Katholische Universtät Eichstätt, Fakultät
Family policy and social work in the Federal Republic of Germany:
the impact of the Catholic Social Doctrine and the Catholic
The Catholic model of family policy played an important role
in society and politics, especially in the 1950s, when the
society of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was relatively
homogenous (due to the experiences with the Nazi regime and
the war) and in a normative sense, intensely geared towards
family as the nucleus of society. The then necessary compensation
of burdens and economic disadvantages that families accepted
by rearing their children was mainly guaranteed by financial
support. In spite of that, the gap between families with children
and couples without became wider and wider. The compatibility
of family and job, particularly due to the increasing “emancipation”
of women, became a second central problem of family politics.
Its solution is difficult because economic measures alone
won’t do. It would be necessary for institutions to
facilitate the compatibility of family and job for both sexes,
stronger integration of man into private life, a more effective
financial equalization of burdens for families, more indirect
support by structurally-based cheap services and feeder services.
On the whole, these demands cannot satisfactorily be carried
through in the economic and political field. Empowerment and
self-reliance on the part of the families is more necessary
than ever. The family needs help more than ever before, but
it is very difficult to help it. Empowerment and self-reliance
will be an effective way to improve its situation. These efforts,
however, have to be supported by new and powerful strategies
of the systems of social security and social work.
“The family needs help, but it is difficult to help
it.” -F.X. Kaufmann
I have altered the topic presented to me and printed in the
programme – “The Catholic Model: family policy
and social work with families” – for the following
reason: a specific “Catholic Model” in the realm
of family policy can be at best described for the first two
decades of postwar Germany, i.e. up to the middle of the 1960s
in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Three decades later, this “Catholic Model” has
become, even in the eyes of Catholic moral philosophers and
Catholic welfare organizations, more and more obsolete, especially
for two reasons. First, its justification as part of the “Catholic
social doctrine” of these years, which was very much
influenced by a neo-thomistic interpretation of the natural
law, had to undergo a fundamental change as this neo-thomistic
base itself was more and more broken up by the most important
representatives of the Catholic theology. Second, for the
Catholic welfare organizations, the concept of family of those
years as well as the demands for an adequate family policy
and social work are not sufficient to describe and analyze
the difficult situation of the family in modern societies
and therefore are a thing of the past.
In spite – or just because – of that, a survey
of this “model” may facilitate the understanding
of family, family policy and social work at the turn of the
century because it may open up the possibility of focusing
on the dramatic change the institution of “family”
has undergone in Germany in the last forty years, as well
as in almost all highly industrialized areas, regions and
countries of the world.
At this time of hope in the 1950s, it was believed that growing
prosperity would steadily foster the well-being of the family.
But it was more and more realized that families needed even
more help than before. At the same time, however, it has become
even more difficult to help them.
Bearing this in mind, I will present the “Catholic Model”
not as an “ontologic” model valid for all social
contexts and periods of social development, but as an example
of family concepts, family policy and social work strategies
in the 1950s in Western Germany and as an example for the
dramatic change of the family situation in highly industrialized
countries during the second half of this century. In a first
step, I will try to explain why the Catholic Social Doctrine
became relatively influential in postwar Germany (although
the German “political culture” had been influenced
in the Republic of Weimar, and the Empire by Catholicism only
in some parts of Germany, for instance, in Bavaria). In a
second step, I will present the “Catholic Model”
and, in a third step, I will try to expose some issues of
the development and the present-day situation of the family
in Germany including some aspects of the role of the “Catholic
Social Doctrine” and the Catholic welfare associations
of today. Finally, I will try to give an outlook on the further
The impact of
the Catholic Social Doctrine on social policy and social work
in the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1950s
Owing to the specific character of the development of the
modern welfare state in Germany as a “corporatistic”
model, not only social work in Germany but also the development
of the systems of social security had been, in the last two
decades of the 19th century, very much influenced by welfare
organizations, trade unions and the “social wings”
of the political parties (except the Nazi period, of course).
