The Role of Government and the Battle over Catholic Social Teaching

The Role of Government and the Battle over Catholic Social Teaching August 28, 2012

The overall vision of the corpus of magisterial documents known as Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has become a hotly debated subject in the context of this year’s US election melodrama, both within and outside of the Catholic Church, especially since Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate (and much is now being made of the fact that both vice-presidential candidates are Catholic).  As a result of this, two dramatically different versions of CST are being portrayed.  On the one hand, Ryan and his devotees claim that CST’s principle of subsidiarity is consistent with the current Republican obsession, under tea party sway, with minimizing government at all costs – even at the cost of benefits to the poor, seeming to prefer that the common good be hindered rather than that it be in any way aided by the “big government” bogeyman.  Reacting to this, Catholic Democrats are articulating the principles of CST in a way that emphasizes the legitimate and necessary role that CST grants governments in serving the common good while downplaying the limits and cautions that the social encyclicals repeatedly raise in this regard – an understandable reaction in a way, but still an oversimplified one, especially when it succumbs to the partisan reflex that if Republicans say government intervention is bad, then more of it must always and automatically be good.

In this tug of war over CST, both sides ultimately fail to do it justice.  This is inevitably the case because CST does not, nor was it ever meant to, fit the political binary that prevails in the United States.  The USCCB said as much in its 2007 document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (the remainder of which demonstrates well the truth of this statement):

55. These themes from Catholic social teaching provide a moral framework that does not easily fit ideologies of “right” or “left,” “liberal” or “conservative,” or the platform of any political party. They are not partisan or sectarian, but reflect fundamental ethical principles that are common to all people.

The encyclicals and other documents collectively known as modern CST (though, to be sure, the Church has always had something to say on social issues) were written in the contexts of shifting global situations from the late 19th century to the present, which were often notably different from the current US political scene.  This is not by any means to suggest that the principles articulated in these documents cannot be applied to our present context; indeed, their genius lies in being both contextual and broadly applicable, speaking to specific situations out of timeless values.  It is all too easy to lose sight of this catholicity when bringing CST into the debates at hand.  We must constantly be reminded that America is not the whole world, and still less is it the whole Church.  To cherry-pick passages from the social encyclicals as proof-texts to show that CST echoes the current Republican or Democratic party line is to miss the message, telling half the story at best.

Take, first of all, Rerum Novarum, the 1891 encyclical widely considered the foundational document of CST in its modern form, in which Pope Leo XIII strongly rejected socialism while at the same time maintaining that the State itself has a duty to the common good, favoring government intervention when necessary to combat social ills (especially labor injustice) as well as clear limitations which governments should not overstep.  He succinctly combines these concerns in RN 29:

If by a strike, or other combination of workmen, there should be imminent danger of disturbance to the public peace; or if circumstances were such that among the laboring population the ties of family life were relaxed; if religion were found to suffer through the workmen not having time and opportunity to practice it; if in workshops and factories there were danger to morals through the mixing of the sexes or from any occasion of evil; or if employers laid burdens upon the workmen which were unjust, or degraded them with conditions that were repugnant to their dignity as human beings; finally, if health were endangered by excessive labor, or by work unsuited to sex or age – in these cases there can be no question that, within certain limits, it would be right to call in the help and authority of the law.  The limits must be determined by the nature of the occasion which calls for the law’s interference – the principle being this, that the law must not undertake more, nor go further, than is required for the remedy of the evil or the removal of the danger.

Throughout the encyclical, Leo demonstrates a strong concern for the protection of both private property and the rights of the working class.  In more negative terms, he sees a danger in too great a concentration of wealth and power, whether in the hands of the State (as in socialism) or a wealthy elite (as in economic liberalism).  This point in particular helps to explain why, while having grave moral concerns about Paul Ryan’s infamous budget proposal, I also cannot adopt the “more government is better (as long as Republicans are saying the opposite)” line that has become the knee-jerk reaction of the left, for reasons that have as much to do with my formative Mennonite background as with Catholic identity.  Mennonites, while widely known in modern times for their commitment to social activism and service, have also historically been deeply suspicious of State power, often with good reason.  This dual concern finds an interesting parallel in CST’s principle of subsidiarity, which is always connected to the common good.  The documents articulate this connection better than I could, so I will allow them to speak for themselves with a few examples, which demonstrate a balance that neither major US party has managed to achieve.

Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931):

79. It is indeed true, as history clearly shows, that owing to the change in social conditions, much that was formerly done by small bodies can nowadays be accomplished only by large organizations.  Nevertheless, it is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry.  So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by lesser and subordiante bodies.  Inasumuch as every social activity should, by its very nature, prove a help to members of the body social, it should never destroy or absorb them.

80. The State authorities should leave to other bodies the care and expediting of business and activities of lesser moment, which otherwise become for it a source of great distraction.  It then will preform with greater freedom, vigor and effectiveness, the tasks belonging properly to it, and which it alone can accomplish, directing, supervisin, encouraging, restraining, as circumstances suggest or necessity demands.  Let those in power, therefore, be convinced that the more faithfully this principle of “subsidiarity” is followed and a hierarchical order prevails among the various organizations, the more excellent will be the authority and efficiency of societ, and the happier and more prosperous the condition of the commonwealth.

John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (1961):

54. Indeed, as is easily perceived, recent developments of science and technology provide additional reasons why, to a greater extent than heretofore, it is within the power of public authorities to reduce imbalances, whether these be between various sectors of economic life, or between different regions of the same nation, or even between different peoples of the world as a whole.  These same developments make it possible to keep fluctuations in the economy within bounds, and to provide effective measures for avoiding mass unemployment.  Consequently, it is requested again and again of public authorities responsible for the common good, that they intervene in a wide variety of economic affairs, and that, in a more extensive and organized way than heretofore, they adapt institutions, tasks, means, and procedures to this end.

55. Nevertheless, it remains true that precautionary activities of public authorities in the economic field, although widespread and penetrating, should be such that they not only avoid restricting the freedom of private citizens, but also increase it, so long as the basic rights of each individual person are preserved inviolate.  Included among these is the right and duty of each individual normally to provide the necessities of life for himself and his dependents.  This implies that whatever be the economic system, it allow and facilitate for every individual the opportunity to engage in productive activity.

56. Furthermore, the course of events thus far makes it clear that there cannot be a prosperous and well-ordered society unless both private citizens and public authorities work together in economic affairs.  Their activity should be characterized by mutual and amicable efforts, so that the roles assigned to each fit in with requirements of the common good as changing times and customs suggest.

57. Experience, in fact, shows that where private initiative of individuals is lacking, political tyrrany prevails.  Moreover, much stagnation occurs in various sectors of the economy, and hence all sorts of consumer goods and services, closely connected with needs of the body and more especially of the spirit, are in short supply.  Beyond doubt, the attainment of such goods and services provides remarkable opportunity and stimulus for individuals to exercise initiative and industry.

58. Where, on the other hand, appropriate activity of the State is lacking or defective, commonwealths are apt to experience incurable disorders, and there occurs exploitation of the weak by the unscrupulous strong, who flourish, unfortunately, like cockle among the wheat, in all times and places.

116. Obviously, what we have said above [that the right to private property should be distributed justly] does not preclude ownership of goods pertaining to wealth by States and public agencies, especially “if these carry with them power too great to be left in private hands, without injury to the community at large.”

117. It seems characteristic of our times to vest more and more ownership of goods in the State and in other public bodies.  This is partially explained by the fact that the common good requires public authorities to exercise ever greater responsibilities.  However, in this matter, the principle of subsidiarity, already mentioned above, is to be strictly observed.  For it is lawful for States and public corporations to expand their domain of ownership only when manifest and genuine requirements of the common good so require, and then with safeguards, lest the possession of private citizens be diminished beyond measure, or, what is worse, destroyed.

118. Finally, we cannot pass over in silence the fact that economic enterprises undertaken by the State or by public corporations should be entrusted to citizens outstanding in skill and integrity, who will carry out their responsibilities to the commonwealth with a deep sense of devotion.  Moreover, the activity of these men should be subjected to careful and continuing supervision, lest, in the administration of the State itself, there develop an economic imperialism in the hands of a few.  For such a development is in conflict with the highest good of the commonwealth.

