Contemporary Issue: Role of the State


The Role of the State at its Essence




"[T]he safety of the commonwealth is not only the first law, but it is a government's whole reason of existence." (RN, 35)



"The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of civil authorities. " (PIT, 54)

Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II 

"It is the task of the State to provide for the defence and preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces." (CA, 40)

What the State Must Ensure for its Citizens

In Centesimus Annus, Pope Saint John Paul II distilled seven key elements that any governing State must ensure:

  1. The right to life (and CA points out that an integral part of this is the right of the child to develop in the mother’s womb from the moment of conception).
  2. The right to live in a united family.
  3. The right to live in a moral environment (conducive to the growth of a child’s personality) .
  4. The right to develop one’s intelligence and freedom (in seeking and knowing the truth).
  5. The right to work  (and from that work to support oneself and one’s dependents).
  6. The right to freely establish a family (to have and rear children through the responsible exercise of one’s sexuality).
  7. The right to religious freedom (understood as the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person). 

What should and must the state do, and not do, regarding encouraging the economy?

  1. Guarantee individual freedom.
  2. Guarantee private property rights.
  3. Ensure a stable currency.
  4. Ensure efficient services are provided.
  5. Create conditions which will ensure job opportunities, by stimulating those activities where they are lacking, and supporting them in moments of crisis.
  6. Intervene when monopolies create delays or obstacles to development.
  7. In exceptional circumstances, the state should exercise a substitute function in a crisis or when getting started. This, however, must be as brief as possible.
  8. The state should avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of state intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedoms.

The State, with regards to forms of government that it may take:

"The right to rule is not necessarily, however, bound up with any special mode of government. It may take this or that form" (ID, 4)

Government must be For the People:

"Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous without the presence of those who, invested with legal authority, preserve its institutions and do all that is necessary to sponsor actively the interests of all its members." (PIT, 46)
"Government should…be administered for the well-being of the citizens, because they who govern others possess authority solely for the welfare of the State."(ID, 5)
"Citizens must feel themselves represented by the public authorities in respect for their freedom." (Pope Francis, World Day of Peace Message, 1 January 2014, 8)
“Furthermore, the civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual or of some few persons, inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all.”(ID, 5)
"[The State]has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the workingman."(MEM, 20)

On limits to government:

"It is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, co-ordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily." (PIT, 60)
"Governmental authority, therefore, is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience, since "it is right to obey God rather than men". Indeed, the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results in shameful abuse." (PIT, 51) 

On the relationship between the Church and the State:

"The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper." (DCE, 28)

Related Thoughts on Role of the State

In this episode, CAPP looks at homelessness and how young volunteers at a high-tech soup kitchen are using Catholic Social Teaching (CST) to make their dreams of helping others become a reality. We also introduce the 3 Key Principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity, and Subsidiarity - to those new to CST. Taken from "3 Principles that Can Change the World: "See, Judge, Act" Episode 1"
Centesimus Annus demonstrates the greatest depth of economic understanding of any magisterial document and contains a modern appreciation for the dynamic nature of free exchange and the way wealth is produced. Indeed, in its breadth and depth, it has been called “a completely new synthesis previously unseen in any other single work of religious reflection on the economy”. Taken from "What Makes Saint John Paul the Great's "Centesimus Annus" So Important?"
I invite you to look around at the new things which surround us and in which we find ourselves… (Saint John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991) Taken from "Catholic Social Teaching 101"

Related Speakers / Panelists / Authors on: Role of the State

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Just a Thought
THE CENTESIMUS ANNUS PRO PONTIFICE 2015 STATEMENT - "A Reformed Market Economy: Entrepreneurship for Human Development” - is the result of the May 2013 challenge by Pope Francis to members of CAPP  for recommendations on how the market economy might be made more sensitive to the needs of the poor and marginalized.   Read more