The principle of subsidiarity and the bushfires
The principle of subsidiarity is a key element in the Church’s doctrine on social justice. At its core is the Church’s concern for social justice for the disadvantaged and their economic viability in the community. The principle has been given significant attention in several encyclicals, including Rerum Novarum (1891), Quadragesimo Anno (1931), and Centesimus Annus (1991). The principle was best articulated by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno when the spirit of initiative in local communities floundered due to liberalism and individualism. It was a call for people to become involved in civil life. It also operated as a check against utopian socialism.
Subsidiarity involves individuals and social groups taking on responsibility for productive activities in society at the lowest or simplest level within the social strata, where desired goals for the common good can be effectively achieved. It places the integrity and dignity of the individual human being, created in the image and likeness of God, above that of the collective or the State. It, therefore, is most likely to flower in a democratic State where individual rights and responsibilities are fully respected.
Subsidiarity has a complex history within the teaching of the Church and its focus and application in some cultures have varied somewhat depending on the socio-political climate at the time. Effective subsidiarity is most prominent amongst Church community voluntary organisations and functions closely with another element of social justice, that of solidarity. Solidarity is about people working together cooperatively and in support of one another in pursuit of the common good.
The response from unaffected church parishes in support of the affected parishes has been very positive by contributing at least $3000. This money went straight into the bank accounts of those who lost their family homes. A good demonstration of both solidarity and subsidiarity.
One area in which Australians have been recently working together in solidarity and where the principle of subsidiarity would appear to be working very effectively is in relation to our response to and recovery from, the unprecedented bushfires (exacerbated by the extensive drought).
The volunteer bushfire services and other voluntary groups – in Church parishes, shires, towns and rural areas – have been and are continuing to work closely together with professional bushfire, emergency, and environmental services as well as other agencies throughout Australia. The response from unaffected church parishes in support of the affected parishes has been very positive by contributing at least $3000. This money went straight into the bank accounts of those who lost their family homes. A good demonstration of both solidarity and subsidiarity.
All these cooperative efforts have required leadership, planning, and resourcing between all levels of government and administration, as well as Church communities and other voluntary organisations.
Mistakes have been made. Sadly, families have lost loved ones, people have been injured, and many will suffer from trauma for years to come because of what they have been through. But the recent months have seen Australia and her people at their most united with all communities working in solidarity against the common threat.
Self-interested parties have been known to try and manipulate the principle of subsidiarity for their own ends. Factors which impact on the success or otherwise of the principle in a community will be varied but can include; human and material resourcing, planning, education levels, competing interests, and most importantly, but often overlooked, the need for discernment and prayer. The last is critical if the community is to have a sense of what is God’s will in determining priorities in decision-making, especially when most parish communities are constrained by limited resources when an activity is inordinately extensive and/or complex in nature.
As the work to control the bushfires and the recovery process continues, with communities giving of their very best, there can be a tendency for a few to lay blame. We should not let this cloud our experience and understanding of just what the country has been going through. We have demonstrated our capacity for solidarity in standing up to these tough times. And the importance of Christian subsidiarity speaks for itself where individuals and communities work together with governing bodies in their various voluntary and professional capacities, all doing the very best they can with the best possible intentions for our families and neighbours. However, the emotional drain on the community is showing and some of those without faith may be beginning to experience a sense of hopelessness, even dread. It is important, therefore, to also remember all of our brothers and sisters in our prayers.
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