The Catholic Right, "Subsidiarity" and Health Care.
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 02:00:48 PM EST
In my last piece I described how certain players of the Catholic Right are attacking the idea of a public option for health care insurance. In doing so, they are employing a theological concept known as subsidiarity -- the concept that "issues be treated at the lowest level possible, that is, at the level closest to the individual."
The Catholic Right's stilted application of this doctrine is designed to mislead Catholics into believing that universal health care with a public option is inconsistent with the faith.

But that twisting leads to some unintended consequences as per Catholic social teaching.

Deal Hudson was one of the first to set the subsidiarity argument in motion this past August, first by dissembling about abortion coverage in pending legislation:


The need for universal health care, guaranteed by the federal government, is so deeply felt among the bishops and other Catholic leaders that even the prospect of abortion funding has yet to evoke much of a public protest against the bills presently in the House and Senate...
The presence of such funding alone should be sufficient to quell Catholic support for the legislation - but so far, it hasn't.

Then, Hudson attacked the very concept of a right to health care:

To assert health care is a human right is the beginning, rather than the end, of the debate about whether universal health care insurance should be provided by the federal government. To say citizens have a right to a good - in this case, medical care - always necessitates our obligation to remove unreasonable obstacles to obtaining it, but it does not necessitate that the good in question be provided by the government.

To assert the right to health care as the end of the argument leaps over both prudential reasoning and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which stipulates that a social problem should first be dealt with at a local level before being addressed at higher, governmental levels.

(It is no accident that Hudson chose the libertarian Acton Institute's definition in his hyperlink; Acton is a hotbed of laissez-faire Catholic thought, advised by the likes of Michael Novak.)

Then, as if almost on cue, from Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn issued a A Joint Pastoral Statement invoking the doctrine of subsidiarity:

This notion that health care ought to be determined at the lowest level rather than at the higher strata of society, has been promoted by the Church as "subsidiarity." Subsidiarity is that principle by which we respect the inherent dignity and freedom of the individual by never doing for others what they can do for themselves and thus enabling individuals to have the most possible discretion in the affairs of their lives. (See: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, ## 185ff.; Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1883) The writings of recent Popes have warned that the neglect of subsidiarity can lead to an excessive centralization of human services, which in turn leads to excessive costs, and loss of personal responsibility and quality of care.

Pure and simple, this is hogwash.  All the way back in 1919, the American bishops issued their program for social reconstruction that recognized the critical role government is required to play to bring about true reform for the less powerful. Therein, they called for the federal government to provide retirement insurance (an idea that would evolve into what we now call Social Security), public housing for the working class and some early ideas about municipal health clinics:

The establishment and maintenance of municipal health inspection in all schools, public and private, is now pretty generally recognized as of great importance and benefit. Municipal clinics where the poorer classes could obtain the advantage of medical treatment by specialists at a reasonable cost would likewise seem to have become a necessity.  A vast amount of unnecessary sickness and suffering exists among the poor and the lower middle classes because they cannot afford the advantages of any other treatment except that provided by the general practitioner. Every effort should be made to supply wage-earners and their families with specialized medical care through development of group medicine. Free medical care should be given only to those who cannot afford to pay.

Monsignor John A. Ryan, a top economic advisor to the American Bishops wrote in 1931, "The authoritative refutation and overthrow of the assumption that industrial evils were to be overcome entirely by beneficence on the one hand and resignation on the other, is probably the greatest of salutary effects of Rerum Novarum."(i)

Michael Sean Winters resonded to the Naumann-Finn pastoral letter in the Jesuit journal America, placing the doctrine of subsidiarity within its proper context:

Subsidiarity is a Thomistic notion that seeks to answer the question that all public policies must face, namely, what level of society should treat a given issue. Further, subsidiarity suggests that issues be treated at the lowest level possible, that is, at the level closest to the individual. So, families should do what they can, neighborhoods should pick up the slack, the free market should adjudicate the distribution of goods and services, local government should take the lead on most issues and the federal government should only get involved when its unique reach and power, specifically the taxing power, is required. This part of subsidiarity is ably repeated in the Kansas City text. But, the text does not grasp the moral obligation of the higher levels of government. As Pope Leo XIII wrote in his 1892 encyclical Rerum Novarum, "Whenever the general interest or any particular class suffers, or it is threatened with evils which can in no other way be met, the public authority must step in to meet them."

