Catholic Social Teaching and strategies for the future in Australia
MARK RAPER SJ
Edited address given at the Annual Conference of Catholic Welfare Australia, Sydney 21st August 2002.
At the end of our lives we will be judged by love. (St John of the Cross)
AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY has changed a lot in the twenty years that I have spent abroad serving refugees. It would be presumptuous of me to spell out for the practitioners in welfare the consequences of these social changes, since they are in daily contact with those who are hurt by them. Nonetheless, for a returning expatriate, certain features stand out in sharp relief. My remarks will touch on the social context within which the Catholic social institutions function, identify some substantive principles that may guide us, and offer a word about our strategies for the future. My principle task is to look at the teaching of the past and the challenge of the future.
OUR CHANGING AUSTRALIAN SOCIAL CONTEXT
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE - EXAMPLE OF THE ASYLUM SEEKERS
Bryan Dunn of Centacare Newcastle/Maitland, wrote on this in Catholic Welfare News of February this year. He pointed to the contrast between the way politicians and the media spoke about the bushfire victims and the way they speak of the people arriving at our shores seeking asylum.2 The response to families affected by the fires, he says, reflects the best in the Australian community, where all feel one with them, ‘and stand with them in spirit; we ask what we can do to help’. Yet in the case of the refugees and asylum seekers, …we do not meet these people as individuals…They are spoken about stereotypically. Our fears are evoked not allayed… Our politicians carefully crafted information about the centre riots without reference to underlying causes. An approach reflected in the media. Where is full disclosure of the facts, the personal stories which could evoke our deeper understanding? The political face is obdurate, and our leaders play upon our fears. A sense of hopelessness can pervade those who are concerned in the community because of the hardness of heart displayed.
Australia, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, is ‘one of the countries experiencing falling fertility in the context of increasing life expectancy’. In other words, it is an ageing population. It has also become ‘one of the most culturally diverse societies in the world’.3
Twenty-four percent of Australia’s population was born overseas, a ratio second only to Israel among industrialised countries. But of course it is only after World War II and since the so-called ‘White Australia Policy’ was abolished that ethnic diversity really began.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Australia’s population has increased more than fivefold, from 3.77 million to 19.16 million in 2000. Two-thirds of this increase was natural, that is, from the excess of births over deaths, while immigration accounts for another third. Fertility rate has dropped from its peak of 3.6 in 1961, to 1.75 births per woman in 1999, the lowest in Australia’s history. Consequently the pace of growth is slowing and will be close to zero in 50 years time, even with overseas migration at current levels. The working age population (15 - 64 years) will peak in 2020. The proportion of the population aged 65 years and over will double over the next 50 years.
Australia is ageing. Half of our population is over 35.2 years, an increase of 12 years in the median age during the 20th century. But in the next 50 years, this median will increase another 8 to 11 years. On the other hand indigenous Australians are younger (median age 20.2 years), while migrants are older than Australian born population (median of 45 compared with 30.6).
Family patterns are changing too: couples are delaying marriage, marriage rates have fallen while rates of divorce have risen; more adults live without partners; more couples have fewer children. Sixty-four percent of Australians live in the cities.
On census night in 1996 there were around 105,000 people homeless in Australia, with about one fifth of them sleeping rough. Another feature of our society is the growth in inequality. The income for the bottom 10% of the private sector lowered around 3%, while that for the top 10% increased around 20%. 5
The role of the State as distributor of income and social mediator was shrunk through a number of measures. There have been successive waves of privatisations of public services as well as of sectors of the economy. Moreover the structural adjustments programs imposed, particularly on many third world countries by the International Monetary Fund, and other austerity programs imposed by the international monetary institutions, have limited the freedom of states even to assist their own people.
In summary, the character and shape of post-industrial societies is: highly bureaucratised, filled with technology, shaped by mass communications, and powerfully urbanised. Such societies produce their own kinds of social questions.