There had always been a certain influence of Catholic social
thinking in German society, but this influence had been limited
by the fact that Germany as a whole was more Protestant than
Catholic and the Catholic political groups had only a regional
impact. Therefore, the great influence of the Catholic social
thinking in postwar (Western) Germany indicates a new period
in the development of social policy, the political system
and the political culture as a whole in this country. This
has to be explained at least briefly.
After the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945,
the extent of the catastrophe was beyond imagination of the
contemporaries of that time. For the persons concerned –
at least in Europe all people were more or less affected by
war and its disastrous consequences – the destructions
were of apocalyptic dimensions. The dropping of the atomic
bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August 1945 seemed to confirm
that mankind had experienced at least the prelude to the end
of the world. The war, intended and begun by the German government,
had in fact outreached in every respect the destructions of
former wars. The Nazi crimes (particularly in various concentration
camps) were so gruesome that they were – and in some
aspects still are – inconceivable to human understanding.
Historical research needed years to even partly establish
some kind of rational explanation. It is a well-known statement
by Theodor Adorno – a member of the famous “Frankfurter
Schule” who, German and Jewish, had survived the Nazi
regime in the United States – that after Auschwitz it
would be impossible to continue to live as before.
Although it was claimed later that the unexpected success
of the “economic miracle” (“Wirtschaftswunder”)
had made this insight, and the shock it was based on, ephemeral
and of little importance in the German society and political
culture, this is certainly not true for those political actors
who pointed the way to the constitution of the new Republic
(“Grundgesetz”) and to the legislation by which
this “Catholic model” of family politics in particular
and the concepts of the Catholic social doctrine as a matter
of principle were introduced into the society of “free”
In this context it became of crucial importance that the encounter
with apocalyptic horror was interpreted not only as a consequence
of the ruin of the Weimar Republic or democracy in Germany
on the whole, but also as a consequence of the falling away
of society from God and the values of Christianity. In order
to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents and crimes
forever, it was also necessary not only to re-establish democracy
in a formal way but also to instill democratic political values
into it, e.g. human rights as “positive” rights,
and in this context to restore Christian values too.
Concerning our topic above, these three became important:
1. The formerly splintered interest groups and parties along
political and religious lines almost anywhere overcame their
previous differences and gradually formed the alliance of
the two postwar Christian parties, the Christian Democratic
Union of Germany (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU).
The expression “union” indicates the unification
of Protestants and Catholics in the political field (the fact
that there was nevertheless a second Christian party, namely
in Bavaria, indicates that there was, and still is, a strong
and virulent Federalism). With Germany split and divided by
the beginning and the strengthening of the “Cold War,”
the importance of Catholic Christians in West Germany was
more strongly felt. Out of a minority in the Bismarckreich
and the Weimar Republic, with only local or regional influence,
a serious political power that comprised the society as a
whole was developed.
2. The Parliamentary Council’s (“Parlamentarischer
Rat”) working out of the constitution of the Federal
Republic of Germany consisted of two ideologically antagonistic
blocs, namely the “Social Democratic Party of Germany”
(SPD) and the CDU/CSU, which were of equal strength. Thus
the third force, the “Free Democratic Party” (FDP),
could tip the scales, preventing the hardening of differences.
