Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis, “Reciprocal Subsidiarity” and the Rejection of Hostility towards Immigrants by Virgil Wiebe



Pope Francis had powerful words to share today with Congress on the issue of immigration and refugees.  As a “legal permanent resident” at a Catholic institution for the past thirteen years (I’m a Mennonite), I am still learning the language of Catholic Social Teaching.  So when I heard him use the phrase “reciprocal subsidiarity,” I had to do some more research.  Here’s what the Pope said:

“Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mind-set of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”

The word “subsidiarity” is an odd one to the non-Catholic – I’ve sort of considered it a rough synonym for “federalism” in a political sense.  In essence, let those closest to an social issue address it as they know it best.  The Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace in 2006 published a Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which says the following with respect to national and local governance:

Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted.” (Sec. 186)

But by using the term “reciprocal subsidiarity,” the Pope seems to be calling on individual citizens to reach out and interact with immigrants and refugees on a personal level.  According to scholar Pierpaolo Donati, the State has four ways to relate to civil society: vertically, horizontally, laterally, and in terms of basic human dignity.   The third captures the notion of “reciprocal subsidiarity,” in which the State relates by way of a:

“[L]ateral modality, generating subsidiarity among subjects of civil society, without intervention (or only a residual one) by the State, so that the basic social norm followed by actors is reciprocity (reciprocal subsidiarity) instead of (political, legal) command or monetary equivalence (for profit).[1]

The Pope’s words point out the balancing act of respecting local autonomy and concerns, but being wary of the dangers of xenophobia that often arise in refugee and migration crises.  We would do well to listen closely to his challenge.

 [1] Pierpaolo Donati, Discovering the Relational Character of the Common Good, in Stephen Sharkey, ed., Sociology and Catholic Social Teaching: Contemporary Theory and Research, 209 (2012).

 Below is the full text of the Pope’s comments on immigration and refugee matters:

 “In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mind-set of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”

 “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”

 “This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

The entire text of heis speech can be found here.


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