The phrase ‘post-industrial society’ is not used in Catholic social teaching, to my knowledge. Nonetheless, the social documents of the Popes, beginning in 1971 with Paul VI’s Octagesima Adveniens (the 80th year since Rerum Novarum), right to the present, in particular Centesimus Annus (the 100th year) of John Paul II, are all attempts to analyse the meaning of and respond to the social challenges of post-industrial society. Paul VI described the challenge, interestingly, as ‘to humanise the city’.
The social teaching of the past thirty or more years arose out of a number of important developments within the church. In particular it is the product of the wider and more informed use of Scripture, as demanded by the Vatican Council. It is also a product of the view that the church’s role is to be the servant of a much wider society that is quite diverse and pluralistic. Today I will simply refer to three substantive principles that can help us construct a strategy for how the church agencies can relate with state agencies, and how together they may cooperate or at least relate to civil society in pursuit of the good of all, the common good. These principles are: subsidiarity, socialisation, and solidarity.
Nonetheless, while excluding ‘statist’ solutions, subsidiarity insists that the government ‘furnish help (subsidium) to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.’ 9 Moreover, this principle defends the rights of a host of voluntary associations—such as unions, ethnic agencies, neighbourhood groups, local councils, small and large businesses, churches—to exist and to operate according to their own ways. But none of these bodies, including Catholic Welfare Australia, are purely private bodies. They are parts of society. They are the ways in which people participate in social life.
Subsidiarity has a very practical implication for us in the way we deliver services. We should not take from people their right to help themselves. So our services should enable them to take power over their own lives, rather than become overly dependent on agencies like ours.
The principle of socialisation claims that the State should tax those with sufficient resources in order to redistribute some of the common wealth to enable those without adequate resources to participate in their community. This is not charity or welfare, this is justice.
In practice, where government does intervene, your role changes from being the provider of services to being the advocate on behalf of those who are disadvantaged or under-valued. We have a role to insist that these people have a right to the best service possible.
Solidarity is not just a vague feeling of compassion, or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.11
In a post-industrial society, the church and Catholic institutions need to revisit these three principles repeatedly and to reshape our understanding of them in terms of what the State ought to do, in terms of what others in society ought to do, and in terms of what the Catholic institutions themselves ought to do.
Today more than ever, the Church is aware that her social message will gain credibility more immediately from the witness of actions than as a result of its internal logic and consistency.12
Earlier in the same passage he had said:
The social message of the gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis and a motivation for action. Inspired by this message, some of the first Christians distributed their goods to the poor, bearing witness to the fact that despite different social origins, it was possible for people to live together in peace and harmony.
Catholicism is institutional by instinct and by nature. This institutional character is a fundamental asset that we carry into a new era. Institutions are the way you grab hold of life, the way you lay hands on complex social questions. Catholic Welfare is the hands of the church, its instrument for engaging not only in response to the needs of people, but also in the processes of our society as it changes.
An overarching strategy is surely needed for the institutional Catholic social presence, and I mean in education, health care and social service. And that strategy will be correctly rooted in the parish base of Australian Catholicism, even if that parish base appears to be diminishing in strength and numbers.
The contractual relationships between the State and community organisations have private and public elements. Catholic Welfare is in a good position to recognise and implement the dual or even multiple accountabilities involved even in government contracts: it remains accountable as an organisation to the Bishops Conference, and to its member organisations, as also to those whom it serves as well as to its own mission and values; it is accountable publicly to the rest of citizenry and even to Parliament, as also to its own role in promoting a just Australian society.
Many lobby groups exist to promote exclusively the interests of their own groups. Catholic Welfare, by contrast, has a concern for the whole community, especially for those whose access to power in the public sphere is diminished. Catholic Welfare is rightly active in public conversation concerning justice for all in Australia and even beyond.