In this way, a strong representative constitution came into
being which, concerning the social and economic order, was
largely open, but with regard to the defence of the free democratic
constitutional structure and the stability of the political
system set determined norms. This, however, in connection
with the make-up of parliaments in the years to come, led
to the fact that the Catholic element in the FRG had a relatively
conspicuous important influence in contrast to the Weimar
Republic or the German Empire where it had only been a regional
3. The well-balanced constitution – connected with some
normative assessments regarding the particular role of the
individual and his protection from the state, his safeguarding
by promoting highly effective intermediary groups or associations,
and last but not least, federalism – complied to an
extent with the Catholic Social Doctrine or was supported
by it far more than was the case in the Weimar Republic and
the Empire. The principle of subsidiarity particularly met
with the self-understanding of the FRG as a “federal
state based on the rule of law and social justice” (“Sozialer
Rechtstaat”, Articles 20 and 28 of the “Basic
Law”) which obligates the state to protect the weaker
members of society and to seek social justice. In other terms,
the principles of the Catholic Social Doctrine corresponded
to a high extent with the fundamental principles of the “Basic
Law” of the Federal Republic of Germany – which
were understood in those years even in their secular interpretation
by many opinion-leaders as a kind of “natural law”
which did not contrast too heavily with the “Catholic
version” – and of the economic system implemented
and developed in the society of postwar Germany (“Soziale
In short terms we could say that the relatively intense and
widespread influence of the Catholic Social Doctrine in general
and of the “Catholic Model” of family policy in
particular during the first two decades of the FRG was mainly
due to three factors: the terrific experiences between 1933
and 1945 and the challenge by the integration of the other
part of Germany (the German Democratic Republic or DDR) had
led to a relatively large consensus in the society of FRG
concerning the priorities of human values which were based
on a common interpretation of human rights; due to the same
experiences, the “corporatistic” organization
of the German system of social security and social work which
had already been launched (since Bismarck was so much strengthened
by the political system in theory and in practice) the welfare
associations became mighty intermediary groups in the German
society as never before; and as the Catholic (“Caritas-Verband”)
and the Protestant (“Diakonisches Werk”) welfare
associations played a very important role in this context
and as their “corporate identity” concerning family
policy did not differ very much, the influence of the “Catholic
Model” began to grow with the rapid development of the
system of social security and of the welfare organizations
in the 1950s.
of the Catholic Social Doctrine and the “Catholic Model”
of family policy
Church derives the universal truth of its social doctrine
from two sources of realization, namely from the Revelation
and the “natural reason”. The latter is based
on the statements of Genesis concerning that God made the
human being like himself (“imago Dei”). Resulting
from that, human beings are able to participate in natural
reason which is created by God. This “natural reason”
was the bridge by which – according to self-understanding
– the Catholic social teaching deals mainly with philosophical
arguments. Before the Second Vatican Council, especially in
the period of origin and rise of the “Catholic Model”,
these philosophical arguments were, to a large extent, elaborated
by Catholic theologians and philosophers who, above all, referred
to Thomas of Aquino and advanced and concretized his principles
of natural law. This Catholic doctrine of natural law proceeds
from the basic understanding that there is a fundamental essence
of man unalterable by the change of social conditions. This,
on the other hand, is established by the fact that there is
a God, who is Creator of the world and of man and hence their
legislator. God created man in such a way that for him the
principles of the natural law are valid. These rigid and logical
principles are supertemporal and identical for all peoples
of all cultures.
Consequently the essence of the Catholic Social Doctrine of
those days became, in the eyes of many of its representatives,
an entity not only directing individual actions but also reflecting
a certain normative content to change an imperfect and partly
even inhumane society into a better one. Taking these premises
as a starting point, a social doctrine predominantly founded
by natural law came more and more into being since the beginning
of the modern Catholic teaching by the encyclical “Rerum
Novarum” of Pope Leo XIII (1891) at least until the
encyclicals of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI.
In this context, the connection of this interpretation of
natural law and some principles of Catholic moral theology
in general and the conception of marriage and family in particular
constituted the specific character of Catholic family policy
of those years and contributed to the consistency of the Catholic
Social Doctrine. This specific character was founded on two
fundamental statements, one of which is of theological and
the other of philosophical nature:
1. Marriage is an indissoluble long-term relationship and
at the same time a sacrament. This quality distinguishes it
fundamentally from non-marital partnerships.
2. Even if this inherent Catholic interpretation of marriage
as a sacrament is not universally accepted, cognition based
on natural law prevails. Regardless of an interpretation rooted
in culture and religion, the family of a monogamous couple
and their children can, in principle, be explained as the
only social group.
