Are Catholic institutions in the United States overly reliant on the government? Have they abandoned the philosophy of subsidiarity? Is it possible for us as a nation in our society to become community-oriented again? As a consequence, do a large number of Catholics refuse to donate to charity out of a false notion that it is the government’s place to take care of the less fortunate in our society?
Subsidiarity is one of the key principles of Catholic social thought. David A. Bosnich of the Acton Institute notes that “This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom. It conflicts with the passion for centralization and bureaucracy characteristic of the Welfare State.”
Many Catholic organizations do great work in serving the poor but when you look at the astronomical amount of money they receive from the government I wonder if these organizations are too beholden to the government and have abandoned the idea of subsidiarity. One example is of Catholic Relief Services, in fiscal year 2010 they received $625 million from the U.S. government and other organizations while there were also private donations consisting of $294 million, in large part coming from within the U.S. Then I took a look at Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities fiscal income for 2009 shows that both Community Support and Diocesan Church Support totaled only 14 percent of their income. Guess what percentage of Catholic Charities’ income comes from the government? 67 percent. That is a huge difference. Then I took a look at Catholic Health Association and while I was unable to find either a total percentage or the exact amount of money they receive from the federal government per year I noticed that they are reliant on government grants such as those from the Health and Human Services, a large part of their income is derived from those patients receiving medicare, social security, Medicaid, which I suspect is the case for a number of Catholic organizations. Additionally nuns salaries sure have increased dramatically over the past forty or so years. Sr. Carol Keehan earned $856,093 in one year at Catholic Health Association. Is it really ethical for a nun to earn this amount of money when serving the poor? Is that her order’s mission? Is that her job? Are these Catholic organizations too dependent on the government? Could this be because of a decrease in the number of laity in the Church today? Or is it because a number of Catholics don’t even attend Church and many that do attend Church don’t tithe to both their Church and charities?
To expand further on this I will point out a few items on the social doctrine of subsidiarity from the Social Compendium.
On the basis of this principle, all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help (“subsidium”) — therefore of support, promotion, development — with respect to lower-order societies. In this way, intermediate social entities can properly perform the functions that fall to them without being required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place.
Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted.
The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties. This principle is imperative because every person, family and intermediate group has something original to offer to the community. Experience shows that the denial of subsidiarity, or its limitation in the name of an alleged democratization or equality of all members of society, limits and sometimes even destroys the spirit of freedom and initiative.
The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms. “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending”. An absent or insufficient recognition of private initiative — in economic matters also — and the failure to recognize its public function, contribute to the undermining of the principle of subsidiarity, as monopolies do as well.
In order for the principle of subsidiarity to be put into practice there is a corresponding need for: respect and effective promotion of the human person and the family; ever greater appreciation of associations and intermediate organizations in their fundamental choices and in those that cannot be delegated to or exercised by others; the encouragement of private initiative so that every social entity remains at the service of the common good, each with its own distinctive characteristics; the presence of pluralism in society and due representation of its vital components; safeguarding human rights and the rights of minorities; bringing about bureaucratic and administrative decentralization; striking a balance between the public and private spheres, with the resulting recognition of the socialfunction of the private sphere; appropriate methods for making citizens more responsible in actively “being a part” of the political and social reality of their country.
188. Various circumstances may make it advisable that the State step in to supply certain functions. One may think, for example, of situations in which it is necessary for the State itself to stimulate the economy because it is impossible for civil society to support initiatives on its own. One may also envision the reality of serious social imbalance or injustice where only the intervention of the public authority can create conditions of greater equality, justice and peace. In light of the principle of subsidiarity, however, this institutional substitution must not continue any longer than is absolutely necessary, since justification for such intervention is found only in the exceptional nature of the situation. In any case, the common good correctly understood, the demands of which will never in any way be contrary to the defence and promotion of the primacy of the person and the way this is expressed in society, must remain the criteria for making decisions concerning the application of the principle of subsidiarity.
The characteristic implication of subsidiarity is participation, which is expressed essentially in a series of activities by means of which the citizen, either as an individual or in association with others, whether directly or through representation, contributes to the cultural, economic, political and social life of the civil community to which he belongs. Participation is a duty to be fulfilled consciously by all, with responsibility and with a view to the common good.
This cannot be confined or restricted to only a certain area of social life, given its importance for growth — above all human growth — in areas such as the world of work and economic activity, especially in their internal dynamics ; in the sectors of information and culture; and, more than anything else, in the fields of social and political life even at the highest levels. The cooperation of all peoples and the building of an international community in a framework of solidarity depends on this latter area. In this perspective it becomes absolutely necessary to encourage participation above all of the most disadvantaged, as well as the occasional rotation of political leaders in order to forestall the establishment of hidden privileges. Moreover, strong moral pressure is needed, so that the administration of public life will be the result of the shared responsibility of each individual with regard to the common good.
Has our government become too centralized, too bureaucratic, and too largess to be effective in handling society’s economic needs? Have Catholic organizations, the laity, and communities in our society today abandoned the idea of subsidiarity for something which is contrary to our Church teachings, a centralized government? Do you think that it is time to reverse course and return the idea of subsidiarity in our society today?