Principle of Subsidiarity

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the common good. The common good is a basic principle in Catholic social teaching. Today, I want to mention another essential principle in understanding the Church’s social doctrine, the principle of subsidiarity.

To understand what this principle means, keep in mind that “the human person… is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions.” Gaudium et Spes (GS) 25;1 Yet individuals have the need and tendency to socialize with one another for the sake of attaining material, emotional and religious needs and aspirations. This socialization, while good and necessary in itself, does present some danger for the state can excessively interfere with this process and thereby threaten personal freedom and initiative. Thus, the Church has developed the principle of subsidiarity, according to which a social group/community of higher order should not interfere with the internal life of a community/group of a lower order, depriving it of its functions. Instead, higher order communities should support the activities and initiatives of the lower community, help coordinate its activities with the rest of society, always with an eye on  fostering the common good. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church[CC], 1883)

The Catechism states that this principle is opposed to all forms of collectivism, sets limits for state intervention, harmonizes the relationships between individuals and societies and tends toward the development of true international order. (CC, 1885)

Practical application of the principle of subsidiarity has so many implications. Perhaps the first which comes to mind is protecting the rights of parents to teach and provide for their children without undue state interference. Many of us undoubtedly will emphatically and naturally support that of course, but with deeper reflection, it leaves us with a real challenge to do just that – educate and instruct our children, especially in the ways of the Faith. How many of us just delegate that to the local public school, or expect Father or Deacon or Sister to take care of that responsibility which is solidly our own? Another challenging aspect of this is in the area of social justice and charity. The principle of subsidiarity demands that we involve ourselves with the care of the poor and those unjustly maligned in our local communities. We cannot, in justice, pawn off these responsibilities solely to the county, state, or federal government. This principle also requires that we involve ourselves politically, and actively work toward a more just response from our government to the needs of our day.  We cannot justly fail to cast our ballots or advocate politically for the needs of other.  This principle also guides us in our relationships with our adult children who have formed their own families, keeping us from interfering in their internal affairs, yet assigning to us the responsibility to support them.  How that plays out in the concreteness of everyday life will vary, family to family.

How do you see the principle of subsidiarity applying in your life?

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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