Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation examines the principle of subsidiarity as articulated within the body of Catholic social thought, and explores its validity within the governance structure of the Catholic church. Special attention is given to the status and role of the laity, and the implications of subsidiarity with regard to lay authority and decision-making in the church. Chapter One outlines some problems with ecclesial governance today, discusses the current status and role of the laity, and proposes an application of subsidiarity in the church. Chapter Two provides an overview of how the laity has been understood throughout church history to the present day. This chapter also examines alternative understandings of the laity's nature and place in the church, offered by liberation and feminist theologians, and in response to the priest sexual abuse scandal uncovered in the United States. Chapter Three attends to questions of ecclesiology and authority. The author argues that an examination of the nature of both magisterial and lay authority reveal expanded opportunities for laypersons to exercise substantial authority within the church, the theological foundations of which are grounded in a communio ecclesiology and the sensus fidei. Chapter Four provides a history and development of subsidiarity in the Catholic tradition, including a summary of the arguments at the magisterial level both supporting and contesting the validity of the principle's application in the church. The author asserts that, based on an ecclesiology of communio and a renewed understanding of magisterial and lay authority, subsidiarity is a valid principle with regard to ecclesialgovernance, allowing for laypersons to exercise a substantial role in decision-making in the church. The final chapter places subsidiarity in relationship with the principles of justice, human dignity, the common good, and solidarity; suggests concrete practices that the church might adopt in order to reflect subsidiarity in ecclesial governance; and discusses implications for clergy, laity, and church as a whole.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.