Minutes of Meeting

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Date: May 12, 2002

Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall Room 101

Meeting Topic: Subsidiarity

Speakers: Father Jack Kelley

Host: Judy Baker

SUBSIDIARITY (The principle of subsidiary function)

Here is a summary statement meant for concerned Jewish and Protestant friends:

A key issue of our times is the exercise of power, and in a special way, the empowerment and creativity of our laity.  A sense of powerlessness is one of the most destructive realities of our contemporary society.  Present structures tend to make persons more and more dependent, rather than self-reliant.

A new idea has been born in our times, very compatible with the biblical and Jewish tradition, but not yet formulated within Protestant or Jewish social philosophy.  It is called the principle of subsidiarity or the principle of subsidiary function.  It is a natural law function.

"Subsidiarity" is a response to the dilemma of power, a new concept to enable all our people to come into a more vibrant relationship with their own creativity.  The idea has grown within Catholic social thought for more than seventy years, not without difficulty.  It reaches a high point in the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae Personae) and The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, par 86.)  Both are documents passed in 1965 at Vatican II.  Due to the limited interaction of our faith communities in the past, the idea has been left undeveloped.

This concept perceives social structures as "subsidiary" to the person and to the primary groupings within which the persons live out their human existence.  The larger social structures should serve to enable, to empower the person and the small unit (such as the family, the congregation, and the neighborhood) to live in greater liberty, that is to say, more humanely.  This new image of service, of ministry as a Servant, is inspired by the songs of the servant in Second Isaiah.  The image is becoming a liberating symbol to the people of the world showing the presence and concern of the people of God.

Footnote.  From the viewpoint of an eminent economist, this insight has been expressed in SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL, Economics as if People Mattered (E.F.("Fritz") Schumacher, 1973).

From the viewpoint of the Catholic sociologist, it has been described as NO BIGGER THAN NECESSARY (Andrew Greeley, 1977).

From the viewpoint of political theory, it is supported by Berger and Neuhaus in TO EMPOWER PEOPLE, The Role of Mediating Structures in Public Policy (1978).

Subsidiarity, a neologism, is well documented in Catholic papal documents since 1931, and in the AMERICAN PASTORAL, Economic Justice for All (1986).  Because it has not been well understood, it deserves to be studied and applied against the current sense of helplessness.  It is also the principle upon which the European Union is built.

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