Yet in seeking justice, the church is at its best in an attentive, listening mode rather than in an authoritative mode. Engagement in dialogue means allowing respectful space. There are rules of engagement in a pluralistic society. One speaks, but one also listens. We are not required to surrender our religious belief. Our task is to measure public policy against the Gospel values and against our Catholic social teaching.
Here is a list of roles for the Church today, that I borrow from one of my colleagues:13
1. Protector of its own self-interest. (The entitlement of any citizen or group of citizens.)
2. Stakeholder in some disputes.
3. Honest Broker in disputes to which the Church is not a party (and where Church members may be represented in both or several parties).
4. Advocate for the poor, disadvantaged, excluded.
5. Advocate for the Common Good (or for public interest).
6. Defender of Truth.
7. Exemplar of Gospel values: for the good of church members, and incidentally for the good of society.
Returning to the question of refugees: I am sure that the current asylum debate touches on basic Australian values. When the fear provoked at the arrival of a pitiful boatload of refugees on the eve of an election can so powerfully alter the course of a nation and the fate and policies of a government, we need to search deep in our hearts as a nation. We also need the leadership and practical witness of institutions such as Catholic Welfare Australia.
For conclusion, I offer this quotation from a sermon of St. John Chrysostom:
Would you honour the body of Christ? Do not despise his nakedness; do not honour him here in church clothed in silk vestments and then pass him by unclothed and frozen outside. Remember that he who said, ‘This is my body’, and made good his words, also said, ‘You saw me hungry and gave me no food’, and, ‘in so far as you did it not to one of these, you did it not to me’. In the first sense the body of Christ does not need clothing but worship from a pure heart. In the second sense it does need clothing and all the care we can give it… Learn to be discerning Christians and to honour Christ in the way he wants to be honoured. It is only right that honour given to anyone should take the form most acceptable to the recipient not to the giver…So give God the honour he asks for… 14
1 From 1990 to 2000 Mark was International Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), based in Rome, and throughout the 1980s he was the Regional Director of JRS for Asia and the Pacific, based in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2001 he held a visiting chair at the Center for the Study of International Migration in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA. In 2001 he was named a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia in recognition of his services to refugees. In the same year he was awarded the ‘Servant of Peace’ award by the Path to Peace Foundation in New York.
2 ‘Clear cut parallels clouded by fear and racism’, in Catholic Welfare Australia NEWS, Volume 2 Issue 1, February 2002, p. 6.
3 ‘Ageing yet diverse’, Australian Family Briefing, No 10 September 2001, by Ruth Weston, Lixia Qu and Grace Soriano. Australian Institute of Family Studies.
4 See HREOC, Face the Facts, Section 3, Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders. http://www.hreoc.gov.au/racial_discrimination/face_facts/sect3.html
5 Statistics taken from Mission Australia, National Social Trends Snap Shot 2001.
6 Zygmunt Bauman (1998), Work, Consumerism and the New Poor, Buckingham, Open University Press.
7 A good discussion of this question can be found in: David De Carvalho (2002), ‘The Social Contract Renegotiated: Protecting Public Values in the Age of Contracting’, in T Eardley and B Bradbury, eds, Competing Visions: Refereed Proceedings of National Social Policy Conference 2001, SPRC Report 1/02 Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 126-135. (www.sprc.unsw.edu.au).
8 Centesimus Annus, John Paul II, 1991, No 11.
9 Quadragesimo anno, Pius XI, 1931, No 79.
10 Populorum Progressio, Paul VI, No 43.
11 John Paul II, 1988, No 38.
12 Centesimus Annus, John Paul II, 1991, No 57.
13 Frank Brennan SJ, ‘The Role of Religious Educators’, talk given in January 2002.
14 From the homilies of St John Chrysostom (Hom 50, 3-4), Office of the Readings for Saturday of 21st Week.
Mark Raper is Director of Uniya, the Jesuit Social Justice Centre, and serves on the Board of the Refugee Council of Australia. He soon will commence a new assignment as Jesuit Provincial Superior.