A Catholic Reader

Reading Literature in the Light of Faith

Menu Close

Category: Catholic Social Teaching (page 2 of 4)

All posts on Catholic Social Teaching.

 

Tell me what you think

Subsidiarity and our public schools

There was a time when our government(s) had more respect for local solutions, as indicated in this article from Accuracy in Academia.

Subsidiarity Due For Comeback

Malcolm A. Kline, November 27, 2012
Malcolm A. Kline

The Catholic principle of subsidiarity, whereby that level of government closest to the problem is the one best-equipped to deal with it, may be viewed as quaint but in public education, its inverse could be seen as disastrous. “The 20th century was marked by dramatic consolidation of school districts in the United States,” Tom Loveless and Katharyn Field of the Brookings Institution found. “As the number of districts shrank from 117,000 in 1940 to 15,000 in 2000, the size of districts ballooned.”

“The average district served 217 children in 1940, as opposed to 3,000 in 2000.” Their research is quoted in a new report by the Heartland Institute, written by Joseph L. Bast and Joy Pullmann.

“In a 2012 poll conducted by Braun Research, Inc., 37 percent of parents said they would prefer to send their children to private schools yet fewer than 10 percent of parents do,” Bast and Pullmann write. “Seventy-one percent of mothers and 56 percent of Americans favor school vouchers.”

“In the Washington, D. C. area, almost three-quarters of those polled support the local voucher program, and it had a parental satisfaction rate of more than 90 percent.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.

By the way, it should be noted that the principle of subsidiarity does not apply only to government, it applies to any person or agency who can address a problem of need in the community. The principle of subsidiarity requires that the need be addressed by whoever is closest to the needy person and able to help them. If the immediate family can’t address the needs of one of its members, they should look for help first among those closest — extended family and immediate neighbors, then the larger local community, and so on. This is why the principle of subsidiarity supports homeschooling. It is only because not all parents are equipped to school their own children that we need public schools.

Rerum Novarum §26-42: Analysis

Rerum Novarum

In this week’s selection, the encyclical continues making the case for the Church’s legitimate and beneficent role in society, not competing but cooperating with the State for the common good. And, indeed, Pope Leo cannot refrain from pointing out that the Church, motivated by Christian charity, can and will go much further than the State in alleviating the suffering of the poor, in both their spiritual and their material needs. Not only that, but She influences the hearts and minds of citizens also to desire to do good toward their fellows. So governments should not seek to marginalize religion, because it helps the State do its legitimate job, i.e., maintain a safe environment in which all its citizens may prosper.

This view of the nature of government, and the Church’s relationship to it, is laid out more fully in Leo’s encyclical Immortale Dei (“On the Christian Constitution of the State). The third paragraph of that document sums it up nicely:

It is not difficult to determine what would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the principles of Christian philosophy. Man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life, be it family, social, or civil, with his fellow-men, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied. But as no society can hold together unless someone be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has consequently God for its author. Hence it follows that all public power must proceed from God. For God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything without exception must be subject to Him, and must serve Him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern, holds it from one sole and single source, namely God, the Sovereign Ruler of all. “There is no power but from God.”

Thus, both the Church and the State ultimately serve God. Not only that, but some kind of State (i.e., governing structure) is necessary and natural if individuals and society as a whole are to prosper.

Once the case for the Church and her agencies has been made, the encyclical goes on to delineate the State’s legitimate role in ordering society. First, it is pointed out that it is in the State’s best interest to see to it that its laws and institutions allow people to live good lives, as this will promote peace and the common good. In particular, the State should see to it that the rights of the working class are protected, since they make up the bulk of society and their labor serves the whole of society. In other words, it would be foolish and impractical to allow workers to be victimized by their wealthy employers, because without a healthy working class everything would grind to a halt.

Still, the State’s job seems to be, not to interfere in and manage the daily lives of its citizens, but to see that justice prevails in public and private matters. That is, it should stand by in case things go wrong, or appear to be about to go wrong, and to intervene only when necessary to avoid a breakdown (such as work stoppages or riots) in the normal operations of society and industry, and only until peace and justice have been restored, which would include addressing the causes of such disturbances — e.g., the lamentable conditions that drive workers to strike. Bearing in mind the dangerous ideas put forth by Socialists, Leo also addresses specifically acts of class warfare that would violate justice, such as workers’ seizing the property of the owners of capital, as well as greedy capitalists’ treatment of workers as wage slaves in order to wring the maximum profit from their labors — either of these would be grossly unjust, and the State should guard against them.

