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Co-Responsibility, Subsidiarity, & Interdependence

Encouraging co-responsibility, interdependence, and subsidiarity.

These three words are essentially describing the same thing, which is fundamental to the good working of a parish. When co-responsibility and subsidiarity and interdependence take root in a parish, everyone realises that not everything has to be discerned, decided, or done, by priests in the church: each of the baptised present has a role to play.

It is a recognition of our dignity and capacity both as individual thinking human beings and baptised sons and daughters of God with a rightful place in the parish community which includes working out what should be done and deciding to do it.

Pope Benedict first spoke of the need for co-responsibility in the church, and Pope Francis has stressed it even more. It is finally what inspired the synodical movement. If you are still wondering what the synodal movement is about, grasping the concept of co-responsibility is they key.​

Co-responsibility is the word which comes up many times in the synodal process and it gives us a key insight into what the aim of the process is: to wake the sleeping giant of the people of God throughout the world to become more active participants in the life of the church at every level though realising that their responsibility for doing this is not something granted (or not) by the priests but comes directly from the dignity of their baptism. The people of God have not been a sleeping giant in their everyday lives in the world where they have been building the kingdom, but when it comes to being part of a parish, the priests and religious have in the past sometimes tended to keep people out, and decided everything themselves and done everything themselves.

Perhaps the real problem in the church in our age is not that today we have fewer priests and religious, but maybe the real problem was that in the recent past we had too many and particularly that they reduced everyone else to "pray pay obey."

Co responsibility is the opposite of clericalism. This is when the priest has all the power and decides everything and controls everything down to the last detail. At its very minimum, co-responsibility means the priest asking everyone "what do you think?"

Interdependence is a helpful word to understand this further. When we are born as babies we are totally dependant on others for everything. This continues through our time as young children, but then it starts to change as we grow into teenage years when we seek our own identity. This can often result in attempts to be totally independent. Not only is this impractical during teenage years but it leads to conflict as families cope with the transition from childhood to adulthood. Once teenagers turn into settled adults with their own established identity and stability, a situation of interdependence arises. Each person knows they have their own responsibilities and look to each other for co-operation and mutual help and support.

Church communities can be kept by priests or small groups in states of total dependence, asking for permission for everything even the most obvious things that need doing. This is unhealthy for everyone. This bad situation in its turn can very easily lead to reactions and independence movements with people going different ways in the parish and always arguing. This is also unhealthy for everyone. Much better is to have healthy respect for each other as thinking people and communicate and co-operate towards shared goals. This is interdependence.

Subsidiarity is a word which describes a central idea in catholic thinking, about how any society or group should be best organised, which can also help us understand what co-responsibility means in practice: that having a shared understanding of the aims of the group, decisions should be taken at the level closest to those who are most directly involved with matter under consideration, and should not be passed up to be decided at a higher organisational level unless it is absolutely necessary. The church has for a long time advised others to do this but has not applied the idea to itself. It is time now for that to happen.

Teamwork could also be used to describe this ideal. Each sporting team has a captain but he or she does not make every decision during a match. This would never work. Once the goal of what a team is trying to achieve is shared, each team member plays their part in making that a reality by what the decide and what they do confronted by the reality before them.

It is an essential part of the renewal and strengthening of any parish community that co-responsibility / interdependence / subsidiarity / teamwork becomes a natural and normal way of doing anything.

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