, even by lethal force, the property of the wealthy. Moreover, despite communism's lofty rhetoric, its leaders once installed in power avail themselves of far more than their share of the available wealth.

A good Canadian Christian pays taxes with gratitude for the benefits of living in a free and prosperous nation. He or she goes further, donating to non-profit organizations which empower the poor and level the playing field.

However, in complex societies, acts of charity alone will not bring about equality. Governments play a major role in sharing the wealth, and they need taxes to carry out that role.

Every member of society should contribute their fair share without hiding their taxable income and other property in offshore, low-tax countries. To do anything less is practical atheism, a belief that God has no interest in what happens to the fruits of creation.