Winters  goes on to comment on Deal Hudson's praise of the Naumann-Finn pastoral letter:

No one has ever accused Hudson of being stupid. He knows that the plans emerging from Congress do not entail the government "running" health care. And he knows that the government-run health care we do have, and have had for decades, does not cover abortion.

As well as:

Hudson writes: "Let's hope over the next few months this line of thinking [that of Naumann and Finn] is taken up by more bishops and Catholic leaders -- this government-run monopoly of national health care needs to be rejected, totally and completely." There it is. Complete rejectionism on an issue that the Catholic bishops have been advocating for decades. Complete indifference to the suffering of those who lack health insurance because the market - self-evidently - has not found ways to cover them. Mr. Hudson is not "Inside Catholic" on this issue, he is far out of the mainstream and he should have the decency to acknowledge it.

This all begs the question, why such mendacity to defeat a public option as part of health care reform.

When it comes to a layman such as Deal Hudson, I believe it is a case of a movement conservative disguising a very secular economic agenda in religious garb. Sean Winters' description of Hudson "...busy worshipping at the pagan altar of the market..." pretty much says it all.

But what of the bishops? Obviously I cannot read their minds. Yet at the same time I suspect something of a quid-pro-quo may be going on. Bishops such as Finn and Naumann - and they are not the only ones --  are so obsessed with issues such as abortion and euthanasia that they have lost all sense of perspective. I fear that these Catholic Right prelates recognize that their strongest supporters reside within the GOP and to that end they will all-too-gladly sell out forty-six million uninsured Americans to provide political payback. And to do so, they will twist Church doctrine into pretzel knots.

Is that the case? I don't know. But that is what it looks like to this American Catholic.

(i) Ryan, John A., “Some Effects of Rerum Novarum”, America, April 25, 1931, Page 58.

Is health care a right? Pope John XXIII seems to have thought so.

This is paragraph eleven from the 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris

But first We must speak of man's rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of illhealth; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood.

I guess that make Hudson part of what George Weigal calls "the culture of dissent"?

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 02:10:47 PM EST

We need to hear this, although the Catholic right wants to make it all about abortion.

by khughes1963 on Mon Sep 14, 2009 at 04:43:45 PM EST

Once again the religious right uses their interpretation of the faith to justify their inhumanity. "At the lowest level" means the individual in need not the person or organization charged with filling that need. The story of the good Samaritan makes it absolutely clear just who one's neighbor is. Apparently the theory of subsidiarity requires a lower level of society to help or turn away as seen fit by an upper level of society. Whatever you do, don't heal the lepers. Things that make you go hmmmm.

by flatustheelder on Tue Sep 15, 2009 at 04:12:48 PM EST

it's more "godly" for multinational corporations to make meoney than it is to heal the sick or help the poor.
I could be wrong, but didn't the catholic chirch invent the idea of the corporation?

