The Principle of Subsidiarity
The Catholic Church strongly embraces the Principle of Subsidiarity in its social teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraphs 1883 through 1885 regarding subsidiarity is excerpted as follows:
1883: “…. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.'”
1884: “….The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.”
1885: “The principle of subidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.”
Lip Service to Subsidiarity
Unfortunately, in my perception, Pope Francis gives a bit of lip service to the principle of subsidiarity but then proceeds to seriously violate the principle in repeated appeals to solving the world’s environmental and ecology ‘problems’ at a secular level of the highest order. The word “subsidiarity” only occurs twice in the 40,000+ word Encyclical:
“Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development. It has also to do with the overall welfare of society and the development of a variety of intermediate groups, applying the principle of subsidiarity. Outstanding among those groups is the family as the basic cell of society. Finally the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.” (#157)
“What happens with politics? Let us keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity which grants freedom to develop the capabilities present at every level of society, while also demanding a greater sense of responsibility for the common good from those who wield greater power. Today, it is the case that some economic sectors exercise more power than states themselves. But economics without politics cannot be justified, since this would make it impossible to favour other ways of handling the various aspects of the present crisis. The mindset which leaves no room for sincere concern for the environment is the same mindset which lacks concern for the inclusion of the most vulnerable members of society. For “the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life.'” (#196) The quote with which the prior excerpt ends is by Pope Francis quoting himself in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium Gaudium, November 24, 2013.
Losing the Sense of Subsidiarity
Quotations from Laudato Si seem to shift away from the Principle of Subsidiarity, and rarely return to justify recommended actions even as a test related to subsidiarity. Rather, the conclusions appear to advocate placing key world decisions in the hands of a type of centralized planning committee. It should be noted that paragraph #195 ends with the assertion: “An instrumental way of reasoning, which provides a purely static analysis of realities in the service of present needs, is at work whether resources are allocated by the market or by state central planning.” (#195). Once again the language confounds, but seems to be asserting that free market factors or central planning, so common to socialistic states, are equivalent on their relevant bases. (This is of course not true; there is no comparison between the exercise of God-given free will, and slavery to dictatorship no matter how seemingly benevolent.) Thematic to this encyclical (which will be expanded in later Parts) is a sense that much of humanity is not to be trusted with its free will regarding the environment. We should remember that even when we misuse or abuse the environment God Himself is not stepping in to reverse our actions; He gives free will to us and it has its price!) Perhaps there is more need to trust each other in these matters than to institute centralized human control? See CCC 1884 above.
So, there is no evidence or proof given to justify the assertion of equivalency between resources allocated by the market (and human will) vs. central planning. But it is in this context that we can view the numerous assertions in Laudato Si that decisions of world wide import should be handled at a level which supersedes the rights of sovereign nations and de facto ignores subsidiarity. For most people in western cultures, valuing freedom and self determination, such assertions likely appear socialistic. And, as mentioned above, the Catechism is clear in Paragraph 1885: “The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism.”
In Part X of this series, many of the Collectivist and Socialistic quotes from Laudato Si will be reported. But first it is important to consider how Church teaching stands on the shoulders of prior magisterial pronouncements.
Magisterial Teaching of Subsidiarity
Previously in Part II it was mentioned that all the quotes in Laudato Si would be taken at face value as being the words of Pope Francis, without attempting to dissect the quote and its context and prior references. So far, that has been true. But arriving at this section on subsidiarity, which is an essential underpinning of a global teaching on environmentalism, pollution, alleged climate change and imposing of penalties, it is absolutely necessary to first revisit the basis for the teaching, especially since Pope Francis uses quotes by other papal sources to justify or support his own teaching. We must remember that Popes do not simply pop up unconnected to all prior history but, rather, they are the custodians of all prior magisterial teaching. Thus, when I did read the following reference in Laudato Si (#175), it did not ring true to me regarding either the Catechism paragraph 1885, or Pope Benedict’s own words in the Ratzinger Report (see Part X). Hence, I put aside, for this particular instance, the prior determination to simply accept all quotes at face value as belonging to Pope Francis (no matter who is cited.) In this case, with a teaching expected to stand on the shoulders of prior papal teaching, it is vital to confirm what Pope Benedict is reported to have said. My own interpretation does not support that conclusion of Laudato Si.
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