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I heard Pope Francis use the phrase "reciprocal subsidiarity" at his address to the U.S. Congress.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

— Via the Catholic Herald

I'm just wondering what he meant by that and if the Holy Father has talked about that in the past.

It seems to me that reciprocal subsidiarity is at the very best a friendly amorphous blob and at the very worst the exact opposite of subsidiarity.

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    I vote to close for two reasons: (1) answers will be users' opinions/interpretations (2) it's politics; what does this have to do with Christianity? – Geremia Sep 26 '15 at 11:25
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    Christianity has everything to do with politics, because it is through politics that a just society is created. Pope Francis is talking about how to live in society: "Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself" -- and it's that last exhortation which is probably what he meant by "reciprocal subsidiarity". – Andrew Leach Sep 26 '15 at 12:26
  • @germina subsidiarity is one of the pillars of Catholic Social teaching – Peter Turner Sep 26 '15 at 14:55
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    @Geremia Anything official said by the Pope can reasonably be assumed to be related to Christianity. – DJClayworth Sep 26 '15 at 19:23
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    @PeterTurner: Yes, subsidiarity, but not "reciprocal subsidiarity". – Geremia Sep 26 '15 at 23:01
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The principle of subsidiarity is restated from earlier documents in the Catechism:

1883. ... The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."7

7 Centesimus annus 48 §4; cf. Pius X Quadragesimo anno I, 184–186

Reciprocal subsidiarity is — on the face of it — meaningless. While subsidiarity is asserting the independence of a lower order against the interference of a higher order, that higher order is immune to the lower order's interference simply by virtue of being the higher order.

But subsidiarity is not just protection from interference. It is the support and co-ordination of activities with the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. Subsidiarity commonly means that the government should guide lower communities to work together to the common good.

It is this which can be reciprocal. Governments should listen to their communities to understand what the common good actually is. Building a nation is not pure imposition (which directly goes against subsidiarity) or guiding/defining boundaries which allow local determination but which does not further the common good, pitting local governments against each other and the State*. The common good is the good of all. Everyone has to put themselves at the service of others, within their own sphere of responsibility.

The Pope was addressing both Houses of the Legislature in what is arguably the most powerful country in the world. He was saying that for a government to be a good government, it has to allow itself to be guided by its people in order that it can do as it must and serve the good of the people.


*State here means the top level of government: Federal in the US, Parliament in the UK, etc.

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