by Da Rat Bastid on Sat Sep 19, 2009 at 09:47:05 PM EST

WWW Talk To Action

The Sour Grapes Of Wrath: Tenn. County Politician Seeks To Stave Off God's Vengeance
It has become a cliché to say that you spotted an article online that was so strange you first assumed it was from The......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
The Catholic Right Star and the Porn Star -- Revised and Updated
An international network of some of the world’s most vitriolic Religious Right activists and self-proclaimed orthodox religious leaders is holding its ninth global conference......
By Frederick Clarkson (6 comments)
Banned In Boston (And Elsewhere): The American Tragedy Of Censorship
When I was kid, the phrase "Banned in Boston" confused me. I thought of Boston as a liberal, cosmopolitan city. Surely they didn't censor......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Bill Donohue Mum While Andrew Napolitano Calls Pope Francis "A False Prophet"
Catholic League president Bill Donohue goes after anyone he believes is engaging in anti-Catholic behavior, real or imagined. But as we have come to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
A Decade Of Disgrace: Marking Ten Years Of The `Values Voter Summit'
The annual Values Voter Summit (VVS), the nation's largest gathering of the Religious Right, begins today. The event, sponsored by the Family Research Council......
By Rob Boston (2 comments)
Looking Beyond the Francis Frenzy
Much has been and will be written about the Pope regarding his historic visit to the U.S.  But it will be important to try......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Barton Bounces Back: Religious Right Purveyor Of Ersatz History Still Going Strong
Three years ago, Religious Right phony historian David Barton published a ridiculous book called The Jefferson Lies that argued, in part, that Thomas Jefferson......
By Rob Boston (4 comments)
The Papal Visit Brings Forth Ugliness From the Right
In a recent press release, Catholic League president Bill Donohue warned, "Pope Visits To U.S. Occasion Ugliness." Donohue then went on to describe the......
By Frank Cocozzelli (3 comments)
Coercion In Kansas?: State Worker Claims She Was Fired For Non-Attendance At Christian Service
Let's say some people at a company want to get together during lunch hour and hold a Bible study. It's totally voluntary, and they......
By Rob Boston (4 comments)
Kim Davis and Southern Civil Disobedience
Kim Davis, the county official who refused to grant marriage licenses, fits the profile of a long line of civil disobedience from the South.......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
An Anti-Theocratic, Progressive Christian Leader
I recently posted a short excerpt here, from an interview I published with Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, the new General Minister and President of......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Litany Of Lies: FRC's Perkins Packs An Email With Copious Falsehoods
I realize that people may be tired of reading about the saga of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who is in jail......
By Rob Boston (6 comments)
Kim Davis is No Jack Kennedy
Kim Davis, the embattled Kentucky county clerk who sits in jail for defying a Federal Court order to issue marriage licenses to everyone who......
By Frederick Clarkson (1 comment)
Book Report: Yes, Politicians, We Know You Love The Bible. What Else Have You Read?
Real estate magnate Donald Trump says lots of outrageous stuff, but none of it seems to slow him down. His latest gaffe, however, ought......
By Rob Boston (3 comments)
American Renewal Project
On my journey to the American Renewal Project in Austin, Texas, I listened to hard right talk radio out of Houston.  There was an......
By wilkyjr (7 comments)

Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (2 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (1 comment)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (0 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (2 comments)
Evangelicals Seduced By Ayn Rand Worship Crypto-Satanism, Suggest Scholars
[update: also see my closely related stories, "Crypto-Cultists" and "Cranks": The Video Paul Ryan Hoped Would Go Away, and The Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand/Satanism Connection Made Simple] "I give people Ayn Rand with trappings" -......
Bruce Wilson (10 comments)
Ted Cruz Anointed By Pastor Who Says Jesus Opposed Minimum Wage, and Constitution Based on the Bible
In the video below, from a July 19-20th, 2013 pastor's rally at a Marriott Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa, Tea Party potentate Ted Cruz is blessed by religious right leader David Barton, who claims......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Galt and God: Ayn Randians and Christian Rightists Expand Ties
Ayn Rand's followers find themselves sharing a lot of common ground with the Christian Right these days. The Tea Party, with its stress on righteous liberty and a robust form of capitalism, has been......
JSanford (2 comments)
Witchhunts in Africa and the U.S.A.
Nigerian human rights activist Leo Igwe has recently written at least two blog posts about how some African Pentecostal churches are sending missionaries to Europe and the U.S.A. in an attempt to "re-evangelize the......
Diane Vera (2 comments)
Charles Taze Russell and John Hagee
No doubt exists that Texas mega-church Pastor John Hagee would be loathe to be associated with the theology of Pastor C.T. Russell (wrongly credited with founding the Jehovah's Witnesses) but their theological orbits, while......
COinMS (0 comments)
A death among the common people ... imagination.
Or maybe my title would better fit as “Laws, Books, where to find, and the people who trust them.”What a society we've become!The wise ones tell us over and over how the more things......
Arthur Ruger (0 comments)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
This is part 6 of a series by guest front pager Mahanoy, originally dated November 15, 2007 which I had to delete and repost for technical reasons. It is referred to in this post,......
Frederick Clarkson (2 comments)
Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (2 comments)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (4 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (5 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else © 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.