Thursday, September 15, 2005


The Katrina Disaster Illustrates the Need For The Catholic Social Principle of Subsidiarity

In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II stated:

"Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: 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 coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (#48)"

The chaotic situation in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of the practical importance of the principle of subsidiarity, which is an integral part of Catholic social teaching. Unfortunately, its a perfect example of what happens when that age-old, tried and true principle is not only ignored, but rebuffed outright. This makes an already disastrous situation...well...more disastrous.

Not only did the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana not have a coherent evacuation plan, but even failed to follow the deficient plan they had in place. By now, I'm sure everyone has seen the photos of the submerged buses. Mayor Nagin claims that he was unable to find people willing to drive those buses to get those people out of way of the storm. Please excuse me for saying that I find that awfully hard to believe. In actuality, it would have been pretty easy if you had just done as Rush Limabaugh pointed out:

"What if you said, mayor, what if the said to the drivers whose job it is to drive the buses, 'Look, this will get you out of here, too. If you're driving the bus, you will succeed in evacuating. And we'll even let you bring your family. If you don't have a car, we'll let you bring your family, put your family on the bus as you're evacuating those who need help to get out, and we will kill two birds with one stone. We'll save you and your family and the school bus and the people who are being transported out.' "

Sounds pretty simple to me. But when a "community of a lower order" is paralyzed by an inordinate dependence on a "community of a higher order," such simple solutions that would have saved many lives evade the grasp of the civil authorities who have the grave responsibility to ensure the safety of their citizenry.

Also, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, in her own words, hesitated in calling for military assistance:

"I said we're not tolerating asking for more military presence. But I mean -- but I'm saying put good people at jeopardy, potentially. I really need to call for the military. I should have started that in the first call."

And there are reports that the "Louisiana Department of Homeland Security blocked a vanguard of Red Cross trucks filled with water, food, blankets and hygiene items from bringing relief to the thousands of hungry and thirsty evacuees stranded in the New Orleans Superdome after Hurricane Katrina struck, according to a Fox News Channel report."

To make matters worse, Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin refuse to accept responsibility for their failures in this matter and blamed the federal government (i.e. President Bush).

Now, there is no question that the federal government dropped the ball on their end and the President has personally accepted responsibility and begun to make some needed personnel changes in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, such lack of efficiency is what we are to expect from a distant bureaucracy that has either been given too much responsibility in local affairs or has usurped it.

If the principle of subsidiarity was actually taken seriously by the city of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana, they would have been better able to make use of whatever federal assistance was needed--which it probably was needed in this case. Florida governor Jeb Bush (himself no stranger to dealing with natural disasters, having dealt with four hurricanes within a short time span last year), put it this way:"If we weren't prepared, and we didn't do our part, no amount of work by FEMA could overcome the lack of preparation,".

Furthermore, I find Mayor Nagin's claim about not being able to find drivers not only not credible, but rather insulting to those he has sworn to serve, in that he displays a pretty low opinion of them. He couldn't be anymore wrong about that. If there's one thing that America has always been able to count on in her darkest hour, along with the principle of subsidiarity, is the faithful assistance of her private citizens. Whether it's on-scene volunteer assistance or financial donations, the American public has always came through for their neighbors in need.

If you wish to make a donation, here are a few organizations you can send your donations to.



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