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How Pope Benedict XVI Transformed Our Understanding of Subsidiarity

On July 8, the University of Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal published an important article by Richard Coronado, an economist at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Church Life Journal is published by the McGrath Institute for Church Life, which works with Catholic dioceses, parishes and schools “to address pastoral challenges with theological depth and rigor.” Dr. Coronado’s article “Charity in Truth: Subsidiarity with Solidarity,” speaks of a key change in the Church’s understanding of subsidiarity and solidarity from the thought of Benedict XVI. An excerpt follows.

Pope Benedict made an important change in the discussion of subsidiarity in his 2009 social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. He described subsidiarity as a particular manifestation of charity, rather than subsuming it under justice, where it had been categorized before. Under justice, subsidiarity played the role of defining the limits of the responsibility of the different levels of society in dealing with their relevant social issues. The encyclical Caritas in Veritate is about the all-importance of Charity in Truth for the development of the person and of people. It is Pope Benedict’s meditation on Pope Paul’s encyclical entitled Populorum Progressio, On the Development of Peoples. …

Pope Benedict writes because he sees many of the same problems identified by Pope Paul VI, who warned of the dangers of “utopian and ideological visions,” such as the technocratic ideology that Pope Benedict finds prevalent today (CV §14). In fact, Benedict defines alienation in terms of ideology: “Man is alienated when he is alone, when he is detached from reality, when he stops thinking and believing in a foundation. All of humanity is alienated when too much trust is placed in merely human projects, ideologies, and false utopias” (§53). He is thinking of our technologically oriented society in the realms of both production and consumption which affect and often dominate our work and social lives. This creates a culture built around technology, especially in the field of bioethics where conscience is simply invited to take note of any new technological possibilities (§75). These scenarios reflect cultural perspectives that deny human dignity and practices that help foster a materialistic and mechanistic understanding of human life. A further danger comes from the social communications media which “effectively support their subordination to economic interests, intent on dominating the market and, not least, to attempts to impose cultural models that serve ideological and political agendas” (§73).

Benedict believes that cultures have weakened and are not as strong and able as in the time of Paul VI to withstand the direct assault by the technological ideology, which has proliferated through rapid globalization (§26). The increased commercialization of cultural exchange has accelerated the separation of culture from human nature, and cultures find it harder and harder to define themselves in relation to a transcendent vocation. When this happens, new risks of enslavement and manipulation ensue (§26). Further, the reductive vision of a practical atheism is exported by the rich nations to the poor nations. In Benedict’s words: “This is the damage that super-development causes to authentic development when it is accompanied by moral underdevelopment” (§29). …

Benedict points throughout the document to a direction in the spiritual life to which we are called, in living fully and in building our consciences. On the one hand, he points to isolation, alienation, self-sufficiency, ideology, and illusion as causes of underdevelopment; on the other, to communion, solidarity with subsidiarity, and living God’s plan as our vocation to build up the community and as primary sources of development.

I present below three possible movements of the spiritual life, each followed immediately by a concrete example that came to mind as I thought of examples of how that movement might be lived. …

Read the whole thing here.

Image: Benedict by the Church of England and Wales.


Editorial Staff

Benedictine College’s mission can Transform Culture in America by modeling community in an age of incivility, spreading faith in an age of hopelessness, and committing to scholarship in a “post-truth” era. We create video and other media content to promote positive messages of faith, hope, and love while Ex Corde Media Fellows program provides students with the tools, experiences, and contacts they need to enter the 21st century media world as effective communicators. Learn about the Ex Corde Media Fellows program.