The prevailing doctrine of (Catholic) moral theology and (Catholic)
natural philosophy contributed, to a very large extent, to
the consistency of the Catholic social teaching and the social
work of the Catholic welfare organizations of those days.
Although, with this connection, the Catholic social teaching
distinguished itself from other doctrines based on the natural
law embodying similar social principles and dealing with similar
classical topics of social work (e.g. the protection of family).
The contribution of this Catholic social teaching and the
social work of the Catholic welfare association could be understood
as indispensable for the whole society. The argument was that
an ethical deed is dependent on an absolute essence somehow
recognized by man and therefore doubtlessly deduced from general
norms. In this respect, theological aspects faded in importance
in favour of a deontological casuistic. In simple terms, one
could say that the socio-ethical theology of this moral theology
solely existed in the assumption that the norms deduced by
the deontological method, if observed by as many people as
possible, would be sufficient to enable society to shape its
living conditions in an ethically responsible way.
As this insight is derived from natural law accessible to
everybody as “natural reason,” the demands to
state and society arise almost automatically, due to the principle
of subsidiarity, to promote the welfare of the family. Thiss
is not only achieved by active help, but also by the intention
to prevent everything within society that might harm the welfare
of the family, e.g. by parental rights.
The Catholic Church with its social doctrine as well as the
CDU/CSU parties that explicitly act according to Christian
values, and the welfare organizations, especially the Catholic
Caritas, see themselves as precursors of help. Their main
concern is to keep up this conception of the family in society
and prevent the danger of disintegration.
These normative guidelines were met with the fact that at
the time of Nazism the family very often turned out to be
a stronghold against the heteronomy of the party, and later
at the time of the expulsion and postwar reconstruction, it
proved to be a safe retreat of survival and of human relations.
As was already stated, despite the difference between other
natural laws and specific norms according to which a Catholic
Christian should lead his life, this doctrine of natural law
complied largely with the basic norms that were embodied in
the constitution of 1949, and in a way, with the ideas of
the political caste in these years.
After the end of the Nazi regime, the building up of democracy
in Germany was ideologically based on the natural law of the
Western democracies which, at the time, might be interpreted
as only a bit more secularized than that of the Catholic Church.
In politics it would mean to march forward for putting the
human rights into practice. The consequences of the paradox
the modern states are based on – for everybody, social
justice on a high level of welfare, and pursuit of happiness
(if necessary) in an extremely individual manner – was
at best only recognized in an abstract way. The road to a
society with “prosperity for everybody” (“Wohlstand
für alle”) – the slogan of the famous “Wirtschaftswunder”,
Ludwig Erhard – seemed guaranteed.
However, development of the industrial society and the fact
that at least part of the Catholic Social Doctrine lacked
reality have contributed to the phenomenon that the “Catholic
model” of family policy turned out to be inappropriate
in effectively helping the family in the long run. This was
also true of most other aids in the field of social work and
social systems of safeguarding of that time. It is also true
that the reflection of this lack of reality led to serious
consequences for the development of the Catholic social teaching
itself and for the social work of the Catholic welfare associations.
I will give a short outline of this development.
the “Catholic model” and social work with families
in the Federal Republic of Germany 1949-1989
The fast growing Gross National Product (GNP) of the Federal
Republic of Germany, from its very beginning and its self-understanding
as “Sozialer Rechtsstaat” with the special protection
of the family in article 6 of the “Basic Law”,
led since the 1950s to a tremendous boom of social achievements
such as social budgets, personal inputs of the welfare associations
As it is not possible to explain here in detail the complexity
of the development of the FRG society between the 1950s and
1980s in which the situation of the family is embedded, a
comparison between the “usual family” of the 1950s
and that of the 1980s may serve as one example of the dramatic
change of the family structure in only three decades. In other
terms, if we only compare these two structures – and
the structure of family is a very important starting point
for each family policy – we can see that the dramatic
change of the family is embedded in social, economic, psychological
and other contexts that cannot be influenced by mere instruments
of the achievements of social work and policy.
