The Catholic Social Principle of Subsidiarity

One of the key principles of Catholic social thought is known as the principle of subsidiarity. This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom. It conflicts with the passion for centralization and bureaucracy characteristic of the Welfare State.

This is why Pope John Paul II took the “social assistance state” to task in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. The Pontiff wrote that the Welfare State was contradicting the principle of subsidiarity by intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility. This “leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.”

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Catholic Church is about the most decentralized institution in the world

‘The Catholic Church is about the most decentralized institution in the world,” said the Rev. Thomas Williams, dean of theology at Regina Apostolarum Pontifical University in Rome.

”There are 1.1 billion Catholics and 2,600 employees at the Vatican. The proportion would be like to run the federal government of the United States with 500 people. You couldn’t do it.”