However, the State’s role is also to safeguard the good of the individual, even when the individual might not want it to do so, much as a father must sometimes do things for his child’s good, even if the child does not recognize that action as good. So, for instance, a worker desperate to earn money might agree to poor wages, excessively long hours, or bad working conditions, but the State should not allow it. It is interesting that Leo claims that the State should safeguard not only the material well-being of its citizens, but also their moral well-being, by making sure that workers have time not only to recuperate from their labors, but also to spend time with their families and to worship. This is in accord with the Church’s view that the State “no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has consequently God for its author.”

Rerum Novarum in Australia: “Putting the common good back into the Commonwealth”

Australian Senator John Madigan

As we’ve seen in our reading so far of Rerum Novarum, one of the key ideas is that citizens — both business owners and their employees — and the State should cooperate for the common good. Injustice results when one element is favored over the other. This idea still “has legs” in our contemporary world, and it animated a lecture presented by Australian Senator John Madigan when he spoke recently during the 2012 Rerum Novarum Oration at Australian Catholic University.

The Rerum Novarum Oration is an annual event sponsored by the Office of Justice and Peace of the Melbourne Archdiocese, to commemorate Pope Leo’s encyclical as the encyclical “that formed the foundation of the Church’s social doctrine in modern times.” In addition to Senator Madigan, Dr Matthew Tan, Lecturer in Theology and Philosophy at Campion College, Sydney, also gave a keynote address.

Click here to read transcripts of the two speeches or listen to the podcasts.

Vatican Radio interview on the significance of Rerum Novarum

Pope Leo XIII, by Philip de LászlóVatican Radio has begun broadcasting interviews discussing works of the Catholic Social Tradition. The first addresses Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, and includes a discussion of the context in which the first social encyclical was written, and its reception in the world at large. Click the link at the end to find the audio links to the interview.

Leo XIII: father of social encyclicals…

(Vatican Radio) Leo XIII who died on the 20th July 1903 has gone down in history as the first pope ever to have written a social encyclical.

It was 1891 and the title of this document was “Rerum Novarum,” Latin words highlighting the novelty of the theme explored [sic — a misunderstanding of the title, as I pointed out in my commentary. –LN].

Veronica Scarisbrick asks Professor of Catholic Social Teaching at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas here in Rome, Dominican Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, to place this encyclical into an historical context for us.

While Father Crosthwaite explains how the Catholic Church’s concern in social issues dates back to the times of the Fathers of the Church, he also notes how this document breaks new ground. As for the first time in history a Roman Pontiff begins to realise the need to address social issues in a new way, expressing concern for the condition of workers.

Read more. Listen to interview.

Rerum Novarum §26-42: Summary

[On the respective roles of Church and State in the lives of citizens]

Catholic Social Teaching
[26]The Church’s role is not merely to teach what is right, but to influence the hearts and minds of men so that they willingly act according to their duty, control their passions and appetites, love God and their fellow man, and cultivate virtue. [27] History shows many examples of civil society being revived and restored by Christian institutions, restoring all things in Christ. If society today is to be healed, this can happen only by a return to Christian life and the principles upon which it was built. [28] The Church is not so preoccupied with men’s spiritual well-being that she has no concern for his material good; on the contrary, she deeply desires that the poor may better themselves and, by urging Christian morality, she helps men avoid the greed of possession and the thirst for pleasure, resulting in social equity and temporal prosperity that are pleasing to God. [29] The Church does not merely teach virtue, but also acts directly to alleviate the suffering of the poor, which even her enemies have praised throughout her history. [30] Yet now there are those who blame, rather than praise, the Church for her care of the poor and the suffering, claiming that this is not the Church’s job, but the job of the State. But the State will never display the heroic devotion and self-sacrifice of Christian charity, a virtue which can be nurtured only in the Church and drawn from the Sacred Hear of Jesus Christ.

[31] Nonetheless, the agencies of the Church and those of civil society should be united in their common concern, so that the greatest good can be achieved. Therefore we should consider what role the State can justly play in providing relief. [32] The State, properly speaking, refers not to any particular form of government but to any government conformable to right reason, natural law, and the dictates of Divine law, as set out in the encyclical On the Christian Constitution of the State [see also Catholic Encyclopedia online]. Its chief duty is to make sure that its laws and institutions promote and protect public well-being and private prosperity; this being so, it should promote everything that makes its citizens better and happier, including public morality, well-ordered family life, respect for religion and justice, moderate taxation, productive use of land, etc. If these things are seen to, there will be fewer poor and less need for public relief.

[33] The State should recognize that all parts of society must be well regulated and well served, and therefore should not favor the rich over the poor, but provide distributive justice toward each and every social class alike. [34] Although it is right to honor those who directly serve the State, public servants engaged in legislation and administration of the government, nonetheless it must be recognized that the commonwealth could not prosper without the contributions of the laboring class, through whose efforts the State prospers. Therefore, whatever promotes the welfare of workers is good for the society as a whole, and should be favored.

