The fact that Catholics are notoriously stingy in giving to private charities is revealing. They would rather have the state take everyone’s money and redistribute it (frequently ineffectively as countless studies have shown), rather than exercise their responsibilities and give to charitable organizations, or, God forbid, actually help the poor directly.
This attitude is encouraged by a 2004 video and publication of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled In the Footsteps of Jesus. The program lists the following seven themes of Catholic social teaching:
1. The life and dignity of the human person;
2. call to family, community and participation;
3. rights and responsibilities;
4. option for and with the poor and vulnerable;
5. the dignity of work and the rights of workers;
7. care for God’s creation.
The problem is not with the list itself. The problem is with the glaring omission—subsidiarity. This principle, which has always been part of much Catholic political thought, was first stated by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, and then formally defined by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno. Pius wrote, that as it is wrong to withdraw from the individuals and commit to the community at large [i.e., the state] what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so, too, it is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller bodies.”
While the USCCB document, in the section "Call to Family, Community and Participation", does quote Pius XII saying: “The State must not absorb the individual or the family . . . .”, the rest of that section focuses on the sacredness of the family and the duty of the Catholic citizen to be active in politics. In the section of Rights and Responsibilities, where one might think that the document might stress the duty of private action first, prior to state action in helping others, there is only one sentence on duties: “The Church recognizes that with rights come responsibilities. We each have duties to one another and to our families, to respect the rights of others and to work for the common good.” There is nothing further on the subject, and I think that the reader would agree that this sentence is much too vague to mean anything to anyone, while the list of rights given is almost endless.
So what this booklet and film say is true, but the glaring omission of subsidiarity and its explanation, is productive of the status quo regarding Catholics supporting state action in every field, supporting political candidates who tend to agree with that, even thought they are anti-life, yet not lifting a finger to help those in need personally.
In Luke 21: 1-3 we read: “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’”