Pope Francis has been making headlines since he became Pope and that trend was continued with the publication of an apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gadium.
The Pope’s writing contains five chapters which cover a number of issues concerning the mission of the church in the modern world. Chapter two discusses communal commitment. The Pope’s exhortations in that chapter are what have political pundits on both the left and the right spinning around and bouncing off of each other like battling tops. Some of those on the left think the Pope is supporting their idea of social structure (large centralized government) and are praising it; some of those on the right feel the same and are bristling at it.
Chapter 2 of Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the church’s teaching on the individual person and society. It is not surprising that the essence of what the pope is saying is not new, but is prominently articulated in the Catechism. The social teaching of the Church is now and has always been based on the human person as the principle subject and object of every social organization, including business and government. However, what has not been included in the early reaction to the Pope’s writing is the role of the principle of subsidiarity in the debate. The Catechism describes subsidiarity as a principle in which, “a community of higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of lower order,” in other words human affairs are best handled at the lowest possible level which is the closest to the affected persons. It is a very important concept to understand in light of the buzz over the Pope’s paper. Subsidiarity does not support that a large power, centralized government is the answer to the challenges of poverty and discrimination because the same abuses manifested in the fiscal centralization of a totally “free market” economy that the Pope scorns in Evangelii Gadium manifest themselves also in totalitarian government.
By attacking problems first and foremost on a local level, it allows both the help giver and the help receiver to actually commune with each other and in that personal exchange, experience each other first hand. Potentially, the poor are no longer perceived as a problem to throw the minimal amount of money at in order to keep social order and the provider is no longer perceived as an abstract institution with infinite resources, compelled by statute to give handouts to a needy populace it knows or cares nothing about. To begin a real and lasting reformation of how human beings treat each other, hearts and minds must be convinced and subsidiarity is one vehicle to that end. There is no lasting influence or virtue in being compelled, by any institution, to perform virtuous acts.
Unfortunately, there are many challenges to this concept, including in the philosophical sense the vice in the hearts of human beings and in the geopolitical sense a world economy constituting many different cultures, political constructs, ideas of morality and religious practices. So a governing body must step in to make up for what lacks naturally in human nature. Some believe that governing body must now be larger even than any one individual country, one world governance. So as the deficit widens between what we do and what we should do, so does the gap between ourselves and our personal freedom.