[35] While, as we have said, the State must not absorb the individual or the family, nonetheless it should show a paternal interest in the well-being of its individual members, just as it should safeguard the commonwealth as a whole. [36] Since the State’s responsibility is to secure the public good, it may intervene in public or private affairs when that general good is threatened by circumstances or events; for instance, when workers are not afforded time to carry out familial or religious duties, or if they are required to work in unhealthy or immoral conditions, or if a threatened labor strike would endanger the public peace. In such cases, the law may intervene, provided that it do no more than required to remedy the situation.

[37] While all legitimate human rights must be protected by law, the poor and the needy should be especially protected, since they have no resources to fall back on as the rich do, aside from the State’s assistance. [38]  Nonetheless, the right to private property must be protected by law, nor should private property be seized and redistributed under pretext of justice. [39] The State should ensure humane working conditions and reasonable pay, in order to forestall workers’ strikes, because the disruptions caused by strikes are injurious to the public peace.

closed Sunday for family and worship
[40] The State should also protect the working man’s spiritual good, for his duty to God is sacred. To interfere with a man’s duty toward God is to violate God’s rights, not just man’s. [41] Therefore, Sundays and holy days should be days of rest, which allow man to turn his attention from mundane concerns to the worship he owes to God.

[42] The human condition of workers should be respected, in such a way that they are not used simply as tools to create profit for their greedy employers. Therefore, the hours and conditions of work should not be so taxing as to work men beyond their endurance, nor should women and children be required to work as long or as hard as grown men, and all workers should be given enough time off to recuperate from their labors. Even if workers and employers should agree on conditions that would make no allowance for man’s duty to God and himself, doing so would be wrong.

Lincoln and Leo: Substantial agreement

I saw this image on a certain well-known social networking site, and found it remarkable that Abraham Lincoln’s view of human nature and natural justice seems so much in accord with the Church’s view as articulated in Rerum Novarum. What do you think?

What do we mean by “society”?

As we can see from the founding document of the Catholic Social Teaching Tradition, P. Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, the Church’s understanding of society, based on natural law, is one in which individuals are members of society first by being members of natural families: father, mother, children. This family is the basic social unit. Families make up communities, communities are served by the State. “Society” is not the “State,” society is families united in communities.

The recent election season recently concluded here in the U.S. demonstrated that this is no longer the only accepted view of society — and in some spheres may not even be the predominant view. According to Joan Frawley Desmond’s analysis in the National Catholic Register, “2012 Election Year Offered Dueling Visions of Society,” the national election results can be understood in terms of two radically different understandings of the nature of society.

Last May, the Obama-Biden campaign rolled out an online slideshow, “The Life of Julia,” that explained “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime.”

The narrative does not feature a boyfriend, let alone a husband, but Julia benefits from free birth control, letting her “focus on her work rather than worry about her health.” But if Obama is defeated, Julia could be denied the same health-care benefits because “Romney supports the Blunt Amendment — which would place Julia’s health-care decisions in the hands of her employer.”

Julia decides to have a child

This fictional Julia is presented as the typical American who benefits from Obama’s leadership, and apparently she represents the self-image of enough Americans that Barack Obama was favored in the elections over Mitt Romney, identified with the traditional understanding of family.

Ask Catholic scholars and commentators to distill the message of the Democratic presidential campaign, and they may well cite “The Life of Julia.” That’s in part because it presents the government as a reliable placeholder for spouses and families, but also because it elevates the right to free contraception over First Amendment conscience protections.

 “There really are competing irreconcilable visions of society on offer in this election,” said Gerard Bradley, a constitutional scholar at the University of Notre Dame who has spoken out against the HHS mandate.

“The Obama campaign’s ‘Julia’ ad sums up the president’s vision” of the individual as “basically alone in society,” noted Bradley, editor of the newly released Challenges to Religious Liberty in the Twenty-First Century.

“Julia has no family and evidently no religious community to support her,” Bradley said. “She does have a set of aspirations and goals, and the government is her financial angel — Uncle Sam as Daddy Warbucks, if you will.”

This view of society as atomistic individuals connected only through the State is clearly at odds with the view assumed by Rerum Novarum. Frawley goes on to cite analysts who fault Mitt Romney for failing to present with adequate vitality the competing, traditional understandings of society, the individual, marriage and family. 

“The questions about life and marriage were effectively sidelined by the Republican Party in the interests of making the election about stewardship,” agreed Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things.

With the election now decided, he said that “one of the most important things Catholics can do is set about reforming the Republican Party so that is a more effective vehicle for Catholic social teaching.”

Read more.