Horst Sing
Katholische Universtät Eichstätt, Fakultät Sozialwesen

Family policy and social work in the Federal Republic of Germany: the impact of the Catholic Social Doctrine and the Catholic welfare associations




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 development.

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” Germany.
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 one.
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 Marktwirtschaft”).
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.

Some principles of the Catholic Social Doctrine and the “Catholic Model” of family policy

The Catholic 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.


Family policy, 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 and education.
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 social context.
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.



The “Catholic 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.

All political 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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