150. It often happens that in one and the same country citizens enjoy different degrees of wealth and social advancement.  This especially happens because they dwell in areas which, economically speaking, have grown at different rates.  Where such is the case, justice and equity demand that the government make efforts either to remove or to minimize imbalances of this sort.  Toward this end, efforts should be made, in areas where there has been less economic progress, to supply the principal public services, as indicated by circumstances of time and place and in accord with the general level of living.  But in bringing this about, it is necessary to have very competent administration and organization to take careful account of the following: labor supply, internal migration, wages, taxes, interest rates, and investments in industries that foster other skills and developments – all of which will further not merely the useful employment of workers and the stimulation of initiative, but also the exploitation of resources locally available.

151. But it is precisely the measures for advancement of the general welfare which civil authorities must undertake.  Hence, they should take steps, having regard for the needs of the whole community, that progress in agriculture, industry, and services be made at the same time and in a balanced manner so far as possible.  They should have this goal in mind, that citizens in less developed countries – in giving attention to economic and social affairs, as well as to cultural matters – feel themselves to be the ones chiefly responsible for their own progress.  For a citizen has a sense of his own dignity when he contributes the major share to progress in his own affairs.

152. Hence, those also who rely on their own resources and initiative should contribute as best they can to the equitable adjustment of economic life in their own community.  Nay, more, those in authority should favor and help private enterprise in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, in order to allow private citizens themselves to accomplish as much as is feasible.

John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (1991):

15. Rerum Novarum is opposed to state control of the means of production, which would reduce every citizen to being a “cog” in the state machine.  It is no less forceful in criticizing a concept of the state which completely excludes the economic sector from the state’s range of interest and action.  There is certainly a legitimate sphere of autonomy in economic life which the state should not enter.  The state, however, has the task of determining the juridical framework within which economic affairs are to be conducted, and thus of safeguarding the prerequisites of a free economy, which presumes a certain equality between the parties, such that one party would not be so powerful as practically to reduce the other to subservience….

The state must contribute to the achievement of these goals [of just working conditions] both directly and indirectly.  Indirectly and according to the principle of subsidiarity by creating favorable conditions for the free exercise of economic activity, which will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth.  Directly and according to the principle of solidarity, by defending the weakest, by placing certain limits on the autonomy of the parties who determine working conditions, and by ensuring in every case the necessary minimum support for the unemployed worker.

Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (2009):

57. … A particular manifestation of charity and a guiding criterion for fraternal cooperation between believers and nonbelievers is undoubtedly the principle of subsidiarity, an expression of inalienable human freedom.  Subsidiarity is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies.  Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility.  Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others.  By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.  It is able to take account both of the manifold articulation of plans – and therefore of the plurality of subjects – as well as the coordination of those plans.  Hence the principle of subsidiarity is particularly well-suited to managing globalization and directing it towards authentic human development.  In order not to produce a dangerous universal power of a tyrannical nature, the governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together.  Globalization certainly requires authority, insofar as it poses the problem of a global common good that needs to be pursued.  This authority, however, must be organized in a subsidiary and stratified way, if it is not to infringe upon freedom and if it is to yield effective results in practice.

58. The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need.

Finally, a bit closer to home, the USCCB pastoral Economic Justice for All (1986):

100. This principle [subsidiarity] guarantees institutional pluralism. It provides space for freedom, initiative, and creativity on the part of many social agents.  At the same time, it insists that all these agents should work in ways that help build up the social body.  Therefore, in all their activities these groups should be working in ways that express their distinctive capacities for action, that help meet human needs, and that make true contributions to the common good of the human community.  The task of creating a more just U.S. economy is the vocation of all and depends on strengthening the virtues of public service and responsible citizenship in personal life and on all levels of institutional life.

121. The traditional distinction between society and the state in Catholic social teaching provides the basic framework for such organized public efforts [for justice].  The Church opposes all statist and totalitarian approaches to socioeconomic questions.  Social life is richer than governmental power can encompass.  All groups that compose society have responsibilities to respond to the demands of justice.  We have just outlined some of the duties of labor unions and business and financial enterprises.  These must be supplemented by initiatives by local community groups, professional associations, educational institutions, churches, and synagogues.  All the groups that give life to this society have important roles to play in the pursuit of economic justice.

122. For this reason, it is all the more significant that the teachings of the Church insist that government has a moral function: protecting human rights and securing basic justice for all members of the commonwealth.  Society as a whole and in all its diversity is responsible for building up the common good.  But it is government’s role to guarantee the minimum conditions that make this rich social activity possible, namely, human rights and justice.  This obligation also falls on individual citizens as they choose their representatives and participate in shaping public opinion.

123. More specifically, it is the responsibility of all citizens, acting through their government, to assist and empower the poor, the disadvantaged, the handicapped, and the unemployed.  Government should assume a positive role in generating employment and establishing fair labor practices, in guaranteeing the provision and maintenance of the economy’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, harbors, public means of communication, and transport.  It should regulate trade and commerce in the interest of fairness.  Government may levy the taxes necessary to meet these responsibilities, and citizens have a moral obligation to pay those taxes.  The way society responds to the needs of the poor through its public policies is the litmus test of its justice or injustice.  The political debate about these policies is the indispensable forum for dealing with the conflicts and tradeoffs that will always be present in the pursuit of a more just economy.

124. The primary norm for determining the scope and limits of governmental intervention is the “principle of subsidiarity” cited above.  This principle states that, in order to protect basic justice, government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently.  Government should not replace or destroy smaller communities and individual initiative.  Rather it should help them to contribute more effectively to social well-being and supplement their activity when the demands of justice exceed their capacities.  This does not mean, however, that the government that governs least governs best.  Rather it defines good government intervention as that which truly “helps” other social groups contribute to the common good by directing, urging, restraining, and regulating economic activity as “the occasion requires and necessity demands.”  This calls for cooperation and consensus-building among the diverse agents in our economic life, including government.  The precise form of government involvement in this process cannot be determined in the abstract.  It will depend on an assessment of specific needs and the most effective ways to address them.

I have cited the above documents at some length in order to keep them in a broad enough context to demonstrate their transcendence of the dichotomous size-of-government debates presently occuring in the US political sphere.  Rather than attempting to conform CST to one or the other end of this polemic, which cannot be done without seriously distorting it, let’s keep our heads when the arguments flare up and follow our Church’s social tradition by daring to articulate a radically moderate view of government, too much or too little of which can both lead to forms of tyranny.  This does not mean diluting any of the key principles of CST, whether subsidiarity or the common good or the preferential option for the poor.  On the contrary, this is their strongest and most complete expression.

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  • Carl Diederichs

    I think we wouldn’t ask the parties if they are following the principles of CST. The bishops have said that the Republican budget is immoral as it stands. That means, to me, that it does not represent CST even though Ryan says it does. What is a radically moderate view of government?

    • Julia Smucker

      Sorry I missed this the first time around. Radically moderate is a term I just coined for the view of government put forth in CST, which gives governments both a necessary degree of legitimacy and certain cautionary limitations in their role in promoting the common good and a just social order. Governments, individuals, and intermediate bodies should all work together toward this end according to their own proper functions. This does not fit anywhere in the increasingly polarized size-of-government debate that is going on in US politics, in which the parties’ reactions to each other are pushing them into extremes where either “big government” is the root of all evil, or the government must become all things to all people.

      To put it simply, radically moderate is somewhere between too much and too little.

  • Rat-biter

    No mention of “Populorum Progressio (1967)” ? A papal letter condemned by the WSJ as “warmed-over Marxism” can’t be all bad:…/hf_p-vi_enc_26031967_populorum_en.html

  • Excellent post! It very much needs to be said.

