Sunday, 23 September 2012

Social justice and the bishops on families

Today's tool of good work from Chapter 4 of the Rule of St Benedict is in tribulatione subvenire, to help the afflicted.

It takes its inspiration from Isaiah 1:17, which says:

"learn to do well: seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge for the fatherless, defend the widow".

Social Justice Sunday: another fail for the Australian bishops!

A month or two back when the bishops announced that this year's Social Justice Sunday would be about families, I applauded them, as it seemed for once that we would get some focus on real issues at the forefront of the debate in today's society.  Issues such as the right of children to actually be born; of children to have both a father and a mother; the problem of divorce; caring for our aged often virtually abandoned by their families; and of the importance of traditional marriage.

The kind of things suggested in fact, by that quote from Isaiah above.

Sadly, those issues have been almost entirely omitted, and those that are mentioned get the most oblique  of references.  Instead, the actual Statement released for today is dominated by the usual Marxist-influenced tosh and the usual list of favourite issues, like refugees, Indigenous families and the like, trotted out.

Australia's work the longest hours in the world? Give me a break!

The first section of the statement is devoted to the claim that we are not devoting enough time to our families because we are all working too hard.  It repeats the myth that Australians work the longest hours in the world, and that the number of hours we work has been increasing since 1985.

In fact this claim has been comprehensively debunked by economists, and the latest ABS statistics actually show that the average hours worked each week in all jobs by employed people each week has been decreasing for the last thirty five years. 

On average, Australians in jobs worked an average of 33 hours a week in 2010, hardly a horror story!  And if you take into account factors such as our yearly average of 9.3 days worth of sickies each, relatively long annual vacations, long service leave in many professions, early retirement and our relatively low retirement age, then Australia is a leisured country indeed.  So if we aren't spending time together as a family, don't blame work!

Housing poor and consumerism

The second section of the Statement is a diatribe about consumerism, the trend towards McMansions (ever larger homes), and the proportion of the middle class who spend far too much on their houses relative to their income.

There is something in this, but the Statement fails to mention the real factors driving the treatment of a house as a financial asset rather than just a place to live in for many Australians, and that is the fact that the family home is exempt from the assets test for the aged pension (and gets preferential treament in several other ways). 

Although superannuation savings are growing, most Australians continue to be reliant on the pension in their old age, and owning a home makes it financially viable.  Owning a substantial asset (which you borrow against, and not be compelled to sell even to pay for your nursing home costs!) makes all those overseas trips possible.

If you want to drive greater equity in this country (and it indeed a country where the rich are very rich indeed relative to the rest of us), changes to the pension and tax system, including the introduction a wealth/inheritance tax is what is needed!

Indigenous families

The statement also contains the predictable diatribe against the Northern Territory Intervention. 

Unfortunately, it just gets it wrong:

"‘Income management’, for example, is sometimes successful in ensuring that social security income is spent on essentials such as food and clothing, [true] but it can also cause harm to the dignity and self-respect of those parents who have worked heroically to feed, support and educate their families."[Wrong.  Income management only applies to income support payments from Government, not to those who earn money themselves.  Although in fact a number of communities have asked that it be extended to those in paid employment in order to protect those earning an income from the practice of 'humbugging', or demanding money/food etc from those that have earnt it...]

A genuine concern for Social Justice in Indigenous families would surely see the Church supporting efforts to protect children and ensure they actually get fed, and to generate jobs in the Northern Territory rather than just engaging in ideologically driven rhetoric about self-determination.

Two statements?

Curiously, the back of today's Social Justice Statement almost reads like a different document (presumably inserted at the insistence of the more conservative faction of our bishops?) and deals with issues that St Benedict would have recognised, such as the importance of the sabbath, concern for the poor, and love of neighbour.

Yet what is noticeably lacking in the whole document is any serious focus on the family as a means of getting us to heaven: of the right of children to spiritual formation; and of the relationship between spouses to this end.  It is spiritual poverty that is surely the biggest crisis in our nation, and the real underlying cause of all the social and economic issues identified in the Statement.

St Benedict saw the monastery as a family engaged in the mutual support of its members to grow in holiness through the practice of charity.  Our love of neighbour should be the natural consequence of our love of God.  But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this life is but a short interval in the face of eternity. 


HolyCatholicApostoli said...

Couldn't Bishop Fisher's statement
"Truth, marriage and the threat to religious liberty" been this year's Social Justice Statement.

Anonymous said...

...something then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote 20 years ago.

"Recently, I entertained two South American bishops, with whom I discussed both their social projects and their pastoral experiences and efforts. They told me of the intensive proselytizing with which the hundred or so Christian denominations of the reformed churches have encroached upon the traditional Catholicism of the land and are changing its religious face. In the course of the conversation, they spoke of a remarkable event that they considered symptomatic and that had forced them to examine their conscience as to the course taken by the Catholic Church of South America since the end of Vatican Council II. They reported that representatives of several [largely “indigenous”] villages had come to the Catholic bishop to tell him that they had now joined a Protestant community. They took the opportunity to thank the bishop for all the social undertakings by which he had accomplished many fine things for them through the years and which they greatly appreciated. “But we need a religion, too,” they said, “and that is why we have become Protestants.”

This was the result, then-Cardinal Ratzinger observed, of the decision of the postconciliar Church in Latin America “that these countries should first be developed and then evangelized,” an inversion of the Church’s purpose that the Protestant evangelists did not make. “But men really do not live by bread alone,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “and cannot wait to have their other needs fulfilled until bread is no longer a problem.”

As a professor (whose name I cannot recall) at Wheaton College said to me several years ago on my first visit to Wheaton:

"When Christ comes next time, he'll be looking for bride and not a harem."

[Gil Bailie]

Martin S. said...

P.s. ^ Martin Snigg

P.p.s New Catholic News site advertised in the latest catholicweekly.

"Australia's preferred Catholic News site"