The Law of Subsidiarity

A lesson on leadership by the Catholic Church

Denise Thong
6 min readMay 31, 2020


Source: Guille Alvarez,

“Subsidiarity is an organising principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralised competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.” (Wikipedia)


What is the law of subsidiarity? It is a form of governance introduced by the Catholic Church under Catholic Social Teaching. It teaches that matters ought to be handled by the smallest and lowest authority.

For example, in a commercial kitchen — there is the head chef, the assistant head chef and all the smaller chefs each in-charge of their own areas of expertise (e.g. sauces, desserts, bread, wine etc).

While the head chef is the leader of the team, under the law of subsidiarity he needs to consult the smaller chefs on their area of expertise. For example, if he plans to serve lamb chop as a main for the dinner menu, he needs to consults with the sauce chef on what’s the most suitable sauce to go with this cut of meat.

He gives his general input and allows the sauce chef freedom to design a sauce that best fits the dish.

This is as opposed to more authoritarian centralised form of governance where the head chef dictates the menu, teaches exactly what he wants and the sauce chef merely follows the recipe like a minion.

The advantage of subsidiarity is clear. It prevents the stress of micromanaging on the part of the head chef and allows for creativity and attainment of mastery on the part of the sauce chef.

Importantly, at the end of the day, if the sauce is a big success, the tiny little sauce chef gets to claim full credit for it. It motivates him to keep going and to improve his craft.

Another example: In catechism class, the syllabus may be set by a central body but the catechists at each level (e.g. Primary 3) are able to meet and fine-tune the material to better suit the developmental level of the children in the level.

Next, each P3 class catechist is given authority to fine-tune her teaching material to suit the needs of the children in her class. In doing so, each shepherd…



Denise Thong

Counsellor, Writer (Christianity, Children’s short stories)