    I do think one thing can be said for both sides, namely, that CST has to be applied, and there can be fine line between working in the sincere belief that such-and-such proposal by such-and-such party happens, under our circumstances, to be the best current means to attaining such-and-such end found in CST and trimming CST itself down to party-size; but, as you say, making that distinction is quite crucial. I don’t think it’s actually possible to insulate CST in the U.S. from the size-of-government discussion, which is just the current (not very sophisticated) form taken by the perpetual U.S. debate over the best way to distribute powers of government — because that perpetual debate just is, in a sense, U.S. politics — but all sides can and should guard against a too-easy conflation between the principles of CST and what they think happen to be the best (and generally imperfect) means of applying them in the U.S. context.

  • Darned lot of work, well done, and in chronological order so it helps relate these documents to the development of our society, economically and historically. I need to borrow this for our local community. Hope I can boil it down to the 550 words our local newspaper allows for commentary! Guess I’m asking.

    • Julia Smucker

      I’m happy to share the wealth. I would just ask, if you want to excerpt or summarize, that you run it by me first.

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  • Kurt

    To cherry-pick passages from the social encyclicals as proof-texts to show that CST echoes the current Republican or Democratic party line is to miss the message, telling half the story at best.

    There is a richness in CST that would benefit both liberals and conservatives. There also is an allowance in CST that leaves much to personal judgment.

    But my conservative friends tend to strike me as people who picked up the documents of CST recently and read them for the first time, unaware of the long history of Catholic Action.

    While conceding that the Episcopate’s public policy statements are not magisterial teachings, has the American episcopate ever objected to any of our current social welfare programs as violations of subsidiarity? Once in the last 100 years? I cannot think of one instance.

    And broadening this question to consider other societies, even George Weigel admits that the Church in Europe has been in favor of all the social welfare schemes that exist there now. In fact, for all the talk of European “socialism”, socialism’s legislative success in Western Europe has been in extension of the franchise. In almost every continental nation, the social welfare system was designed and enacted under the Christian Democrats and with the support of Catholic Action.

    It seems to me when discerning what the Church means by “subsidiarity” we need to look and see what the Church has supported and opposed.

  • While there is an idea among many on the right that as a matter of principle, government should be as small as possible, I think the issue with Ryan is more that we need to cut back on spending right now because if we don’t there are liable to be catastrophic economic consequences. Whether that’s true is open to debate, but fending off catastrophe is certainly a valid reason for cutting government spending, even if it does result in hardship for some.

    • Julia Smucker

      I agree that fending off catastrophe is a genuine and valid concern. What I find concerning is that the poor are usually the first to bear the brunt, which the nuns and bishops and other Christian leaders have agreed is the case with the Ryan budget, whereas certain areas of more excessive government spending, most notably the military budget, are sacrosanct to leaders of both parties.

      • I understand your concern, and assuming that that interpretation of the facts is correct, I share it. At the same time, in order for the government to assist anyone, it’s necessary that the economy be running on all cylinders, so to speak, to keep the money flowing. There can be differences of opinion as to the best ways to make that happen, i.e. how much to tax and whom to tax, how much to spend and on what to spend it, etc.

        The government also has the duty of protecting the county, its territory, its people and its economic interests. Again there can be differences of opinion as to how to do that and how much to spend on it, but both sides agree that it has to be done.

        In other words, I don’t think there is a fundamental difference of opinion as to whether we should help the poor. I think the difference of opinion lies in exactly how much help, in what specific ways to help, and how to pay for it.

        If there is any difference of opinion at all, then one side has to favor somewhat less help than the other side favors — otherwise there would be no difference of opinion at all; and how realistic is that? The fact that one side favors less help than the other, only indicates a difference of opinion as to the specifics. It doesn’t necessarily indicate a rejection of the idea that help should be given.

        • Julia Smucker

          I’m glad we’re in fundamental agreement on the principle of concern for the poor, and I certainly grant that there are legitimate differences of opinion on how this principle is best translated into public policy. That was part of the point of this post, and I wish more people would make that disclaimer in public discussions like this. I also wish I could say the same (regarding said principled agreement) for our politicians. Maybe that’s my Mennonite political cynicism showing, but I have rarely if ever seen any real concern for the poor coming from anyone running for office – and again, that goes for both parties.

  • Pinky

    Is it fair, though, to expect politicians to articulate all of their principles?

    I note that Ryan supported the expansion of Medicare and the stimulus, and Romney developed parts of what’s known as Romneycare. It would be unfair to accuse them of seeking the destruction of the safety net. Much of what one party supports, the other party supports.

    I’d like to see that commonality acknowledged. But is that the job of a candidate? Shouldn’t he be making the choice clearer to the many people who don’t study the subtleties of CST or politics? In a two-party system, on most issues one party wants the status quo but less, and the other the status quo but more. Realism necessitates that both parties admit that they want something in the neighborhood of the status quo. Clarity requires them to state which direction they’d want to move things.

  • danielimburgia

    “Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money….Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” –HAN SOLO, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

    Sometimes it seems that all our fussing about party planks and dissecting policy positions to try and figure out how it conforms with Catholic Social Teaching (or the bible, or Agustine/Aquinas) in order to score a candidates vote worthiness is just so much ineffectual parsing that simply leaves the real work of challenging the power of the empire up to the weakest, poorest, and most oppressed of peoples (that is, all the victims of the empire that I both passively and actively support). Somehow in all our sanctimonious parsing about what gets rendered unto Caesar or rendered unto God, Caesar always seems to win by a landslide, at least as it might be reckoned by ‘voting with our dollars.‘

    I worry though if voting is merely making a choice between the ‘lesser of 2 evils‘ (even though choosing among evils is usually so much more pleasurable than choosing among goods!) So I have sometimes chosen not to vote at all. But in as much as every vote is a compromise, an acceptance of fallibility, an admittance of complicity with a world system full of evil and brokenness, even a betrayal of most all that is holy and good; ethically, morally, is NOT voting really any better? Of course sometimes I have ‘thrown my vote away on some third party candidate with no chance of winning.‘ But later my smug moral aloofness from the process plagued me as the worst of candidates got elected and turned out to be even more terrible than I had imagined, and I realize that I had just deferred to others the hard decisions that mature people are compelled to make this side of the vail of tears. So I do plan on voting this year but I also must acknowledge that I am always voting for the potential ruler of a violent, oppressive empire mostly controlled by the wealthy and powerful; that I am colluding with principalities and powers, and that we all walk away form the voting booth with dirt, and maybe even blood on our hands. That’s not to say there wasn’t/isn’t significant differences among emperors though, (even Holy Roman ones) for example, which of these Caesars below could you vote for according to CST?

    Let’s start with *Augustus* (sort of the George Washington of Rome). He was the first and still widely considered one of the greatest of emperors. He’s the guy that coined the term “Pax Romana” although under his rule Rome was continuously at war and he stacked up an impressive body count (I reckon he had a great P.R. department full of clever ‘MadMen’). He left the economy of the empire with a balanced budget though, one of his really great fiscally conservative ideas was to pay Roman soldiers with other peoples land! (btw this idea was later borrowed by our own “Augustus,” George Washington, who paid his revolutionary troops with unconquered Indian land, screwing both veterans and Indians at the same time!).

    Maybe *Julian the Apostate* the last pagan Caesar appeals to some of you. He apparently read a bit of Dostoyevsky’s “The Demons” and ascribed to what Dostoyevsky calls in the book “Shigalovism.” That’s a society where 90% of the folks live as slaves in abject poverty so that the top 10% can live fulfilling lives of studying philosophy, art appreciation, music, hedonistic pleasure, and enhancing civilization merely by their innate superior excellence. Yes Julian ardently persecuted Christianity and futilely tried to break the growing power of the institutionalizing church (in part by stripping clergy of their rights to travel at the expense of the state as they had done previously, hmm…that sounds a lot like he was trying to separate church and state, that’s going to be problematic for some folks). He was big on prayer in schools though, of course the prayers had to be to the deified Julian himself, and for the deified Julian, but at least he got the kids on their knees and off their Ipods!

    A lot of Christians probably won’t find *Diocletian* to their liking (but maybe some of the ‘new atheists might?). He had the nerve to throw all the Christians out of the Roman army (of course one might ask what the heck they were doing there in the first place!). And yes, he outright whacked a lot of Christians, but on the bright side, he did condemn and kill a bunch of folks considered heretics by the church too, saving it some trouble later on. One could say Diocletian followed the teaching of Jesus on that whole ‘don’t try and separate the wheat and tares’ parable, which melded nicely with his ‘just kill em all and let Apollo sort them out,’ approach to dealing with religious differences (later, under that “Liberal” *Constantine I*, heretics sprouted like lentils on a chia pet and we’re still dealing with the consequences!).

