Excerpted from "The Framework of a Christian State" by Rev. E. Cahill, S.J., 1932.
Although the duties of the State in regard to the poor come under the virtue, not of Charity, but of Legal Justice, a few points regarding such duties may be mentioned here. As the legitimate functions of the State in social life are essentially supplementary, they have place only where private effort fails or is manifestly inadequate. Thus, it would be an act of unlawful usurpation for the State to attempt to supplant private charity, as is being attempted under the existing unchristian regime in France. The normal duties of the State in regard to the poor are:
a) To eliminate, as far as possible, by wise laws and a just administration, the radical causes of excessive poverty.
b) To protect and encourage private effort on behalf of the poor.
c) To supplement the same as far as is found necessary, especially by subsidizing and assisting religious and charitable organizations.
In modern times, however, and especially in Britain, Ireland, and the United States of America, as well as in some continental countries such as France, Prussia, and Saxony, in which the principles of unchristian Liberalism specially prevail, poverty and destitution have reached dimensions far beyond the power of private charity to cope with; and direct action on the part of the state is needed. This is in accordance with the principle laid down by Leo XIII:
"Whenever the general interest or any particular class suffers, or is threatened with mischief, which in no other way can be met or prevented, the public authority must step in to deal with it." (Rerum Novarum, p.155)
We are familiar with several forms of State intervention for the relief of poverty, which are more or less useful or successful. Among these are: the Old Age Pension, Outdoor Relief, Health Insurance, Public Hospitals, Asylums for the Mentally Affected, Orphanages and Industrial Schools.
It is generally admitted that the *direct* relief of poverty from State resources (as distinguished from remedial or preventative measures, and from State help for private charitable organizations) should, as a rule, be confined to cases of destitution, namely, want of the necessities of life or serious illness. Hence, the main efforts of the State should be directed to such remedial measures as would place within the reach of all a fair opportunity of realizing a becoming livelihood by their own labor, and thus eliminate preventable misery ...
As a general rule, the less the State intervenes in the actual management and administration of charitable as well as educational enterprises, the better for all parties concerned. In the case of direct State management it is well known that the administrative expenses usually absorb an excessive proportion of the resources, and the actual results obtained are mostly inadequate and unsatisfactory. Besides, under a secular administration, the poor are unfairly humiliated and embittered, and the element of religious and supernatural love, which constitutes the soul of charity, is too often wanting.
Above all, secular officials are usually unsuited to the task of healing the moral ills and miseries which so often accompany or are the result of destitution. None but the representatives of Him who was the "Father of the Poor" and the "Friend of Publicans and Sinners" can influence for good the seared and embittered heart of the wretched. Hence, in a Catholic country, where religious bodies are willing and able to undertake the management of all manner of charitable institutions, governments will be well advised to entrust to these bodies the administration of the greater part of public funds set apart for the different forms of poor relief. The public money will thus be spent to better advantage, and the work will be incomparably better done. In this way the taxpayer's burden will be lightened, and the poor at the same time better provided for.