What is So Critical About Subsidiarity Anyway?

 

by CAPP-USA

 

This principle is crucial to fully understanding Catholic social teaching and, while we may have heard the term “subsidiarity” before, we really need to understand what it means.

Pope Francis

Subsidiarity​ identifies how decisions in society need to be taken at the lowest competent level. In other words, problems are best solved at the level where they arise or, if this is not possible, at the lowest ​competent​ level.

Any activity that can be efficaciously performed by a more decentralized entity – should be.

WHY DOES CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING INSIST ON THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBSIDIARITY?

Because violating subsidiarity “is an injustice and at the same time a​ ​grave evil and a disturbance of right order”! (Pope Pius XI, 79)

Subsidiarity “insists on necessary limits to the State’s intervention…inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the state and inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 11)

No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty.” (Pope Francis, 3.2) “Individuals and groups have the right to go their own way, even though they may sometimes make mistakes. In full respect for that freedom, civil society is called to help each person and social organization to take up its specific role and thus contribute to the common good.” (Pope Francis)

Any activity that can be efficaciously performed by a more decentralized entity – should be.​

Ultimately, “Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 57)

In a ‘nutshell’: “We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 28)

IT WOULD BE WRONG TO VIEW SUBSIDIARITY SIMPLY AS A LIMIT ON THE STATE

In fact, the opposite is true: by practicing ​subsidiarity​ the state is, itself, justified: i.e., “will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them”. (Pope Pius XI, 80)

By practicing subsidiarity the state recognizes this principle “is always designed to achieve…emancipation because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 57)

THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBSIDIARITY ALSO APPLIES AT THE INTERNATIONAL LEVEL

Also, at the international level, Pope Benedict XVI, confirming Pope Saint John XXIII (Pocem in Terris, 140), pointed out that, “[i]n order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, ​the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity​.” (Caritas in Veritate, 57)

Pope Pius XI

IN SUMMARY

The principle of subsidiarity lies at the heart of a stable social order by fostering the personal responsibility that naturally accompanies individual liberty – ensuring that personal interest is not placed in opposition to societal interests – and by seeking to bring individual desires and the demands of the common good into fruitful harmony.

Pope Pius XI best defined Subsidiarity when he said: “It 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”. (Quadragesimo Anno, 79)

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

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

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)