What is Catholic Church’s teaching on the size of government? And what is the principle of subsidiarity? Our friends at CatholicVote.org have put together a brief video to help answer these questions.
Ahead of tonight’s vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, Hunter Baker (a Baptist political scholar) and I (a Reformed moral theologian), offer up some thoughts as “Protestants in Praise of Catholic Social Teaching” in a special edition of Acton Commentary.
Commentators are already busy parsing the partisan divide between the co-religionists Biden and Ryan, but having Roman Catholics represented in such prominent positions in this campaign and particularly in tonight’s debate is also likely to catapult another player into the national political consciousness: Catholic Social Teaching (CST).
For people of faith, and even for people of no particular faith whatsoever, CST represents a praiseworthy model for responsible civil engagement in a diverse and plural culture.
We go on to point in particular to the objective moral order recognized by CST, the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and the tradition’s commitment to religious liberty.
For an example of those “parsing the partisan divide” ahead of the debate, see this piece over at Religion Dispatches. There’s sure to be much more like this in the days and weeks to come.
Read our whole piece, though, for more on how CST provides some hope that we might elevate the level of our political discourse.
“The world thinks of the state’s sovereignty in terms of power; Catholic social doctrine understands the state to be in service to all,” says Patrick Brennan, a professor of law at Villanova University. Brennan has a new paper, ‘Religious Freedom,’ the Individual Mandate, and Gifts: On Why the Church is Not a Bomb Shelter.’ From the abstract:
The Health and Human Services’ regulatory requirement that all but a narrow set of “religious” employers provide contraceptives to employees is an example of what Robert Post and Nancy Rosenblum refer to as a growing “congruence” between civil society’s values and the state’s legally enacted policy. Catholics and many others have resisted the HHS requirement on the ground that it violates “religious freedom.” They ask (in the words of Cardinal Dolan) to be “left alone” by the state. But the argument to be “left alone” overlooks or suppresses the fact that the Catholic Church understands that it is its role to correct and transform society, not merely to be left alone in a gilded cage. This paper uses the HHS mandate as a vehicle by which to clarify the Catholic understanding of the ideal — but currently mostly unachievable — relationship between Church and state: the state should receive its principles from the Church, not the Church from the state. Social justice and subsidiarity disallow a state that reduces the Church to the status of a bomb shelter. Leviathan is happy to have the Church out of sight and out of mind.
You can download the paper here.
A video surreptitiously filmed during one of Mitt Romney’s private fundraisers was leaked and captured the Republican presidential nominee talking to donors last April in a Florida home (watch below) during a very candid moment.
While Romney states the facts and opinions as he sees them regarding the prevalent public welfare culture in America, he quotes figures that will surely stir animosity from within the Obama administration and his loyal Democratic voters.
Here’s a summary of what Mitt Romney told his campaign donors:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. ..They will vote for this president no matter what… And so my job is not to worry about those people. I will never convince them [that] they should take personal responsibility and care for their own lives. What I have to do is convince the five to ten percent in the center, that are independents, that are thoughtful, the look at voting one way or the other…
Subsidiarity, the idea that those closest to a problem should be the ones to solve it, plays a particular role in development. However, it can be an idea that is a bit “slippery”: who does what and when? What is the role of faith-based organizations? What is the role of government? Susan Stabile, Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law, has written “Subsidiarity and the Use of Faith-Based Organizations in the Fight Against Poverty” at Mirror of Justice blog and has a succinct view of subsidiarity:
Faith-based organizations have tremendous advantages over the provision of direct benefits by the federal or state governments, being capable of steering a course between welfare as an entitlement for all and state based determinations as to what general criteria make one worthy of receiving governmental assistance. The fact that they are closer to the problem allows them to better tailor aid and solutions to the situations of those they serve. The fact that they are community-based allows them to better facilitate the full development of the human personality of those who they touch. The fact that they are faith-based allows them to capture benefits of attempting to address some of the behavioral contributors to the difficulty of improving the lives of those they serve.
However, subsidiarity emphasizes action at the level most suited to address a problem, not merely action at the lowest level. It is thus important that subsidiarity not be used as an excuse to merely devolve responsibility downward without assurance of effectiveness, that it not be used as an excuse for the federal government to abdicate responsibility to provide for the social welfare of its citizens, viewing social welfare as the responsibility of states and localities, aided by private actors. Doing so would be inconsistent both with the concerns underlying the principle of subsidiarity and with subsidiarity’s context within the broader body of Catholic social teaching, and would be little more than merely a ruse for simply reducing federal expenditures. It is thus important to recognize that the effective provision of social services requires multiple actors. While it is desirable that faith-based organizations play a significant role, the federal government must also retain a significant role both in enabling faith-based organizations to do their job and in doing those things that can not be done effectively by such organizations. Ultimately, the government must remain the ultimate backup to ensure that no one is left behind.
Ms. Stabile goes on to say that, “…addressing people’s spiritual needs, helping change their lives rather then just providing for their material needs, empowers them.” By focusing on the empowerment of people on the local level, both those in poverty and those trying to alleviate poverty, we remain centered on the human person, created in God’s image and likeness, with creative power to serve and solve.
This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.
As I leafed through this week’s Wall Street Journal Europe political commentary, I finally felt a little redemption. Hats off to WSJ writers Peter Nicholas and Mark Peter whose brief, but poignant August 20 article “Ryan’s Catholic Roots Reach Deep” shed light on vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s value system. This was done by elucidating how Paul Ryan views the relationship of the individual with the state and how the local, small-town forces in America can produce great change for a nation gravely concerned about its weak and vulnerable.
The article references a standard Catholic but still-very-unknown-teaching on “subsidiarity.” Go figure, not even my word processing program recognizes the term in its standard U.S. English lexicon. Alas, subsidiarity is not a word you read about in the secular Wall Street Journal, either, whose op-eds debate many critical intuitions of the free market and democratic society yet seldom examine the intersection of theology and economics, like the Acton Institute does so well.
Indeed the WSJ Europe article was not that erudite (for other more elaborated pieces on subsidiarity go here and here and be sure to watch Fr. Robert Sirico’s enlightening video (below). Neither do the WSJ writers spell out the details of Ryan’s various economic and welfare reform proposals inspired by the principle of subsidiarity, which include a repeal of nationalized medicine and drastically reducing spending on various excessive national welfare and other expansive public agencies. Nonetheless, last Monday this secular media outlet gave its readers a very Catholic glimpse into Ryan’s political world view which is a product of a hardworking, Irish Catholic family from “small-town” America (Janesville, Wis.) trying to solve its own problems by the teachings of the Catholic Church. (more…)
The Markets, Culture, and Ethics Project’s Third International Colloquium on Christian Humanism in Economics and Business, “Free Markets with Solidarity and Sustainability: Facing the Challenge” conference is coming up this October 22-23 at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. Academic conferences do not necessarily strive to be attractive or inviting (13 word titles and 13 letter words aren’t really all that “catchy”). But I would encourage anyone who is in the area or who is willing to make the trip to seriously consider attending this one. But why this conference? (more…)