    There was *Hadrian* of course, considered a really great emperor (though not by Jews, “may his bones be crushed” (was it Hadrian who said, “there is no civility, only politics,” or was that Emperor Palpatine?). And although he destroyed Jerusalem again and lots of temples and such that he didn’t cotton to, he did invest in lots of other stimulus infrastructure projects etc. like establishing boundaries for the whole Empire. Hadrian was one of those that believed that you could build a wall high enough to keep out all the terrorists and riff-raff (the Scotts, Picts, and Germans, etc.). He was criticized by the senate for being gone from Rome a lot though, but hey, they loved him in Europe!

    And then there’s the last Roman emperor, *Constantine XI Palaiologos*. Lots of folks still admire him (even call him a saint) though he bungled pretty much everything he tried to do. He even started two losing wars in the East that got out of hand, then he crashed the economy, and ultimately he surrendered the whole empire to the Turks. But he at least died at the front of his troops with a sword in his hands in one last suicidal battle against Mehmed II (no un-manned predator drones for him!).

    We’ve got some tough decisions to make and no mistake, but we americans are all children of the empire, and Caesar’s image fills our wallets and our hearts making it all the more challenging to find our way to truth, and so much easier to believe a lie. But like one of the enemies of the empire once said, ‘everyone who seeks the truth will find it.‘ But perhaps we must first, as Yoda, another enemy of the empire taught us: “First you must unlearn what you have learned….Fear is the path to the dark side, Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering…. Beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”

    Of course one could turn that whole thing around; maybe suffering (being hungry, poor, marginalized, and exploited by the empire) can lead to legitimate and righteous anger, and then that anger can lead to aggressive resistance to an unjust and murderous empire. And that resistance can lead to….well at that point you have some more decisions to make. Either choose Passive indifference/active non-participation. Or choose some “hokey religion” (and maybe end up on a cross if you really plan on taking it seriously). Or else choose a “good blaster” like Che’, Han Solo, or Bush/Obama). I could make CST support any and all of those options. Especially since I have the time and coin to sit around kvetching about it. Brothers and sisters, choose wisely, and may the force be with you. Obliged.

    (sorry about the rant and the length, and I always appreciate you insights and wisdom, blessings.)

    • Nate Wildermuth

      Love this comment. May the force be with you, too.

  • Very nice summary of CST!

    I would quibble with this as out of place in the rest of the post, as it bleeds into caricature:

    Ryan and his devotees claim that CST’s principle of subsidiarity is consistent with the current Republican obsession, under tea party sway, with minimizing government at all costs – even at the cost of benefits to the poor, seeming to prefer that the common good be hindered rather than that it be in any way aided by the “big government” bogeyman.

    Ryan has “devotees” that are under the sway of an “obsession” with “minimizing government at all costs.” And would take a hindering of the common good just to avoid a “big government’ bogeyman”. That’s hardly fair to Ryan; and I’m sure to at least some of his (presumably) misguided devotees and their bogeyman.

    The basic outline of the problem is that federal spending (led in large part by Medicare) is on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory. In the short term, deficits are fine. The dollar is the reserve currency of choice, and so our borrowing costs are very low. In the medium term, we’re probably ok too, but with increasing levels of debt, come higher risks. And if interest rates on U.S. debt begin to rise, we could have very serious problems. But in the next 15-25 years, as the Baby Boomers consume massive amounts of federally provided health care services, the spending at some point will be unsustainable. This is a legitimate concern, and Ryan’s point, frequently articulated, is simply that it’s better for us to look for ways to make changes now because they will be much less painful than the cuts we may be compelled to make in the future. They most recent version of the Ryan Medicare plan offers some sensible ideas to address this problem, none of which are particularly draconian.

    Of course, as with anything else in politics, opinions will vary widely as to how well this proposal would work. But the point is that concern about rising spending on entitlements is not some sort of weird obsession divorced from a concern about the common good (a ‘bogeyman,’ if you will). If you are interested in these types of issues, it may be helpful to follow the work of conservative writers like Ramesh Ponnurru, Ross Douthat, Yuval Levin, etc. who address these issues in detail, as your comments above seem to suggest that caricatures rather than characters are filling in some of your thoughts on Ryan’s proposals. Other than that point about the “facts on the ground”, though, I thought this was an excellent summary.

    • Julia Smucker

      I apologize for bleeding into caricature; in retrospect I can see how the terms I used give that impression. I believe the moral critique of the Ryan budget offered by the nuns and bishops and other religious leaders, since 1) the critique is both balanced and prophetic, and the concerns on which it is based are solidly Christian, 2) their unified agreement on this flies in the face of stereotype, which to me gives it serious credibility, and 3) the way in which Ryan has invoked CST in defense of his budget proposal is a prime example of the kind of selective and under-nuanced reading that I am critiquing here (and as I also said, one can find a mirror-image imbalance among Catholic Democrats; I wouldn’t go to Joe Biden for a lesson in CST either, but the nuns and bishops pretty clearly know their stuff). That being said, you’re right that I could have been more charitable in terms of assuming motives. Even when it gets hard to avoid such assumptions to hear the standard party lines, it’s important to look past the sound bites and slogans to the true concerns beneath them. That’s a hard thing to do in today’s political climate, and it’s hard to sort out the legitimate fears from the caricatures and bogeymen, and it’s hard to walk the tightrope of being prophetic as well as dialogical. Hard, but necessary, and I’m trying. Thanks for keeping me honest.

      • John Henry

        I agree completely with the Bishops’ criticisms of the Ryan budget. I guess the points I would make are the following:

        1. The criticisms were of one narrow piece of that budget; basically just food stamps. It had nothing to do with his proposals on Medicare, etc. where the bulk of any meaningful deficit reduction would actually have to come.

        2. There was no possibility of this budget being passed into law; it was a starting point for a negotiation to reduce debt, and it cut programs across the board. It is exceedingly likely that these programs would not have been cut in the final version of any bill.

        3. To criticize one aspect of one possible approach to resolving a widely recognized problem, is not to permanently discredit both the idea that there is a problem or every other approach that individual is involved in developing. Ryan has been very flexible in adjusting his approach in response to criticism (see, e.g., the differences between his most recent Medicare proposal and his previous one).

      • Pinky

        Julia – I was talking earlier about the need for clarity; you’re talking about the need for nuance. Maybe we’re both missing the 800-pound gorilla: people lying. People lying about their own candidates, and especially lying about the opposing candidates. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so bad. Lying about facts, and smearing each others’ motives. When we characterize the other side as a monster, why should we look for common ground? This is a big problem. Maybe statements of agreement on principles can be a first step toward dismantling the nasty system we’ve got going now.

      • “…but the nuns and bishops pretty clearly know their stuff.”

        Though CST teaches that it is not the nuns and bishops that apply CST. That expertise is for the laity with their particular knowledge of economics, etc. This was nicely pointed out in Bishop Morlino’s letter on Ryan’s budget. I suggest you read it.

        Also, the USCCB has not “condemned” the Ryan plan. A committee of the USCCB has done so. But this has not been voted on. Even if it was approved, this does not have morally binding force. That would be reserved to the Ryan’s ordinary to condemn. See here:

        In this case, Ryan’s ordinary has found his plan to be in accord with CST. See Bishop Morlino’s letter again.

        • Julia Smucker

          I never said the USCCB “condemned” the Ryan budget in some binding canonical sense, if you insist on getting hung up on technicalities, but the bishops who wrote the critique that it “fails a basic moral test” were officially authorized to do so by their brother bishops as a body. The faithful are free to disagree with their assessment, but to claim the backing of the hierarchy in doing so would merely be wishful thinking.

      • austin7487

        A bit more about the “alleged” problems with Ryan’s budget and CST:

        • “…if you insist on getting hung up on technicalities…”

          Its not a technicality. The ordinary of a diocese is the teaching and judging authority of a person of that diocese and not the bishops as a whole either by vote or through a committee of the USCCB.

