By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 1, 2010 ( – The Acton Institute applauded the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' demand for reform of national health care legislation. But the Catholic economic think tank believes an issue remains to be voiced: the need for subsidiarity in health care.

On the Acton Institute PowerBlog, Director of Research Dr. Samuel Gregg wrote that the USCCB was right to lay a threefold stress on “the protection of innocent life from the use of lethal force from conception to natural death,” “the maintenance of conscience protections,” and “the realization of universal access to healthcare for all, especially the poor and migrants” in the health care debate. But Gregg says they overlooked the time-tested Catholic principle of social and economic justice called 'subsidiarity.'

“The truth,” Gregg explained, “is that the USCCB's professional social justice bureaucrats have a long history of playing down or even ignoring the implications of the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity isn't, for example, even listed as one of the “Themes of Catholic Teaching” on the Justice, Peace and Development section of the USCCB's website. It is long past the time for that to change.”

Subsidiarity is a Catholic principle of social order that puts a check on government interference in roles that other members of a society can do better and have a responsibility to perform. Gregg emphasized that subsidiarity is neither “anti-government” nor “anti-state” but rather recognizes the importance of government for the common good. Under subsidiarity, government should support – but not dominate – the facilitation of the common good through the actions of individuals and communities.

Gregg points out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1883) explains that in the practice of subsidiarity, “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.”

Gregg argues that “the massive expansion of Federal government control over healthcare in the United States” should provoke the USCCB to acknowledge subsidiarity “as a vital principle for Catholics.” He praised those bishops who have made clear that “striving to widen access to healthcare need not automatically translate into the state assuming a dominant role.”

Distinguished by Gregg's praise were Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, and Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph. In a pastoral letter to Catholics in Kansas, the bishops affirmed that subsidiarity must be “the preamble to the Work of Reform” and denied that the Catholic Church has ever sought the “socialization of medical services” contrary to Catholic leftists claiming to hold the banner of social justice.

Gregg also highlighted Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, who defended the need for the principle of subsidiarity on the basis of protecting patient choice and guaranteeing the individual the most control over health care. Nickless called any legislation “suspect” which undermines the ability of the private sector to perform well its own responsibilities. A government monopoly, the bishop explained, would leave patients at the mercy of “bureaucratic standards” – i.e. quotas and “best procedures” – relatively powerless to change them.

“The proper role of the government is to regulate the private sector, in order to foster healthy competition and to curtail abuses,” he said.

See related LifeSiteNews reports:

Kansas Bishops Criticize Healthcare over Abortion, Failure to Respect Subsidiarity

Another Bishop Says ObamaCare Violates Catholic Social Teaching

Bishop Nickless: “No Health Care Reform is Better than the Wrong Health Care Reform”