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The term appears in the International New York Times: "Radical Pope, Traditional Values":

As a result of its work in basic health and education — and despite its obtuse views on birth control — in the last 50 years the church has probably lifted more people out of poverty than any other civic institution in history.

Internet (I forgot where) suggests that a 'civic institution' by definition cannot be a government (or a market participant). However, we also have

civic Of, relating to, or belonging to a city, a citizen, or citizenship; municipal or civil.

and

civil (not comparable) Having to do with people and government office as opposed to the military or religion.

This could be construed as excluding the Catholic Church (and including government).

So, what, if any, is a good definition of 'civic institution'? Or is the term ambiguous?

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    It's ambiguous, or rather, imprecise. In a particular piece of writing, the writing may use it in a precise way, but there are other interpretations. – Colin Fine Dec 30 '13 at 23:11
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The problem here is the inclusion of the word other which implies that the Church is a civic institution. However, the word other is used because the formula is more-or-less fixed: than any other X is commonly heard, probably more often than than any X.

The Church does share some of the aspects of a civic institution because it does the work of one: it alleviates poverty and provides assistance to those in need. In some countries it provides facilities which are provided by the State elsewhere: social care, hospitals, orphanages, education and so on. Does this make it a civic institution? Possibly, if you define civic to mean for the citizen or something similar.

Thus, if one considers the geography where the Church is most active in providing those services, it probably does class as a civic institution. It may sound odd to those in countries where Church and State are constitutionally separated or where the government customarily provides such social support.

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