The Catholic Church and the Welfare State

posted Mar 12, 2012, 8:20 AM by St. Joseph Cheyenne
What is the Catholic Church’s stand on an all encompassing welfare state? Is the Church against Socialism? What is the Church’s answer to helping the less fortunate? What does the Church teach in this case? Well there is the short answer and the long answer, and I will give you the short answer first.
The Short Answer:
If you give a man a fish then he will be back tomorrow for a fish, but if you teach a man to fish then he will feed himself from that point on. This age old adage is a great example of how the Church thinks; for the Church teaches that we should be helping people by giving them a hand up and not just a hand out. We should be helping people to become more independent, and not dependant. The Church does not believe in a welfare state, socialism, or any other form of collectivism.
The Long Answer:
What is Collectivism?
Collectivism is a system in which everything is collectively controlled as a group and not as an individual. It is derived from the socialist theory holding that the interests and welfare of the collective group are of greater importance than the interests and welfare of any individual. Socialism and communism are examples of collectivism. Collectivism is NOT in line with Catholic social teaching.
What should we support then?
We should be supporting subsidiarity systems and not collectivisms.
What is Subsidiarity?
Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Matters should effectively belong more to the smallest, lowest or least centralized authority than to a dominant central organization. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the individual human person and not in the service of a group. So subsidiarity is anti-collectivism, anti-socialism, and anti-communism. Subsidiarity is 100% in line with Catholic social doctrine.
What does the Catechism have to say on the matter?
CCC # 1883: Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”
CCC # 1885: The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.
CCC # 1894: In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies.
CCC # 2209: The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family. Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family's prerogatives or interfere in its life.
What do the Popes say about socialism (collectivism/welfare states)?
1. “...Socialism...cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.” - Quadragesimo Anno, 117, Encyclical of Pope Pius XI Reconstruction of the Social Order, May 15, 1931
2. “It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order, to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by lesser and subordinate bodies.” - Quadragesimo Anno, 79, Encyclical of Pope Pius XI
3. “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, #120
4. “ Catholic [can] subscribe even to moderate Socialism.” - Mater Et Magistra, 34, Pope John XXIII On Christianity and Social Progress, May 15, 1961
5. “Socialists...debase the natural union of man and woman...the [family] bond they...deliver up to lust. the greed of present goods...they assail the right of property. While they seem desirous of caring for the needs and satisfying the desires of all men, they strive to seize and hold in common whatever has been acquired either by title, by labor, or by thrift.” - Quod Apostolici Muneris, 1, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII On Socialism, December 28, 1878
5. “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State 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. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need.” – Centesimus Annus, 48, Encyclical of Pope John Paul II on the 100th year Anniversary of Rerum Novarum
6. “A particular manifestation of charity and a guiding criterion for fraternal cooperation between believers and nonbelievers is undoubtedly the principle of subsidiarity, an expression of inalienable human freedom. Subsidiarity is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies. Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility. Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others. By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state. It is able to take account both of the manifold articulation of plans — and therefore of the plurality of subjects — as well as the coordination of those plans.” - Caritas In Veritate, 53, Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI on Integral Human Development In Charity And Truth, June 29, 2009
7. “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State.” - Caritas in Veritate, 38, Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI on Integral Human Development In Charity And Truth, June 29, 2009
8. “The Good Samaritan, however, teaches us to go beyond the emergency and to prepare, we might say, for the return to normality. Indeed, not only did he bind up the wounds of the man who had been left lying on the ground, but he then took the trouble to entrust him to the innkeeper so that once the emergency was past he might recover. As this Gospel passage teaches us, love for neighbor cannot be delegated: the State and politics, even with the necessary concern for welfare, cannot replace it. - Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Board of Directors, Personnel and Volunteers of the Italian National Civil Defense, Saturday, March 6 2010
What is emancipation?
Emancipation: to free from restraint, control, or the power of another; especially to free from bondage; to release from paternal care and responsibility; to free from any controlling influence; to free from a dominant central organization.
What is delegated?
Delegated: a person chosen or elected to act for or represent another or others; to give or commit (duties, powers, etc.) to another as agent or representative. (i.e. love for neighbor cannot be delegated)
Socialism opposes having private property of any kind. What does the Church say?
From the Catechism: 2211 The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially… the right to private property, to free enterprise, to obtain work and housing. 2401 The seventh commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one's neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods. It commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labor. For the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the universal destination of goods and respect for the right to private property. Christian life strives to order this world's goods to God and to fraternal charity. 2403 The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise. 2431 The responsibility of the state. “Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly.... Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society.” In other words we have a right to private property.