The “usual family” of the 1950s can roughly be
sketched in the following way (Puekert, 1996): married, with
child(ren), common household, two natural parents in the household,
lifelong marriage, exclusive monogamy, heterosexuality, husband
is the main breadwinner, two-adult household. From the simplified
enumeration of characteristics alone it becomes evident how
the “normal” family of the time differs from many
of the partnerships that started to appear in about the middle
of the 1960s and differentiated in a variety of family types.
These include: singles, non-marital partnership, childless
marriage, living apart or together, one parent family, binuclear
family, step- and adoptive family, successive marriages, non-exclusive
relationships, homosexual partnership, egalitarian marriage,
marriage with dual careers, house-husband marriage, household
with more than two adults, three-plus generation household
and/or a flat-sharing community.
This discrepancy between the standard family of the 1950s
and the tendencies in its development from the beginning of
the 1960s demonstrates that in spite of all differentiation
the family with children provides vital achievement for society
and the state that, at least in the foreseeable future, cannot
be produced by any other institution. For all that, no society
can develop without the rising generation, but it is also
of crucial importance that the “family” as a way
of rearing children and living together with them is preserved
especially just when traditional values no longer exist as
a common “property” of society.
The family remains an important modern/postmodern social phenomenon
as it is, as a rule, based on voluntary decisions of both
marriage partners that lead to long- or short-term obligations
and is therefore generally contributes to the stabilization
of society. Consequently, the family is perpetuating the function
of an otherwise highly specialized and pluralistic society
based on the division of labour. This ought to bring about
the idea that even at times when the “Catholic conception”
of family or the Catholic socio-ethical model of social work
has long since fallen short, the family is to abandon the
“structural recklessness” (Kaufmann) of society
towards it and introduce a policy that enables them not just
to survive but to actively fulfill its mission in society.
The family policy in the Federal Republic of Germany had,
since the beginning of the 1960s, to deal with this important
change of the family. This took place in a society that developed
in a process no longer controllable by the political system
or class in a way that social policy could manage to implement
sufficient achievements to compensate the negative side effects
of the development as a whole. Although we must admit that
– considering the complexity and the fast change of
the situation in the family – it became more and more
difficult to support families as the balance of the efforts
even in the period of a very successful economy was, on the
whole, not sufficient.
Leaving the general set-up of politics out of consideration,
the beginnings of a family-oriented political conception decidedly
pursuing the aim of supporting and giving financial relief
to families for carrying through their tasks dates back to
1954. At that time additional non-contributory benefits of
the security for non-economically active family members and
tax-free allowances for children were legally enacted according
to which the third and following child(ren) had a legitimate
claim to DM 25.00 child benefit.
In this way the so-called dual equalization of burdens for
families (Familienlastenausgleich – FLA) was introduced;
it consisted of tax-free allowances for children and child
benefit. In the following years it was increased and completed
by introducing maternity leave and educational grants and
by acknowledging the periods of upbringing in the pension
scheme. The tax system of the Federal Republic of Germany
as well as the system of social security is almost as complicated
as the equalization of burdens for families; I needn’t
show this in detail. What has to be mentioned, though, is
the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court of May 29,
1990, which reminded the lawmakers to increase tax relief
and other subsidies to secure the subsistence level for a
family with children. This judgment proves that from the constitutional
court’s point of view that the subsidies and achievements
of the society in the FRG are to be considered so insufficient
that this gap is even against the Constitution.
In 1994 a committee of experts drew similar conclusions for
the Fifth Family Report of the Government: “The political
directions as laid down in Article 6 of the Constitution to
protect and promote the family have hitherto not sufficiently
been realized” (Deutscher Bundestag, 12; Wahlperiode,
Drucksache 12/7560, 1994). The income situation of families
with children alone shows the structural injustice they are
exposed to: the per capita income and the economic prerequisite
for leading a decent life is considerably lowered with the
increasing number of children. The per capita income of families
with one child is at about 20-25 percent below the per capita
income of families without children, that of a family with
two children at about 35-40 percent and that of families with
three or more children at about 50 percent.
