In yesterday’s National Catholic Register Congressman Paul Ryan, a Catholic, takes up the topic of how Catholic Social teaching can guide our discussion on public policy. Since we have recently discussed this very topic here in the Blog I’d like to present some excerpts of the Congressman’s reflections and add a few of my own. As is often the case, the original comments by Mr Ryan are in bold, italic black text. My comments are in red plain text. The full article can be read here: Applying Our Enduring Truths To Our Defining Challenge
The Catholic Church offers a rich overview of its thought, summarized in the Compendium of Social Doctrine, to guide Catholics in bringing truth to society’s problems. In his introduction, Cardinal Renato Martino, then president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, wrote, “This area belongs in a particular way” to those lay faithful who are active “in the social sector.”
Here is an essential point. It is the special role of the laity to apply these social principles and teachings in the temporal order. We have had many discussions here on this blog of how the renewal of the temporal order is the special arena of the lay faithful. And while Catholic laity may sometimes disagree at the policy level how exactly to best apply these principles, it is their special role to apply them.
Principles as such, will usually present general norms, which then require specific application. Clergy will do well to encourage the lay faithful to take an active interest in the temporal order, especially, as the Congressman notes, those who have special expertise or roles in the social sector.
Clergy too, having once annunicated principles, do well to entrust the lay faithful with their rightful task and seek counsel with them as to various ways the principles can be applied. Clergy will also do well, it seems to me, to avoid excessively critiquing the details, but rather, to allow the lay faithful to interact with each other as to the details of how best to implement Catholic social principles.
Surely this will involve the lay faithful actively engaging the legislative and political sector, as well as the business and other private sectors. At times the process will be conflictual, and involve compromise, and gradual movement toward goals. But here again, after principles are annunicaited, the clergy ought to allow the laity their rightful role in influencing the temporal order and actively engaging it.
…. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, I am tasked with applying these enduring principles to the urgent social problems of our time: an economy that is not providing enough opportunities for our citizens, a safety net that is failing our most vulnerable populations, and a crushing burden of debt that is threatening our children and grandchildren with a diminished future.
There is no doubt, and it would seem that all agree that we are in a significant fiscal crisis that requires creative and bold solutions.
These problems are related: The debt is weighing on job creation today, closing off the most promising avenues for the poor to rise….We cannot continue to ignore this problem. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has rightly termed this attitude “living in untruth … at the expense of future generations.”
Yes, here too is a principle that must be considered. It is critical in analyzing the problem that, although we want and need to care for the poor among us today with the social safety net, we cannot ignore future generations either, and fail to realize that we owe them substantial consideration. As is frequently declared by those in the environmental movement, justice cannot only regard the living today, it must also act with concern for those who will live tomorrow.
In approaching this problem as a lay Catholic in public life, I have found it useful to apply the twin principles of solidarity (recognition of the common ties that unite all human beings in equal dignity) and subsidiarity (respect for the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groups such as families, businesses, schools, local communities and state governments).
This is exactly what I was saying in the post last week. Namely that subsidiarity and solidarity are twin principles, not opposed ones. Both are need to support and and complete the other.
It is not as though Republicans and Conservatives can only follow Subsidiarity and Democrats and Liberals follow Solidarity. The principles are both rich enough to include wide application and they are surely not polar opposites.
Both should richly guide public policy, along with other principles that flow from them and support them as well, such as the universal destination of goods and the right to private property, commutative justice and distributive justice, and so forth.
When applied in equal measure, these principles complete and balance each other. But when one is applied exclusively, the result can be harmful….We need a better approach to restore the balance, and the House-passed budget offers one by reintroducing subsidiarity, which the Holy Father has called “the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.” Our budget…us[es] a federal subsidium to empower state and local governments, communities and individuals — those closest to the problems of society….When solidarity and subsidiarity are in balance, civil society is revitalized, not displaced. We rightly pride ourselves on looking out for one another — and government has an important role to play in that. But relying on distant government bureaucracies to lead this effort just hasn’t worked.
And while there are other Catholics who may disagree with Mr. Ryan and what exact level of government, private, federal and local balance is required, it is nevertheless good to have Catholic principles as an essential part of the discussion.
Catholic laity who agree or disagree with Congressmen Ryan’s application are free to engage him in the public and legislative debate.
Again may I say, as for we who are clergy, I think we owe it to the laity to allow them to work in the temporal order and to use their skills to apply these principles without a lot of interference and amateur commentary from us.
There is enough diversity among the Catholic laity, it seems to me, that the discussion can be both vigorous and complete without lots of pulpit commentary on the specifics. Finding the balance that the Congressman speaks of is both critical and always on-going. Course corrections are needed at every stage of our history to avoid losing that balance.
But pray God that Catholic principles, which are both solid and balanced will continue to influence and guide the discussion. I am happy in this case to see Mr. Ryan specifically and clearly pointing to these principles as an essential guide and a kind of schema for the discussion.
In the discussion that I hope you will participate in, I am going to try and follow my advice and stay back from the details allow you, most of whom are laity, to engage the issue that is rightfully yours. I will limit myself to addressing only comments that are directly addressed to me.