The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development


The Catholic social teaching principle of Subsidiarity is about empowering communities. Taking account of subsidiarity - mana whakahaere - means ensuring decision making happens at the most appropriate level so all those affected can contribute.

Empowering Communities

Taking account of subsidiarity means ensuring decision-making happens at the most appropriate level, so all those affected can contribute.

Larger organisations such as governments or international agencies should not abandon their responsibilities but must work in partnership with local communities and groups with an attitude of humility.

Local groups have important insights into what is best for their communities. They need to have a say and to influence the outcome.


Searching the Scriptures...

Social Justice teaching is founded on firm scriptural foundations.

  • No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit; They should not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
    Isaiah 65:20-22
  • When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard, you shall leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.
    Leviticus 19:9-10

...And in the light of Catholic social teaching.

  • ‘The principle of subsidiarity is a teaching 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.’
    Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1919)
  • ‘...together we want to give voice to all those who suffer, to all those who have no voice and are not heard.'
    Pope Francis, September 20, 2016
  • ‘It is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organisation to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies.’
    Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, #79, 1931
  • ‘Development programmes, if they are to be adapted to individual situations, need to be flexible; and the people who benefit from them ought to be directly involved in their planning and implementation.'
    Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, #47, 2009
  • ‘It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all.’
    Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #240, 2013


Great Examples: Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship

More people than ever are forced to flee their home country for safety or refuge. Refugees are people who are forced to flee due to a number of different reasons: conflict, persecution, poverty, and a lack of food. There are currently millions of forcibly displaced people in the world. Only a small fraction have been resettled into another country.

So what can we do? It’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed or helpless. But our team of five million have a part to play. There are a few different ways that refugees can resettle and call Aotearoa home. One of them is through Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship (CORS). While the annual refugee quota and family reunification offer ways into New Zealand, CORS is an additional pathway which complements the other two existing pathways. This means that more refugees can be welcomed onto our shores. Rather than government taking all the responsibility, CORS enables New Zealand based
communities and organisations to directly help refugees to settle into the community.

The principle of Subsidiarity means ensuring that decision-making happens at the most appropriate level, so all those affected can contribute. Let’s use CORS as an example. The Government acknowledges that NZ can and needs to play a bigger part to help in the global refugee crisis, and has opened up CORS as a pathway, and provides visas for refugees to enter New Zealand. The church, community and former refugees know what is needed to settle a family into their community; and they can bring people with different skills together. The incoming refugee family know themselves best and can decide on what school to send their children to, and what house they want to live in. Each family, community, association and group of people have gifts and needs unique to them.

During the government’s pilot of CORS from 2017, Caritas worked alongside several Catholic communities and organisations to support a refugee family settle into New Zealand. In mid-2020 the New Zealand Government extended the CORS pathway. This was made possible by government listening to the voices from the community who had supported the incoming refugee families as well as former refugees themselves. Local groups have important insights into what is best for their communities. CORS means that communities can actively engage in refugee resettlement; in this case it has meant communities can work in partnership with government. CORS connects empathetic people, utilises their networks and skills, and empowers them to support a refugee family. In turn the refugees have an already established community supporting them, allowing for building of relationships, support in finding employment, assistance in sourcing housing and household items, help in settling the children into school, and our communities are enriched by welcoming the stranger. Jesus said that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome him.

CORS has the potential to transform both the incoming refugees and the communities. CORS is creating the opportunity for government and grass-root communities to work together in ensuring the most
appropriate outcome for all.


Living out CST: Ideas for putting faith into action

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • How does CORS illustrate subsidiarity?
  • Why is it important that local communities are empowered?
  • How is subsidiarity related to the principles of solidarity and the common good?
  • How can we ensure that local people are directly involved in projects or activities that affect them?
  • Where may I be overlooking the importance of subsidiarity in the way I deal with others?

Acting in Faith

  • Read or watch the video and reflect on the case study and questions above.
  • Watch our 2014 Caritas case study on Empowering Communities.
  • Pray for those who are being treated unfairly in our world and who don’t have a say.
  • Take a look at how government makes its decisions and whether it follows the principle of subsidiarity.
  • Watch this great Caritas Australia video: Imagine - A First Australians Guided Reflection
  • Discuss and reflect with your family on what is the best process for decision making.
  • Encourage different members in the family to do things on their own or make their own decisions and help out when they need it.
  • Plan a family activity and empower all members of your family to contribute their gifts and talents.
  • Take a look at how decisions are made in your community and how you can ensure that you practice subsidiarity.
  • Invite local councillors to visit and share how local voices form part of the decision-making process in your community.
  • Consider being a CORS sponsor in the future! Have a read through the details here: Community Organisation Refugee Sponsorship Category
  • Choose a prayer from the Social Justice Week 2020 resources and use it in your parish liturgy – during Prayer of the Faithful or at the end of Communion.


Closing Prayers

E te Ariki te Atua - Lord God, we ask that governing bodies continue to work to promote human dignity, protect human rights and work to develop the common good of all.
Leader: E te Ariki...     All: whakarongo mai rā ki a mātou.

E te Ariki te Atua - Lord God, we ask for all people to be encouraged to participate fully in society and to help each other be accountable for our actions.
Leader: E te Ariki...     All: whakarongo mai rā ki a mātou.

E te Ariki te Atua - Lord God, empower your one human family to join hands on our journey of faith. Send us your spirit so we strive to foster charity and justice in our world.
Leader: E te Ariki...     All: whakarongo mai rā ki a mātou.


God of our longing
Hear our prayers
Protect our dreams
And listen to our silent hopes.
Deal gently with our pain
Speak to our sadness
And remove the barriers
That imprison our spirit.
Shed your light
Where shadows are cast
That we may feel your warmth
And know your presence.
Give us courage
To hold fast to our vision
That we may build our world
And create our future
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord
Who came to empower us to live
With the freedom of the Holy Spirit
Who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever.

(adapted from CAFOD)

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust