Thursday, April 12, 2012

Catholic Church's "social magisterium" informed House GOP budget

About time.

Although never in a thousand years did I think I'd be glancing through Daniel Henninger's piece about  President Obama's war of "rhetorical destruction" (what the heck did he say now? something worse than that comment to the Supreme Court?) and then suddenly see:
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, he [Paul Ryan] said that in fact the Catholic Church's "social magisterium" had informed his House budget. One goal of that teaching, he said, is to prevent the poor from staying poor. Nor, he added, should individuals become lifelong dependents of their government.
Now that's a little bit of info that made me sit up straight and cough on my coffee this morning. I suddenly started reading every word.
What Mr. Ryan actually said is worth quoting, because it should revive the debate over the proper relationship between individual citizens, including the poor, and the national government:

"A person's faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?

"To me, the principle of subsidiarity . . . meaning government closest to the people governs best . . . where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that's how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.

"Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don't keep people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto a life of independence."

Subsidiarity—an awful but important word—attempts to discover where the limits lie in the demands a state can make on its people. Identifying that limit was at the center of the Supreme Court's mandate arguments.

The first major use of subsidiarity as a basis for public policy was in Pope Leo XIII's famous 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (though the word itself doesn't appear). Leo was seeking a way to protect the dignity of human beings caught during those years in the tension between unfettered capitalism and unfettered government. "The State," he wrote, "must not absorb the individual or the family." Arguments over where the balance sits have raged since.
What kind of a crazy, mixed-up world is it when "Pope Leo XIII" and "Rerum Novarum" pops up in the editorial columns of the Wall Street Journal?

A really glorious world, I'd say.

Read it all.


  1. I try to think along these lines whenever I hear somr talk about "social justice".They always seem to me to br redistributers of wealth
    rather than teachers of how to become more wealthy(or at least better than on's current situation)
    I think the principle of subsidiarity is similiar to Federal revenue sharing where the Federal gov't sents tax revenue to local gov'ts
    to be administered and allocated locally.

  2. I know how you try to stay non-political, Julie, but these are seriously important times and Paul Ryan is the real deal.

    Wisconsin Catholic who loves your site and also loves that we actually do have a Paul Ryan in Washington DC right now.

  3. Hi Kathy! It isn't that I try to stay nonpolitical so much as that's just not what this blog is about, really. But when it gets to seriously important times and Catholic stuff, then I love putting it out there. Thank you so much and I, too, am thrilled that Paul Ryan is living his faith so well on our behalf. :-)

  4. If you really think this is new, you have not been listening well. Many political leaders use their faith in public decision making, and although you won't find that quoted in the negative campaigns, it is often present in discussions with candidates and in the reflections of public discussions.
    However, it is very clear that Mr. Ryan got it wrong on Subsidiarity. Yes, no one wants the poor to remain poor, and all who have worked with the disenfranchised understand the danger of learned helplessness and dependency. But these issues are not cured by striking funding from programming, or declaring that Federal involvement is evil. Rather subsidiarity is that balance in the tension of live, where federal and state/local governments have to work together for the common good. Subsidiarity does not oppose redistribution of wealth, although is denies collectivism. There is a large amount of understanding the collective need to care for one another in society. It does not say that thinks cannot be done on the higher level as much that the higher level intervention should not disrupt the order and the organization of the other lower levels.
    Above all it encourages personal initiative, but not just of the poor and suffering, and initiative should not be understood solely as gaining wealth. Subsidiarity is about achieving harmony in relationships between higher and lower organizations in society, and cooperation in achieving progress for the common good.

  5. Nica ... if you actually read what I was reacting to, then that would be pleasant as well. :-)

    In reaction to my surprise at seeing these issues mentioned by name in the WSJ, you are saying that I haven't been listening well? You are saying that they are quoting the pope and encyclicals all the time in reporting it? I think not.

    As for the actual content, you are not making allowance for interpretation based on current circumstances (which must necessarily happen in the U.S. governmental process) or for the fact that he is willing to credit his faith by labeling it as so specifically Catholic, which is greatly picked on these days and tends to be mentioned only vaguely, at best ... as are many of the statements by leaders of their faith.