Religious Ideas and
Subsidiarity and Catholic
Style of Ministry
J. Bryan Hehir
As a procedural principle, subsidiarity is conservative in political terms. But in the broader context of Catholic teaching, subsidiarity supports the engagement of all major social actors, including the state, in the obligatory task of meeting the basic rights of each person.
IN ADDRESSING THE THEMATIC CONCERNS OF THIS VOLUME, the role of religion in the renewal of American democracy, this chapter will focus on one religious tradition, Roman Catholicism, as a social actor in American society and polity. In other places, I have argued that religious traditions bring three resources to any society: ideas, institutions, and a community. 1 The way in which these three elements of a religious tradition are conceived, expressed, and related to secular discourse and civil polity varies substantially among the great religions of the world and even within the confines of Western Christianity. Hence it is necessary to sort out the different expressions of ideas, institutions, and community within each tradition. Religious traditions seek to interpret and provide meaning for personal and social experience; in this sense they shape an intellectual tradition. Among traditions, differentiation is evident in terms of the range and scope of the intellectual content of a belief system, in terms of the importance given to the role of ideas within the religious community, and in the emphasis placed on sharing this system of meaning with the wider society in which believers live and work. Similarly, on the institutional axis, one can compare among traditions the importance given to the establishment of social institutions as an expression of a religious vision, and the degree to which these institutions are seen as contributing to the welfare of the wider secular society. Finally, there are multiple variations concerning the way in which religious