          Bishop Morlino has publically judged that Ryan’s plan is not contradictory to CST. Neither a group of bishops or the USCCB can overrule this. This is Church teaching as authoritative as the teachings you quote. Again, not a technicality.

          • Julia Smucker

            The technicality in question was not whose authority trumps whose, but whether the bishops had “condemned” the Ryan budget. A statement does not have to end in “anathema sit” to make the point that a particular idea is not in harmony with Church teaching. But this local bishop vs. council of bishops argument isn’t really getting us anywhere, and I have a sneaking suspicion we’d both be arguing the reverse if the positions were reversed. I think it’s time to call a stalemate in that regard. All I can say is that I agree with the USCCB’s judgment and disagree with that of Bp. Morlino, for the reasons I named in my response to John Henry above. And the fact that there is disagreement there means that Morlino’s approval does not constitute definitive proof of the plan’s moral soundness.

        • “The technicality in question was not whose authority trumps whose, but whether the bishops had “condemned” the Ryan budget.”

          Except that that would be equivalent to saying I disagree with the preferential choice for the poor or solidarity. The teaching is what it is. The moral judgment is for the local ordinary and not the USCCB.

          “…and I have a sneaking suspicion we’d both be arguing the reverse if the positions were reversed.”

          An assertion without any basis.

          “All I can say is that I agree with the USCCB’s judgment…”

          Except, as documented, the USCCB as a body has not passed judgment. It has only been a statement by one committee which will require the vote of the bishops. Though as noted already, this would be a policy statement and not a binding, moral judgment. It would only be a prudential judgment.

          “And the fact that there is disagreement there means that Morlino’s approval does not constitute definitive proof of the plan’s moral soundness.”

          Again as noted above, the moral soundness is provided, in accord with Catholic teaching, by the judgment of Bishop Morlino. Now if you wish to argue the prudential soundness of the plan, that would be different. This prudential disagreement would be in accord with what the nuns and bishops are doing.

          I do appreciate your continuing to pass my comments on. I have been kept from doing so by others on Vox Nova in the past. This is intellectually honest and I respect you for it.

          • Julia Smucker

            The USCCB said the Ryan budget fails a moral test, not a “prudential” one. This statement is not binding on the faithful, but it is indeed a moral judgment. Please stop splitting that same hair ad nauseam, and please stop minimizing the response written by Bps. Pates and Blaire (who represent two different committees, by the way) as if they were not speaking in an official and representative capacity. I’m getting tired of running around in these circles.

        • If you will permit I will continue the dialogue below.

  • Nate Wildermuth

    Julia, thanks for the summary and the quotes. If I may be presumptuous, I think CST is lacking in one crucial principle: non-violence. Or if I might steal from the Mennonite tradition (among others): non-resistance.

    Governments have almost always been founded upon violence and threats of violence — laws, courts, police, and prisons. Violence is the glue that holds government together. You obey the law, or you endure the wrath of God’s servant (cue the trotting out of Romans 13).

    Contrast this to the ‘intermediate bodies’ that CST references frequently. Intermediate bodies such as the YMCA cannot throw you in a cage for refusing to pay your monthly membership dues. The YMCA cannot kick you in the face, stomp you to the floor, handcuff you, remove you from your family and society, and inject lethal poison into your veins. All the YMCA can do, by itself, is revoke your membership.

    And yet the YMCA still does a terrific good for society. Would it do so if the police and prisons disappeared? I believe so. The Catholic Worker doesn’t call the police, and they seem to be growing last time I looked. They don’t even have membership dues.

    Once you remove the possibility of bloodshed as the guardian of the common good, your entire concept of government changes. How do you defend human rights without penal institutions and police cars? How do you promote human duties without the IRS?

    I think these are fine questions. But until we give up violence as the life-blood of government, we won’t ask them.

    • Julia Smucker

      Nate, I basically share your perspective, but I disagree about non-violence being absent from CST. It doesn’t tend to use that term per se, and it always stops short of pacifism (although recognizing it as a morally valid position especially in the later 20th century), but otherwise there are very strong consistent life overtones.

      Actually, you seem to be pointing to an implicit presence of non-violence in the principle of subsidiarity, which, as I indicated above, resonates with the very Mennonite suspicion of too much power being granted to governments – especially since, as you say, violence is their life-blood.

      I would add that I’ve heard a prominent pacifist speak of a fundamental difference between a military force and a police force: the former has violence as its raison d’etre whereas the latter’s mission is to keep the peace. So I’m not sure penal institutions and police cars are the problem, as long as they are used justly, and there must be accountability for that.

  • austin7487

    Continuing my discussion from above. In particular I refer to the document Apostolos Suos.

    “19. The authority of the Episcopal Conference and its field of action are in strict relation to the authority and action of the diocesan Bishop and the Bishops equivalent to them in law. Bishops “preside in the place of God over the flock whose shepherds they are, as teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship and ministers of government. (…) By divine institution, Bishops have succeeded to the Apostles as Shepherds of the Church”,(71) and they “govern the particular churches entrusted to them as the vicars and ambassadors of Christ, by their counsel, exhortations and example, but also by their authority and sacred power (…). This power, which they personally exercise in Christ’s name is proper, ordinary and immediate” .(72) Its exercise is regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and this is the necessary consequence of the relation between the universal Church and the particular Church, since the latter exists only as a portion of the People of God “in which the one catholic Church is truly present and operative”.(73) In fact, “the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the episcopal College are proper elements of the universal Church that are not derived from the particularity of the churches, but are nevertheless interior to each particular Church”.(74) As part of such regulation, the exercise of the sacred power of the Bishop “can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful”.(75) This provision is found explicitly in the Code of Canon Law where we read: “A diocesan Bishop in the diocese committed to him possesses all the ordinary, proper and immediate power which is required for the exercise of his pastoral office except for those cases which the law or a decree of the Supreme Pontiff reserves to the supreme authority of the Church or to some other ecclesiastical authority”.(76)”

    Here we see that the proper authority is to the bishops of a given diocese and not to the Conference. The local bishop has the “…proper and immediate power” which includes that of judging those of his diocese.

    “20. In the Episcopal Conference the Bishops jointly exercise the episcopal ministry for the good of the faithful of the territory of the Conference; but, for that exercise to be legitimate and binding on the individual Bishops, there is needed the intervention of the supreme authority of the Church which, through universal law or particular mandates, entrusts determined questions to the deliberation of the Episcopal Conference. Bishops, whether individually or united in Conference, cannot autonomously limit their own sacred power in favour of the Episcopal Conference, and even less can they do so in favour of one of its parts, whether the permanent council or a commission or the president. This logic is quite explicit in the canonical norm concerning the exercise of the legislative power of the Bishops assembled in the Episcopal Conference: “The Conference of Bishops can issue general decrees only in those cases in which the common law prescribes it, or a special mandate of the Apostolic See, given either motu proprio or at the request of the Conference, determines it”.(77) In other cases “the competence of individual diocesan Bishops remains intact; and neither the Conference nor its president may act in the name of all the Bishops unless each and every Bishop has given his consent”.(78””

    Here we see the authority of an Episcopal conference is exceptionally limited. Again it is the local bishop who has the right to judge those of his diocese.