Doesn’t Scripture say that we should be forming a material collective in Acts 4:32-37 & Acts 5:1-10:
First of all, and most importantly, it was the Church and the Apostles that received the people’s material gifts, not Caesar or any secular government. Modern Collectivisms centers around giving everything to a secular government or institution and not to the Church, which is the complete opposite of what is illustrated in Acts 4:32-37: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.” For us Catholics what is said in Acts is equivalent to placing our material gifts at the feet of our local Bishop, for as the Catechism states (CCC 77), “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors.” Secondly, no one was under any obligation or command to sell everything and give it to the
Church, for people who did so acted with complete freedom in Acts 4:32-37. This is the complete opposite of collectivism where it is mandatory to hold everything in common, so there is no freedom. Furthermore, God allows us freedom, and we should imitate him in allowing freedom as well. Third, Ananias and his wife are struck down because of their hypocrisy and deception in Acts 5:1-10, and not because of any refusal to give everything to the Church. Acts 5:4 illustrates this in saying, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” True, it was their property, and it was at their disposal. However, the last statement illustrates why they were struck dead, “You have not lied to men but to God.” God detests dishonesty, hypocrisy, and deception which are forms of lying and bearing false witness, and doing so deliberately is a mortal sin. With God there is only honesty and truthfulness. They lied to God, and they paid the price.
What is the problem?
One of the problems is people not taking responsibility within their community and delegating their responsibility to the government. As Pope Benedict XVI has stated to the Board of Directors, Personnel and Volunteers of the Italian National Civil Defense on March 6 2010, “As this Gospel passage (On the Good Samaritan) teaches us, love for neighbor cannot be delegated: the State and politics, even with the necessary concern for welfare, cannot replace it.” And “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State.” in Caritas in Veritate, 38. The Catholic Church’s support of subsidiarity systems demands local involvement to cure local problems, and not to merely delegate our responsibility to the state. A current sloth is causing us to forget our personal responsibilities in helping the less fortunate in our communities and slide towards a collectivistic system (like socialism) which has been condemned by the Church. We must take personal responsibility and give to our local community from our abundance that God has given us.
What is Sloth?
Sloth is one of the seven capital sins, often called the seven deadly sins; avoidance of physical or spiritual work; indolence; laziness; being shiftless; shifting responsibility and effort to others; spiritual or emotional apathy; a lack of charity in your heart for others. Delegating your personal responsibility in charity to others instead of doing it yourself is the sin of sloth.
What about helping the less fortunate?
The Church always encourages people to give of themselves personally to help those less fortunate, but our long term goal is to help people achieve independence. This isn’t just an individual goal, but it should be a goal that affects us politically as well. Even countries that need our help should be helped in order to ultimately achieve their independence. Only those individuals who can’t help themselves, like the chronically ill or severely handicapped, need extra attention and help, but that help should come from family, friends, neighbors, and any local subsidiarity first (depending on the need). A person who needs immediate attention should get it from family, friends, neighbors, and any local subsidiarity first (depending on the need), and those helping should address the problem of, “can we get this person to be independent so they can help themselves, if so, how?” We should be helping the less fortunate ourselves and not relying on some welfare state to do it.
What do you mean “depending on the need”?
If it is simply a problem of paying a bill or helping someone with food then that can be provided by family, friends, neighbors, and any local subsidiarity, but if a family member has medical needs then you need to see a local medical professional like a local doctor. If there is an immediate medical need then you should call 911. If, for example, family members need to chip in together to get a chronically ill, or severely handicapped, family member long term care by a local subsidiarity then they should consider it. Depending on the need depends on the help. Always if there is nothing hindering a person critically, like being chronically ill or severely handicapped, then an effort should be made to help that person in need to become independent so he/she can take care of his/her own needs.
What about Feeding the Hungry?
To deny someone food that would cause their death is a crime against that person’s right to life, but take a look at Gaudium et spes : Since there are so many people prostrate with hunger in the world, this sacred council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the aphorism of the Fathers, “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him,” and really to share and employ their earthly goods, according to the ability of each, especially by supporting individuals or peoples with the aid by which they may be able to help and develop themselves. Listen to what is being said, that people “may be able to help and develop themselves.” We have a duty to help people achieve their emancipation within our obligations towards our fellow human beings. Teach them how to fish, so they can take care of themselves, to be independent and free, and not to become perpetually dependant on some governmental collectivistic system