It is good that Ruth Gledhill (Times February 2nd) thinks that Catholic Church social teachings are seminal and influence governments and political parties. These teachings include striving for world-wide peace, but also the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. Solidarity means that, like Jesus Christ, we are on the side of the oppressed, poor, and marginalised. We campaign for the homeless, for fairness towards asylum applicants, and for rehabilitation of offenders and addicts. We try to be a voice for the voiceless.
Subsidiarity, which is also part of the theory of the European Union, means that decisions should be taken at the lowest practical level, provided they do not harm public order and the common good of society. It is most important for non-governmental, voluntary and charitable groups. If men or women want to organise single-sex clubs they should be allowed to do so. Youth groups should not be obliged to include more than the minimum of adults. Freedom of association, and the right of parents to choose appropriate schools for their children, mean that Britain has a wide range of faith schools, conforming to the national curriculum and standards.
Given that religious schools and youth groups exist to serve the faiths of their members and to commend their values to non members, it is wrong to compel them to appoint militant atheists, agnostics or others who repudiate the values and sexual mores of the faith in question.
Harriet Harman and Ruth Gledhill should not presume to know what constitutes a “religious job” and what is merely “secular work”, in a religious context.
Voluntary bodies, even where they receive state funding, should be free to organise their internal affairs and staffing, provided they do no harm – as some sects and some religions clearly have in the past. Ruth Gledhill is too dogmatic in putting all organisations on the same footing as regards discrimination over appointments. We should remember what Burke had to say about “little platoons” and their value to society as a whole, and to governments in particular by sustaining social morality.
As a Catholic I urge our leaders to put subsidiarity more obviously into practice in our internal church arrangements; while I respectfully agree with the Chief Rabbi (Times February 3).