The development of the industrial society, based on the division
of labour and the service society, is contributing more and
more to that phenomena as they are increasingly restricting
the possibility of employment for couples with children. Among
other things, this is shown by the rising number of children
and young persons who are constantly supported by “income
support” (Sozialhilfe), both as children of single parents
as well as in families with three or more children. This “Sozialhilfe”
is granted in the FRG for people who are living on the lowest
possible level of income. It indicates, in the opinion of
society, the absolute “poverty line”. Generally
speaking, it is a matter of fact that the relative income
of families in comparison with singles has declined in the
last two decades.
The Fifth Family Report summarizes the situation as follows:
“The cost for child-rearing has become private, the
profits to be made by future generations are socialized”
(Deutscher Bundestag, 12; Wahlperiode, Drucksache 12/7560,
1994). By this development it becomes evident that the structural
disadvantages concerning the family are not only a problem
of the core family in the Catholic design of the 1950s but
it concerns all those who have children, regardless of the
The Catholic welfare associations, since the early 1960s,
tried their best to relieve the burdens of the traditional
family which were increasing more and more by the development
of the industrial society and the change of values. The achievements
were multiplied and the methods were improved but these strategies
were not sufficient enough to obtain more than results on
some particular levels (e.g. individual, personal financial
achievements), which we should not estimate as incidental,
but as the central, structural issues of the family.
model” of the support of society for the well-being
of the family with the help of social work (a system of social
security and social politics), which in particular in the
first decades of the existence of the FRG had far-reaching
impacts on this country, was based on assumptions that from
the 1960s onwards increasingly disappeared. The main assumptions
were that the Catholic conception of family was a lifelong
institution of partners with, if possible, lifelong relations
to each other and to their children and grandchildren, who
would be prepared and capable to cope together with arising
social challenges and plights by self-help, and according
to the principle of subsidiarity, supported by the system
of social security and the achievements of social work. The
gap between the requirements of the industrial society (e.g.
development of technologies and the labour market with increasing
demands for mobility and availability) and the prerequisites
to maintain the traditional family (e.g. unity and nearness
of the members of the private household) will remain narrow
enough that a reasonable enlargement of the social achievements
will be sufficient.
parties, welfare organizations and serious studies (e.g. F.X.
Kaufmann, 1995; Lampert, 1997) agree that one has to try to
meet more powerfully with the "structural injustice"
and disadvantaged families by abolishing the blatant financial
discrimination of tax legislation by improving the labour
market for women and by supplying better achievements in the
education sector for children. And of course, all agree that
social work has to grant its helps better in families with
difficult situations to relieve people more efficiently. However,
in a society that increasingly abandons commonly accepted
values and institutions and that is evolving into one that
tolerates and creates as many identities as possible, only
those who are able to help themselves can be helped in the
long run. It is not sufficient to add some more social achievements
and to put the classic core family on the list of threatened
life forms calling for solidarity of society and subsidies
of the state that are no longer available.
A civil society that claims to have overcome social problems
as effectively as or even better than in the first postwar
years will have to strengthen - in contrast to the ideas of
the 1960s and 70s - the mobilization of "self-reliance"
of the family. It is true that the family needs help and that
it is hard to help it but one must be aware of the fact that
this is only possible by enabling it to help itself as much
as possible. However, the empowerment requested is not only
an individual, personal problem, but also a problem of the
social security and social work systems - especially of the
welfare associations, and as a whole, an issue of all modern/postmodern
societies - for the simple reason that the core family is
providing something that others don't. It will not be completely
replaceable by other groups of socialization, and there are
still other valuable reasons to maintain the family. It needs
help, it is difficult to help it, but we should try it.
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