    1. The Lord Jesus constituted the Apostles “in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from amongst them”.(2) The Apostles were not chosen and sent by Jesus independently of one another, but rather as part of the group of the Twelve, as the Gospels make clear by the repeatedly used expression, “one of the Twelve”.(3) To all of them together the Lord entrusted the mission of preaching the Kingdom of God,(4) and they were sent by him, not individually, but two by two.(5) At the Last Supper Jesus prayed to the Father for the unity of the Apostles and of those who through their word would believe in him.(6) After his Resurrection and before the Ascension, the Lord reconfirmed Peter in the supreme pastoral office (7) and entrusted to the Apostles the same mission which he had himself received from the Father.(8)
    With the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostolic College showed itself filled with the new vitality which comes from the Paraclete. Peter, “standing with the Eleven”,(9) speaks to the crowd and baptizes a large number of believers; the first community appears united in listening to the teaching of the Apostles (10) and accepts their decision in relation to pastoral problems.(11) It was to the Apostles who had remained in Jerusalem that Paul turned in order to ensure his communion with them and not risk having run in vain.(12) The Apostles’ awareness that they constituted an undivided body was also demonstrated when the question arose whether or not Christians converted from paganism were obliged to observe certain precepts of the Old Law. At that time, in the community of Antioch, “Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and the elders about this question”.(13) In order to examine the problem the Apostles and the elders meet, consult one another and deliberate, guided by the authority of Peter, and finally issue their decision: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…”.(14)
    2. The saving mission which the Lord entrusted to the Apostles will last until the end of the world.(15) For this mission to be carried out, in accordance with Christ’s will, the Apostles themselves “were careful to appoint successors… Bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the Apostles as pastors of the Church”.(16) Indeed, in order to carry out the pastoral ministry, “the Apostles were endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them”,(17) and by the imposition of hands they passed on to their assistants the gift of the Holy Spirit,(18) a gift which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration”.(19)
    “Just as, in accordance with the Lord’s decree, Saint Peter and the rest of the Apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s Successor, and the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, are joined to one another”.(20) Thus, all the Bishops in common have received from Christ the mandate to proclaim the Gospel in every part of the world and are consequently bound to have concern for the whole Church. So too, for the fulfilment of the mission entrusted to them by the Lord, they are held to cooperate with one another and with the Successor of Peter,(21) in whom the Lord established “the lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion”.(22) The individual Bishops are in turn the source and foundation of unity in their particular Churches.(23)
    3. Without prejudice to the power which each Bishop enjoys by divine institution in his own particular Church, the consciousness of being part of an undivided body has caused Bishops throughout the Church’s history to employ, in the fulfilment of their mission, means, structures and ways of communicating which express their communion and solicitude for all the Churches, and prolong the very life of the College of the Apostles: pastoral cooperation, consultation, mutual assistance, etc.
    From the first centuries on, the reality of this communion has found an outstanding and typical expression in the holding of Councils. Worthy of mention among these are, together with the Ecumenical Councils which began with the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Particular Councils, both plenary and provincial, which were frequently held throughout the Church from the second century on.(24)
    The practice of holding Particular Councils continued throughout the Middle Ages. Following the Council of Trent (1545-1563), however, they became less frequent. Nevertheless, the 1917 Code of Canon Law, seeking to revitalize so venerable an institution, included provisions for the celebration of Particular Councils. Canon 281 of that Code spoke of the plenary Council and laid down that it could be held with the authorization of the Supreme Pontiff, who would designate a delegate to convene the Council and preside over it. The same Code called for provincial Councils to be held at least every twenty years (25) and conferences or assemblies of the Bishops in each province to be held at least every five years, in order to deal with the problems of the Dioceses and prepare for the provincial Council.(26) The new Code of Canon Law of 1983 retains a considerable body of laws governing Particular Councils, both plenary and provincial.(27)
    4. Alongside the tradition of Particular Councils and in harmony with it, starting in the last century, for historical, cultural and sociological reasons, Conferences of Bishops began to be established in different countries. These Conferences were set up for specific pastoral purposes, as a means of responding to different ecclesiastical questions of common interest and finding appropriate solutions to them. Unlike Councils, they had a stable and permanent character. The Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars issued on 24 August 1889 mentions them expressly by the name “Episcopal Conferences”.(28)
    The Second Vatican Council, in the Decree Christus Dominus, not only expressed the hope that the venerable institution of Particular Councils would be revitalized (cf. No. 36), but also dealt explicitly with Episcopal Conferences, acknowledging the fact that they had been established in many countries and laying down particular norms regarding them (cf. Nos. 37-38). Indeed, the Council recognized the usefulness and the potential of these structures, and judged that “it would be in the highest degree helpful if in all parts of the world the Bishops of each country or region would meet regularly, so that by sharing their wisdom and experience and exchanging views they may jointly formulate a programme for the common good of the Church”.(29)
    5. In 1966, Pope Paul VI, by the Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae, called for Episcopal Conferences to be established wherever they did not yet exist; those already existing were to draw up proper statutes; and in cases where it was not possible to establish a Conference, the Bishops in question were to join already existing Episcopal Conferences; Episcopal Conferences comprising several nations or even international Episcopal Conferences could be established.(30) Several years later, in 1973, the Pastoral Directory for Bishops stated once again that “the Episcopal Conference is established as a contemporary means of contributing in a varied and fruitful way to the practice of collegiality. These Conferences admirably help to foster a spirit of communion with the Universal Church and among the different local Churches.(31) Finally, the Code of Canon Law, promulgated by me on January 25, 1983, established specific norms (Canons 447-459) regulating the objectives and the powers of Episcopal Conferences, as well as their erection, membership and functioning.
    The collegial spirit which inspired the establishment of Episcopal Conferences and guides their activity is also the reason why Conferences of different countries should cooperate among themselves, as the Second Vatican Council recommended (32) and the subsequent canonical legislation reaffirmed.(33)
    6. Following the Second Vatican Council, Episcopal Conferences have developed significantly and have become the preferred means for the Bishops of a country or a specific territory to exchange views, consult with one another and cooperate in promoting the common good of the Church: “in recent years they have become a concrete, living and efficient reality throughout the world”.(34) Their importance is seen in the fact that they contribute effectively to unity between the Bishops, and thus to the unity of the Church, since they are a most helpful means of strengthening ecclesial communion. Even so, the growing extent of their activities has raised some questions of a theological and pastoral nature, especially with regard to their relationship to the individual Diocesan Bishops.
    7. Twenty years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held in 1985, acknowledged the pastoral usefulness, indeed the need, in the present circumstances of Episcopal Conferences. It also observed that “in their manner of proceeding, Episcopal Conferences must keep in mind the good of the Church, that is, the service of unity and the inalienable responsibility of each Bishop in relation to the universal Church and to his particular Church”.(35) The Synod therefore called for a fuller and more profound study of the theological and, consequently, the juridical status of Episcopal Conferences, and above all of the issue of their doctrinal authority, in the light of No. 38 of the conciliar Decree Christus Dominus and Canons 447 and 753 of the Code of Canon Law.(36)
    The present document also is a fruit of that study. In strict fidelity to the documents of the Second Vatican Council, its aim is to set out the basic theological and juridical principles regarding Episcopal Conferences, and to offer the juridical synthesis indispensable for helping to establish a theologically well-grounded and juridically sound praxis for the Conferences.

