Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Laudato Si — “Subsidiarity is Vital” — Part IX

July 26th, 2015, Promulgated by Diane Harris

The Principle of Subsidiarity

The Catholic Church strongly embraces the Principle of Subsidiarity in its social teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in paragraphs 1883 through 1885 regarding subsidiarity is excerpted as follows:

CCC 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.'”

CCC 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.”

CCC 1885:  “The principle of subsidiarity 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, Laudato Si 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, even when we misuse or abuse the environment, that God Himself is not intervening 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. They are protectors of doctrine. 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 guideline 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.

A Problematic Excerpt

Pope Francis wrote:  “…it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions.”  Many people in more democratic societies would likely see these words as socialistic or collectivist.  In defense of these words, he immediately quotes in the same paragraph and very next sentence:   “As Benedict XVI has affirmed in continuity with the social teaching of the Church”… and then there is an excerpted quote from Pope Benedict, from paragraph 67 of Caritas in Veritate, as if the excerpt from Pope Benedict were a rousing endorsement for the text in Paragraph 175 from Laudato Si:  “To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago.”  Pope Francis correctly attributed this quote to Pope Benedict, but out of context, since language before and after the quote from Caritas in Veritate is omitted, language which shows important mitigating factors, particularly the subsidiarity test (mentioned twice), a vital perspective in such matters. The following is the full paragraph 67 from Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate (CiV), but the bold in blue is the same excerpt quoted by Pope Francis, and shows the missing language on either side.  Without that missing language, it seems that the quote is easily misunderstood. (Underlining is only to draw attention to certain words and phrases lost in excerpting for the Encyclical.)  I cannot say if the language was dropped deliberately, or whether or not it was misunderstood and considered irrelevant, or it was simply a space need, but careful reading will show the missing text is important.  (Note that part of the context is calling for reform of the U.N., rather than simply seeing it as an organization to which should be handed authority over the problems of the world.)

What Pope Benedict actually said in 2009 in CiV 67, which also quotes other prior sources:

“In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect [146] and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago.  Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good [147], and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights [148]. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums. Without this, despite the great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations. The integral development of peoples and international cooperation require the establishment of a greater degree of international ordering, marked by subsidiarity, for the management of globalization [149]. They also require the construction of a social order that at last conforms to the moral order, to the interconnection between moral and social spheres, and to the link between politics and the economic and civil spheres, as envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations.”

Notice in particular the  jump from ‘functionaries empowered to impose sanctions’ in Laudato Si (#175) to continue in the very next sentence, same paragraph, “As Benedict affirmed…,”  to skip the relevant text regarding reform of the United Nations Organization and also of economic institutions and international finance, provide the quote, and then skip the text which includes two references to subsidiarity. (Source: Pope Benedict’s address to the U.N. General Assembly). The remaining language omitted contains important modifiers regarding the requirement ‘to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity’, and values of charity in truth, and more.  Pope Benedict also makes it clear (in his own words and in quoting others) that any such change would need to be “universally recognized,” have regard for justice and rights, and a greater degree of international ordering, marked by subsidiarity.  Both these references to subsidiarity were eliminated in the excerpt in Laudato Si (#175).

We should remember how precise Pope Emeritus Benedict is in the formulation of his thoughts.  One simply cannot drop qualifiers and modifiers in order to use his words to support ‘subject-verb-object’ conclusions. Without subsidiarity, the conclusions of the numerous quotes above are just not Catholic conclusions.  But is it Socialism or Marxism or Collectivism?  This is the subject of the Part X review of Laudato Si.


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