In the lead-up to the last election many of our churches were at their most vocal in calls for greater economic redistribution in the face of a sluggish global economy and consistent Australian deficits.
Whilst there is recognition from church authorities that the government faces a revenue crisis, the churches remain resistant to any possibility of serious and needed welfare reform. Bishop Christopher Saunders, chair of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Counsel, noted “a government facing a revenue crisis might, for example… save billions in superannuation concessions going to the wealthiest households before it suspends the unemployment benefit of young people or sends them out to work for the dole”.
The CEO of St Vincent de Paul, John Falzon has positioned his organisation within an even more discredited shibboleth, “Taxation is an important means of redistributing wealth and opportunity. We should be using it to make Australians more equal“. Without fail these strident socialist narratives are packaged in a moral language that is seriously flawed. In what sense is the moral integrity of Australian society determined by the use of taxation to tend to the needs of those on the economic fringes? Whatever good may be achieved by ever increasing transfers of wealth, morality is not one of them. Forced morality is of absolutely no moral status, as free choice is the central pre-condition for moral actions. This confusion from church leaders sees churches increasingly reliant on government to fulfil “charitable aims” in situations that fail to deliver outcomes which make any difference.
The assumption promoted by churches that a wealth exchange through taxation is an effective method of alleviating poverty is widely discredited. By advocating such tax transfers, churches deprive community groups, individual givers and welfare recipients of their responsibilities, ensuring dependents and creating massive bureaucracy with no inclination to reducing spending or to solve social ills.
Perhaps most critically for the Catholic Church, such advocacy erodes a key philosophy of Catholic life: The principal of subsidiarity, the belief that what individuals, communities and churches themselves can do, government should not usurp.
Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991) outlined the Catholic view on the economy. Within the Encyclical, the Pope had severe criticism for the Western style welfare state. John Paul noted that the welfare state had so many “malfunctions and deficits” that it threatens “both economic and civil freedoms”. The Pope is right to note that bloated, wasteful and impersonal government welfare often reduces recipients to “mere objects of assistance”, promotes dependents and leads to a vital loss of “human energy”.
Unfortunately, Australian church agencies such as St Vincent de Paul are so enthralled by perpetual welfare and failed left-leading social justice that the poor are permanently locked in a deep dependence of low expectations and little hope.