    8. In the universal communion of the People of God, for the service of which the Lord instituted the apostolic ministry, the collegial union of Bishops shows forth the nature of the Church. Being on earth the source and the beginning of the Kingdom of God, the Church is “a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race”.(37) Just as the Church is one and universal, so also is the Episcopacy one and indivisible,(38) extending as far as the visible structure of the Church and expressing her rich variety. The visible source and foundation of this unity is the Roman Pontiff, the head of the episcopal body.
    The unity of the Episcopacy is one of the constitutive elements of the unity of the Church.(39) In fact, through the body of Bishops “the apostolic tradition is manifested and preserved throughout the world”; (40) and the essential components of ecclesial communion are the sharing of the same faith, the deposit of which is entrusted to their care, the taking part in the same Sacraments, “the regular and fruitful distribution of which they direct by their authority”,(41) and the loyalty and obedience shown to them as Pastors of the Church. This communion, precisely because it extends throughout the whole Church, forms the structure also of the College of Bishops, and is “an organic reality which demands a juridical form, and is at the same time animated by charity”.(42)
    9. Collegially, the order of Bishops is, “together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head, the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church”.(43) As it is well known, in teaching this doctrine, the Second Vatican Council likewise noted that the Successor of Peter fully retains “his power of primacy over all, pastors as well as the general faithful. For in virtue of his office, that is, as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he can always exercise this power freely”.(44)
    The supreme power which the body of Bishops possesses over the whole Church cannot be exercised by them except collegially, either in a solemn way when they gather together in ecumenical Council, or spread throughout the world, provided that the Roman Pontiff calls them to act collegially or at least freely accepts their joint action. In such collegial acts, the Bishops exercise a power which is proper to them for the good of their faithful and of the whole Church, and, although conscientiously respecting the primacy and pre-eminence of the Roman Pontiff, head of the College of Bishops, they are not acting as his vicars or delegates.(45) There, it is clear that they are acting as Bishops of the Catholic Church, for the benefit of the whole Church, and as such they are recognized and respected by the faithful.
    10. Equivalent collegial actions cannot be carried out at the level of individual particular Churches or of gatherings of such Churches called together by their respective Bishops. At the level of an individual Church, it is in the name of the Lord that the diocesan Bishop leads the flock entrusted to him, and he does so as the proper, ordinary and immediate Pastor. His actions are strictly personal, not collegial, even when he has a sense of being in communion. Moreover, although he has the fullness of the power of the Sacrament of Orders, he does not exercise the supreme power which belongs to the Roman Pontiff and to the College of Bishops as elements proper to the universal Church, elements present within each particular Church in order that it may fully be Church, that is, a particular presence of the universal Church with all the essential elements pertaining thereto.(46)
    At the level of particular Churches grouped together by geographic areas (by countries, regions, etc.), the Bishops in charge do not exercise pastoral care jointly with collegial acts equal to those of the College of Bishops.
    11. To provide a correct framework for better understanding how collegial union is manifested in the joint pastoral action of the Bishops of a geographic area, it is useful to recall—even briefly—how individual Bishops, in their ordinary pastoral ministry, are related to the universal Church. It is necessary, in fact, to remember that the membership of individual Bishops in the College of Bishops is expressed, relative to the entire Church, not only in so-called collegial acts, but also in the care for the whole Church which, although not exercised by acts of jurisdiction, nonetheless contributes greatly to the good of the universal Church. All Bishops, in fact, must promote and defend the unity of faith and the discipline which is common to the whole Church, and foster every activity which is common to the whole Church, especially in efforts to increase faith and to make the light of truth shine on all people.(47) “For the rest, it is true that by governing well their own Church as a portion of the universal Church, they themselves are effectively contributing to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which is also the body of the Churches”.(48)
    Bishops contribute to the good of the universal Church not only by the proper exercise of the munus regendi in their particular Churches, but also by the exercise of the offices of teaching and sanctifying.
    Certainly the individual Bishops, as teachers of the faith, do not address the universal community of the faithful except through the action of the entire College of Bishops. In fact, only the faithful entrusted to the pastoral care of a particular Bishop are required to accept his judgement given in the name of Christ in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. In effect, “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth”; (49) and their teaching, inasmuch as it transmits faithfully and illustrates the faith to be believed and applied in living, is of great benefit to the whole Church.
    The individual Bishop too, as “steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood”,(50) in the exercise of his office of sanctifying contributes greatly to the Church’s work of glorifying God and making men holy. This is a work of the whole Church of Christ, acting in every legitimate liturgical celebration carried out in communion with the Bishop and under his direction.
    12. When the Bishops of a territory jointly exercise certain pastoral functions for the good of their faithful, such joint exercise of the episcopal ministry is a concrete application of collegial spirit (affectus collegialis),(51) which “is the soul of the collaboration between the Bishops at the regional, national and international levels”.(52) Nonetheless, this territorially based exercise of the episcopal ministry never takes on the collegial nature proper to the actions of the order of Bishops as such, which alone holds the supreme power over the whole Church. In fact, the relationship between individual Bishops and the College of Bishops is quite different from their relationship to the bodies set up for the above-mentioned joint exercise of certain pastoral tasks.
    The collegiality of the actions of the body of Bishops is linked to the fact that “the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches”.(53) “It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church”.(54) Likewise the College of Bishops is not to be understood as the aggregate of the Bishops who govern the particular Churches, nor as the result of their communion; rather, as an essential element of the universal Church, it is a reality which precedes the office of being the head of a particular Church.(55) In fact, the power of the College of Bishops over the whole Church is not the result of the sum of the powers of the individual Bishops over their particular Churches; it is a pre-existing reality in which individual Bishops participate. They have no competence to act over the whole Church except collegially. Only the Roman Pontiff, head of the College, can individually exercise supreme power over the Church. In other words, “episcopal collegiality in the strict and proper sense belongs only to the entire College of Bishops, which as a theological subject is indivisible”.(56) And this is the express will of the Lord.(57) This power, however, should not be understood as dominion; rather, essential to it is the notion of service, because it is derived from Christ, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.(58)
    13. Groupings of particular Churches are related to the Churches of which they are composed, because of the fact that those groupings are based on ties of common traditions of Christian life and because the Church is rooted in human communities united by language, culture and history. These relationships are very different from the relationship of mutual interiority of the universal Church with respect to the particular Churches.
    Likewise, the organizations formed by the Bishops of a certain territory (country, region, etc.) and the Bishops who are members of them share a relationship which, although presenting a certain similarity, is really quite different from that which exists between the College of Bishops and the individual Bishops. The binding effect of the acts of the episcopal ministry jointly exercised within Conferences of Bishops and in communion with the Apostolic See derives from the fact that the latter has constituted the former and has entrusted to them, on the basis of the sacred power of the individual Bishops, specific areas of competence.
    The joint exercise of certain acts of the episcopal ministry serves to make effective the solicitude of each Bishop for the whole Church, notably expressed in fraternal assistance to other local Churches, especially those which are closer and more needy,(59) and which likewise is conveyed in the union of efforts and aims with the other Bishops of the same geographic area, in order to promote both the common good and the good of the individual Churches.(60)

    14. Episcopal Conferences constitute a concrete application of the collegial spirit. Basing itself on the prescriptions of the Second Vatican Council, the Code of Canon Law gives a precise description: “The Conference of Bishops, a permanent institution, is a grouping of Bishops of a given country or territory whereby, according to the norm of law, they jointly exercise certain pastoral functions on behalf of the Christian faithful of their territory in view of promoting that greater good which the Church offers humankind, especially through forms and programs of the apostolate which are fittingly adapted to the circumstances of the time and place”.(61)
    15. The Council clearly highlighted the need in our day for harmonizing the strengths deriving from the interchange of prudence and experience within the Episcopal Conference, since “Bishops are frequently unable to fulfill their office suitably and fruitfully unless they work more harmoniously and closely every day with other Bishops”.(62) It is not possible to give an exhaustive list of the issues which require such cooperation but it escapes no one that issues which currently call for the joint action of Bishops include the promotion and safeguarding of faith and morals, the translation of liturgical books, the promotion and formation of priestly vocations, the preparation of catechetical aids, the promotion and safeguarding of Catholic universities and other educational centres, the ecumenical task, relations with civil authorities, the defence of human life, of peace, and of human rights, also in order to ensure their protection in civil legislation, the promotion of social justice, the use of the means of social communication, etc.
    16. Episcopal Conferences are, as a rule, national, that is, they bring together the Bishops of one country only,(63) since the links of culture, tradition and common history, as well as the interconnection of social relations among citizens of the same nation require more constant collaboration among the members of the episcopate of that territory than the ecclesial circumstances of another territorial entity might require. Nevertheless, canonical legislation makes provision for an Episcopal Conference to “be erected for a smaller or larger territory so that it includes either the Bishops of some particular churches constituted in a given territory or those presiding over particular churches belonging to different countries”.(64) It follows that there can be Episcopal Conferences of varying territorial extension or of a super-national extension. The judgement on the circumstances relative to persons or things which suggest a greater or lesser extension of the territory of a Conference is reserved to the Holy See. In fact, “after hearing the Bishops involved, it pertains to the supreme Church authority alone to erect, suppress or change the Conferences of Bishops”.(65)
    17. Since the purpose of the Conferences of Bishops is to provide for the common good of the particular Churches of a territory through the collaboration of the sacred pastors to whose care they are entrusted, every individual Conference is to include all the diocesan Bishops of the territory and those who in law are equivalent to them, as well as coadjutor Bishops and the other titular Bishops who exercise a special task entrusted to them by the Holy See or by the Episcopal Conference itself.(66) In the plenary meetings of the Episcopal Conference, the deliberative vote belongs to diocesan Bishops and to those who are equivalent to them in law, as well as to coadjutor Bishops; and this by reason of the law itself. The statutes of the Conference cannot provide otherwise.(67) The President and Vice-President of the Episcopal Conference must be chosen only from among the members who are diocesan Bishops.(68) As regards auxiliary Bishops and other titular Bishops who are members of the Episcopal Conference, the statues of the Conference should determine whether their vote is deliberative or consultative.(69) In this respect, the proportion between diocesan Bishops and auxiliary and other titular Bishops should be taken into account, in order that a possible majority of the latter may not condition the pastoral government of the diocesan Bishops. However, it is appropriate that the statutes of Episcopal Conferences allow for the presence of Bishops emeriti, and that they have a consultative vote. Particular care should be taken to enable them to take part in some study Commissions, when these deal with issues in which a Bishop emeritus is particularly competent. Given the nature of the Episcopal Conference, a member’s participation in the Conference cannot be delegated to someone else.
    18. Every Episcopal Conference has its own statutes, which it frames itself. These must however receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See. Among other things these are “to provide for the holding of plenary meetings of the Conference as well as for the establishment of a permanent council, of a general secretariat of the Conference, and other offices and commissions which in the judgement of the Conference will help it fulfil its aims more effectively”.(70) Such aims, however, require that an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary sessions be avoided. The essential fact must be kept in mind that the Episcopal Conferences with their commissions and offices exist to be of help to the Bishops and not to substitute for them.
    19. The authority of the Episcopal Conference and its field of action are in strict relation to the authority and action of the diocesan Bishop and the Bishops equivalent to them in law. Bishops “preside in the place of God over the flock whose shepherds they are, as teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship and ministers of government. (…) By divine institution, Bishops have succeeded to the Apostles as Shepherds of the Church”,(71) and they “govern the particular churches entrusted to them as the vicars and ambassadors of Christ, by their counsel, exhortations and example, but also by their authority and sacred power (…). This power, which they personally exercise in Christ’s name is proper, ordinary and immediate”.(72) Its exercise is regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and this is the necessary consequence of the relation between the universal Church and the particular Church, since the latter exists only as a portion of the People of God “in which the one catholic Church is truly present and operative”.(73) In fact, “the primacy of the Bishop of Rome and the episcopal College are proper elements of the universal Church that are not derived from the particularity of the churches, but are nevertheless interior to each particular Church”.(74) As part of such regulation, the exercise of the sacred power of the Bishop “can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful”.(75) This provision is found explicitly in the Code of Canon Law where we read: “A diocesan Bishop in the diocese committed to him possesses all the ordinary, proper and immediate power which is required for the exercise of his pastoral office except for those cases which the law or a decree of the Supreme Pontiff reserves to the supreme authority of the Church or to some other ecclesiastical authority”.(76)
    20. In the Episcopal Conference the Bishops jointly exercise the episcopal ministry for the good of the faithful of the territory of the Conference; but, for that exercise to be legitimate and binding on the individual Bishops, there is needed the intervention of the supreme authority of the Church which, through universal law or particular mandates, entrusts determined questions to the deliberation of the Episcopal Conference. Bishops, whether individually or united in Conference, cannot autonomously limit their own sacred power in favour of the Episcopal Conference, and even less can they do so in favour of one of its parts, whether the permanent council or a commission or the president. This logic is quite explicit in the canonical norm concerning the exercise of the legislative power of the Bishops assembled in the Episcopal Conference: “The Conference of Bishops can issue general decrees only in those cases in which the common law prescribes it, or a special mandate of the Apostolic See, given either motu proprio or at the request of the Conference, determines it”.(77) In other cases “the competence of individual diocesan Bishops remains intact; and neither the Conference nor its president may act in the name of all the Bishops unless each and every Bishop has given his consent”.(78)
    21. The joint exercise of the episcopal ministry also involves the teaching office. The Code of Canon Law establishes the fundamental norm in this regard: “Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the Bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in Conferences of Bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own Bishops with a sense of religious respect (religioso animi obsequio)”.(79) Apart from this general norm the Code also establishes, more concretely, some areas of doctrinal competence of the Conferences of Bishops, such as providing “that catechisms are issued for its own territory if such seems useful, with the prior approval of the Apostolic See”,(80) and the approval of editions of the books of Sacred Scripture and their translations.(81)
    The concerted voice of the Bishops of a determined territory, when, in communion with the Roman Pontiff, they jointly proclaim the catholic truth in matters of faith and morals, can reach their people more effectively and can make it easier for their faithful to adhere to the magisterium with a sense of religious respect. In faithfully exercising their teaching office, the Bishops serve the word of God, to which their teaching is subject, they listen to it devoutly, guard it scrupulously and explain it faithfully in such a way that the faithful receive it in the best manner possible.(82) Since the doctrine of the faith is a common good of the whole Church and a bond of her communion, the Bishops, assembled in Episcopal Conference, must take special care to follow the magisterium of the universal Church and to communicate it opportunely to the people entrusted to them.
    22. In dealing with new questions and in acting so that the message of Christ enlightens and guides people’s consciences in resolving new problems arising from changes in society, the Bishops assembled in the Episcopal Conference and jointly exercizing their teaching office are well aware of the limits of their pronouncements. While being official and authentic and in communion with the Apostolic See, these pronouncements do not have the characteristics of a universal magisterium. For this reason the Bishops are to be careful to avoid interfering with the doctrinal work of the Bishops of other territories, bearing in mind the wider, even world-wide, resonance which the means of social communication give to the events of a particular region.
    Taking into account that the authentic magisterium of the Bishops, namely what they teach insofar as they are invested with the authority of Christ, must always be in communion with the Head of the College and its members,(83) when the doctrinal declarations of Episcopal Conferences are approved unanimously, they may certainly be issued in the name of the Conferences themselves, and the faithful are obliged to adhere with a sense of religious respect to that authentic magisterium of their own Bishops. However, if this unanimity is lacking, a majority alone of the Bishops of a Conference cannot issue a declaration as authentic teaching of the Conference to which all the faithful of the territory would have to adhere, unless it obtains the recognitio of the Apostolic See, which will not give it if the majority requesting it is not substantial. The intervention of the Apostolic See is analogous to that required by the law in order for the Episcopal Conference to issue general decrees.(84) The recognitio of the Holy See serves furthermore to guarantee that, in dealing with new questions posed by the accelerated social and cultural changes characteristic of present times, the doctrinal response will favour communion and not harm it, and will rather prepare an eventual intervention of the universal magisterium.”

    Here we see that, while an Episcopal conference can preach magisterially, it must do so with the unanimous consent of the bishops or the consent of the Pope. As noted, this has not been the case on the statements of some bishops on the Ryan plan. A committee has submitted for approval but this has not happened. I doubt it will.

    This is not an argument ad naseam, it is an argument in accord with Catholic teaching.
    See the full document here:

    • Julia Smucker

      Thank you for this document, which I think serves the point that the matter is more complex than ordinary vs. council. Can we at least agree that neither Morlino’s assessment nor the USCCB’s (or the committees represented by Pates and Blaire or however you want to slice it) is definitively binding?

      • I’m still not sure I agree with your summation. Here will be my final link (at least for a while) written by Bishop Vasa in regard to this:

        I thank you for your respectful dialogue.

        • Kurt

          Bishop Morlino has publically judged that Ryan’s plan is not contradictory to CST.

          Actually, he didn’t. Morlino judged himself incompetent to understand if the Ryan plan conforms to CST. He might have a good point.

        • Actually, here is the money quote:

          “Thus, it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan’s specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission. But, as I’ve said, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one’s right to a good reputation.)”

          What Bishop Morlino is saying is that clergy (including Bishops Blaire and Pates) are not to form specific policies. That is the role of the laity. But he does quite clearly state (as is the role of a layman’s bishop) to pronounce whether what that layman is or is not doing is in according with Catholic teaching. In this case Bishop Morlino is stating clearly that “…Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one’s right to a good reputation.)”

          Thus for Ryan’s bishop, Ryan is not outside of CST.