Subsidiarity & Collaboration

My reflection for the May staff newsletter of CatholicCare Sydney focuses on subsidiarity and collaborating with those whom we serve.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘subsidiarity’? Do you think of a small company that is owned by a larger company? Subsidiarity is a key principle in Catholic Social Teaching. It is about the organization of participation and decision-making. At its center is a commitment to the dignity of each person.

As Benedict XVI explained in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others.” (n 57) We all have something to offer. Subsidiarity is a person-centered approach to decision-making that enables each person and group to make their contribution.

Subsidiarity asks that those who are the most directly affected by a decision have a say in it. The people with whom and for whom we work are not just passive recipients of our decisions and actions. They are the ones who know their own situations best, and we must listen to them if we are to be of any real assistance. This is why one of the principles underlying CatholicCare’s Person Centered Approach is that we collaborate with those whom we serve, listening to them, responding to their needs, so that they may choose the direction of their lives.

By enabling people to choose the direction of their lives, rather than imposing our ‘solutions’, we become instruments of Christ’s liberating presence in the world.

Sometimes individuals or small groups make decisions that do not really take into account the needs or interests of others –they do not always have the big picture in mind. Larger or more encompassing groups might be needed in order to coordinate smaller groups for the good of us all – the common good. This is the other side of the principle of subsidiarity. It recognizes the rights of individuals but also their responsibilities towards others.

Within CatholicCare we try to discern carefully at what level different decisions and actions are taken. A whole of organization learning culture encourages us to listen to those with relevant experience and knowledge, to share effective practice, and to grow the evidence base as to what works. This helps us to advocate effectively for the services that the people whom we serve need.

Subsidiarity recognizes that everyone has dignity; it insists that everyone be included, and it ensures that everyone participates in decision-making.

Sandie Cornish

  1. My experience of parish life has been quite varied. In some places parish councils are taken seriously and have significant input into decision making. In other places, not so much. Diocesan Synods can be useful mechanisms too.
    I think we have to keep offering our contributions whether they are received or not, and keep trying to create dialogue.
    Does anyone have suggestions of strategies for when those with authority are not open to the participation of others in decision making? Please share.

  2. Why is this principle missing from parish life in Australia? Only the voice of the clergy and their options are ever implemented. Recently A$1million was spent on a Church upgrade even though parishoners were against it. How can subsidiarity be made to operate when there is no commitment from those with the power, sole access to the decision making and the finances?

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