Two important aspects of the social teaching of the Church—both of which are deeply connected to nonprofit work—that have been traditionally misunderstood, which this article from Catholic Culture examines.
“Over the past generation or so, there has been a serious flaw in the implementation of Catholic social thought in the United States. Most bishops and other Catholic leaders have promoted big government solutions to social problems with little thought to the negative consequences of subordinating every aspect of the social order to the power of the State. Although this is slowly beginning to change as our Bishops find themselves in an increasingly adversarial relationship with government on strict moral grounds, it is important to observe that this long-time default position has been derived from a false understanding of the Catholic principle of solidarity.
“Many have confused solidarity with the adoption of governmental social programs. But in his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict identified this as an error when he wrote: “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State” (38). He also discussed the propensity to rely on large, impersonal institutions, which can never be a substitute for solidarity:
“Unfortunately, too much confidence was placed in those institutions, as if they were able to deliver the desired objective automatically. In reality, institutions by themselves are not enough, because integral human development is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone. (11)
“It is necessary to emphasize this point: Human development involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity. Yet this free assumption of responsibility in solidarity is precisely what is lacking when we turn to government to implement broad social solutions.
“In fact, a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity requires engagement with another key Catholic social principle, namely subsidiarity. The meaning of subsidiarity is that things should be done on the lowest level possible, and that if assistance is needed from higher levels of organization, the higher levels should, whenever possible, assist the lower levels rather than replace them. Subsidiarity is essential to human dignity because it ensures that people are directly involved in the solutions to their problems, and that these solutions are implemented and controlled at the levels “closest to home”, where they can be influenced or even managed by those most affected.”