Chicago Archbishop Francis George, standing against a beige wall in Rome before an unidentifiable painting of a cardinal, answered some questions for the Catholic News Service in February. He raised a question that pinpoints the conflict surrounding the HHS contraception mandate:
“Do we have rights that are in the Constitution that are more important than self-declared rights or even legislative rights?”
Penetrating directly to the heart of the issue, Cardinal George portrayed the deep Catholic understanding of the American experiment of liberty under law. Indeed, conservatives can learn from the Catholic Church about the struggle to define liberty in a country that has recently leaned towards expansive, unaccountable government. And as the Church leads the movement against the contraception mandate, it is time to ask how it can help conservatives renew America.
Papal biographer George Weigel and Catholic author Russell Shaw propose the development of a Catholic counterculture, one that will evangelize citizens while influencing the political system. While the two disagree on the relationship between Catholicism and Americanism, they agree that religion can remind America of its roots.
It’s time for conservatives to renew the United States using the Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity. The principle is simple: Entrust every individual and community with the functions they are “capable of performing” in their own moral domain according to their capacities. No higher entity, such as a federal government, should intervene with lower orders, such as the states, but rather should support them in times of need.
Federalism as implemented by the 10th Amendment is actually a form of subsidiarity; President Abraham Lincoln described it before Pope John Paul II wrote about it over a century later.
For Lincoln, the legitimate object of government is “to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all or cannot so well do, for themselves” in their individual capacities.
How does this differ from John Paul II’s requirement that a
community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order…but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity… (Centisimus Annus 48) ?
This religious teaching is an American civil tradition. Conservatives need to wake up, leave the free market rhetoric to the bankers, and don their papist hats.
Simultaneously, to be able to teach the GOP, American Catholics need to return to church on Sunday. There are 68 million Catholics in the United States, yet we still elect such abysmal candidates as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, who support unrestricted abortion for the sake of “reproductive rights,” one of the primary self-described rights Cardinal George mentions.
This correlates with growing liberal feeling towards Catholic dogma since the 1950s; Shaw cites a 2011 study in his new book American Church indicating that “among the 19% of the 1,442 self-identified Catholics whom it surveyed, who regard themselves as ‘highly committed’ to the Church,” 49% believed that one can still be a good Catholic without attending Mass every Sunday.
It is time for the GOP to rediscover the moral arguments for limited government and the family. A 2,000-year old institution offers a grab-bag of lessons, whether you’re an atheist or a strict Protestant.
The example of Catholic subsidiarity shines in every disaster in this country, the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma being the most recent. Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City traveled to the town on May 21st to pray for the victims and raise awareness of the efforts of the Catholic Charities.
The Charities are present in every archdiocese. The organization is “coordinating with state, federal, and local agencies to ‘work together on a cohesive plan.’” William Banowsky, the agency’s local development director, told the National Catholic Register that they’re “finding shelter and clothing and things like that, but we work with [victims] for up to three, four years, however long it takes for them to get back on their feet.”
It is at the parish level that Catholics can be faithful while simultaneously building new levels of civil society that protect the weak, making a federal intervener less necessary.
Conservatives, take note: The parish is the basis for the grassroots revolution. Catholics, don’t forget your community; transform the nation by reforming yourselves.