Five Catholic Quotes on #Brexit

Tonight on CNN, Erin Burnett used the term “carnage” at least twice to refer to market reaction to the “Brexit” vote. Brexit is the people’s decision in the UK to exit the European Union. Brexit should be seen not as the end of the world as we know it but rather as a step toward subsidiarity. In Catholic social teaching, subsidiarity is the ideal. It is manifest in the lowest levels of government possible deciding policy. Below are five quotes on subsidiarity which I think apply to the Brexit vote.


Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them. — Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931, #79.

State and public ownership of property is very much on the increase today. This is explained by the exigencies of the common good, which demand that public authority broaden its sphere of activity. But here, too, the “principle of subsidiary function” must be observed. The State and other agencies of public law must not extend their ownership beyond what is clearly required by considerations of the common good properly understood, and even then there must be safeguards. Otherwise private ownership could be reduced beyond measure, or, even worse, completely destroyed.  — Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXIII, 1961, #117.

The same principle of subsidiarity which governs the relations between public authorities and individuals, families and intermediate societies in a single State, must also apply to the relations between the public authority of the world community and the public authorities of each political community. The special function of this universal authority must be to evaluate and find a solution to economic, social, political and cultural problems which affect the universal common good. These are problems which, because of their extreme gravity, vastness and urgency, must be considered too difficult for the rulers of individual States to solve with any degree of success. — Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), Pope John XXIII, 1963, #140.

It is for the international community to coordinate and stimulate development, but in such a way as to distribute with the maximum fairness and efficiency the resources set aside for this purpose It is also its task to organize economic affairs on a world scale, without transgressing the principle of subsidiarity, so that business will be conducted according to the norms of justice. Organizations should be set up to promote and regulate international commerce, especially with less developed nations, in order to compensate for losses resulting from excessive inequality of power between nations. This kind of organization accompanied by technical, cultural, and financial aid, should provide developing nations with all that is necessary for them to achieve adequate economic success. — Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965, #86(c).

The “principle of subsidiarity” must be respected: “A community of a higher order should not interfere with the life of a community of a lower order, taking over its functions.” In case of need it should, rather, support the smaller community and help to coordinate its activity with activities in the rest of society for the sake of the common good. — Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1991, #48.


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