The co-founder of the Acton institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, Fr. Robert Sirico calls St. John Paul II “the Pope of Subsidiarity” for a number of excellent reasons: opposition to Marxism, opposition to impersonal market economies, importance of the dignity of human work for persons, debt-forgiveness, opposition to population control, and fostering entrepreneurship. Most of these points appear in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, but also in Laborem Exercens.
JPII’s call for a year of jubilee at the second millennium was no ideological game. He truly meant for persons enslaved to debt, even nations enslaved by other nations, to be relieved of their burdens in some small way:
I don’t recall John Paul ever saying that the debts of developing nations should simply be forgiven unconditionally. He was very conscious of the Church’s teachings about commutative justice and the way that this demands that we keep our promises. He was not blind to the fact that there was a strong likelihood that outright debt cancellation would destroy many developing nations’ credit ratings which are essential to obtain foreign capital. John Paul did, however, ask lending nations to be generous in the way that they sought to lighten the debt burdens of many developing nations.
That said, there was an entire movement called Jubilee Coalition leading up to the year 2000 to implement debt relief as represented by a majority of the world’s economy at the time 1998 (US, UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Russia). In response,
US Congress responded to the growing pressure to address debt relief issues in 2000 by committing $769 million to bilateral and multilateral debt relief.
While subsidiarity is not all about debt relief or even solely a financial issue, it is impressive to know that JPII’s call for jubilee was carried out in a semi-effective way. I will close with 2 qoutes from Fr. Sirico similar to my opening remarks on locality, and the latter on work as defined in Laborem Exercens:
1) In a sense one might indeed refer to John Paul as the Pope of Subsidiarity. No previous pope, including Pope Pius XXI, has outlined in such depth and detail and applied it so manifestly to the modern Welfare State as John Paul did. He showed the levels of society needed to meet human needs where they actually existed: when “neighbors act as neighbors to those in need” and also identified the way in which an erroneous effort leads only to creating expensive and ineffective bureaucracies that fail to see the deepest needs of the human heart.
2) The encyclical underscores the Christian tradition that there are two dimensions to human work. The first is the objective-transitive dimension: the effect of an act of work upon the world. The second is the subjective-intransitive dimension: the effect of the same act of work upon the person who initiates it. It can either promote virtue or vice.