YOUCAT presents some answers to the question of “What is the basis for authority in society?” (325). It suggests that every society relies on a legitimate authority to ensure that it is orderly, cohesive and smooth-running and to promotes its development. “It is in keeping with human nature, as created by God, that men allow themselves to be governed by legitimate authority.”
Catholic Social Teaching uses the principle of subsidiarity, as a means to achieve fairness for everyone. This principle teaches that what individuals can accomplish by their own initiative and efforts should not be taken from them by a higher authority. The Church’s teaching is based on four social principles for social justice: personhood, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity.
There are times when the Church and its teaching is in harmony with the laws of the land. However there are times when the authority of the teaching of the Church can bring it into conflict with civil law. Every society YOUCAT reminds us needs constant conversion from unjust structures. The greatest social commandment we are reminded in YOUCAT is accomplished by love. It’s the respect of others. Authority, either that is earned or authority that is received is one that demands justice and fairness for all.
Throughout history we have seen Catholic men and women inspired by their faith to challenge authority where injustice flourishes. We have seen leaders emerge in societies where inequalities are perpetuated. In Ireland it was the Catholic Social Teaching that helped to inspire John Hume achieve peaceful change.
Pope John Paul II writing in his encyclical Centesimus annus – wrote, “The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices and guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.” The Church is not committed to particular forms of government but only says that they must not contradict the common good. I will return to the common good in a future piece. However no one is obliged to obey laws that are arbitrary and unjust or that conflict with peoples informed conscience. In that case, there is a right and a duty to resist. We can applaud some of our political leaders who recently acted with authority against authority!