BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge has called on Australia’s leaders to put humanity, not the economy, at the heart of planning the nation’s post-pandemic recovery.
“Our Australian response can take many different forms, but our priorities need to be clear… the human being must be the focus of any response,” Archbishop Coleridge, who is president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said.
“Of course the economy matters, but only if it puts the human being at its heart.
“The economy was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the economy.”
Archbishop Coleridge said Australian state and federal governments had so far done well in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, big decisions lay ahead “in a strange, fast-moving environment”.
He said the Church could make a unique contribution – not as politicians or economists but as people of faith – while the Church has an extraordinary reach into communities with tens of thousands of workers in schools, hospitals and at the frontline of social services.
Archbishop Coleridge said the Church, with a 2000-year tradition, offered many insights into dealing with dramatic world changes.
He cited the teachings of Pope Leo XIII, the founding father of Catholic social teaching, who addressed the struggles of the 19th century following the industrial revolution, including bloody political revolutions and the rise of Marxism.
Pope Leo published a ground-breaking open letter in 1891 entitled Rerum Novarum or the Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour.
“… He (Pope Leo) spelled out the relationships between the government and its people… Rerum Novarum rejected socialism, supported the right of workers to form unions and also supported the right to private property,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“(Pope) Leo’s letter was the first time the Catholic Church had really engaged with the modern world.
“Until then the modern world was seen as a threat more to be condemned than engaged.”
Archbishop Coleridge said Pope Leo XIII offered “a genuinely Gospel response to a dramatically changed world”, and it had found a voice in every Pope since, including Pope Francis.
“We’re in a situation now where the world has changed, perhaps forever, and the principle duties and responsibilities of employers, employees and governments are as much in focus today as they were when Rerum Novarum was issued,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“The path ahead will require some tax reform, but not necessarily tax cuts.
“It will require industrial relations reform, but not reduced working conditions and job security under the guise of increased flexibility.
“It will certainly require leadership that can imagine an Australia where we have full employment and a standard of living that matches the dignity of the human being.”
Archbishop Coleridge said the post-pandemic response could not be left just to political leaders.
“The whole community has to be creative in new ways, building on the kind of creativity we’ve shown through the crisis,” he said.
“We are in this together – all Australians; and the Church wants to be a good companion on the road ahead, helping to identify new opportunities and what is needed to respond to them.”