The line for those in need at Good Shepherd Ministries in Toronto stretched down the block. Michael Swan

John Milloy: Catholics called to action

By  John Milloy
  • April 29, 2020

When will things go back to the way they used to be? Catholics should hope never. 

How we long for those pre-pandemic days — when Corona was the name of a Mexican beer and social distancing meant avoiding a boring co-worker at the office Christmas party.

Although a natural reaction to our current situation, Catholics should reject this nostalgia for the “good old days.” In fact, we should be hoping and praying that things never go back to the way they used to be. 

Why? 

If there is one thing that the current crisis has revealed it’s the massive inequalities that exist in our society. COVID-19 has demonstrated that our society fails to reflect the Catholic belief that every human being is a child of God worthy of dignity and respect.  

Start with those at the bottom of the wage scale. While many of us self-isolate in the comfort and safety of our homes, we watch a cadre of front-line workers put their health at risk to run restaurant drive-thrus, deliver take-out food and ring us through at grocery stores despite low pay, few benefits and precarious employment arrangements.

As we have cheered on our frontline medical workers, we have become increasingly aware of both the crucial role played by personal support workers as well as their meagre wages and extraordinarily difficult working conditions.   

We have learned that calls to “go home and stay home” mean something different to those living in a crowded homeless shelter, couch-surfing from friend’s place to friend’s place or trying to survive in an overpriced shoebox apartment.

The crisis has also shed light on how we deal with our seniors.  Although many receive excellent care, others are warehoused and forgotten in sub-standard facilities. 

As we answer our Catholic call to help build God’s Kingdom on Earth, we need to address these inequalities. It’s central to our faith.

Pope Francis recently drove the point home. In an Easter letter to social groups struggling to deal with the fall-out from COVID-19 he spoke of the “rage and powerlessness” brought about by the “persistent inequalities” that exist in our society as well as lamenting the fact that those at the top use any excuse to maintain their privileges. 

Calling for policies that put “persons, communities and peoples” at the centre, he urged that “life after the pandemic” must focus on ensuring employment, housing and adequate food for all. 

The Pope’s letter contained reference to a “universal basic wage” which some interpreted as an endorsement of a universal basic income. Although the Vatican later clarified that this was not the case and the Pope was instead calling for stable wages and benefits for those in precarious employment, it is clear that he was calling for radical transformation in a post-COVID-19 world.

That is where Catholics come in. We need to keep that spirit alive.  As someone who spent close to two decades in public life, working for a prime minister and then as a provincial cabinet minister, I witnessed public outrage over our society’s inequalities. I also watched the outrage dissipate as the news cycle moved on to other matters or people started to realize that addressing inequality sometimes means increased taxes or fewer services elsewhere.

When I was a politician, I used to joke that we were simple beings. If a candidate knocks on 500 doors and hears over and over again that taxes are too high and nothing about poverty, marginalized workers or seniors care — guess what becomes their priority? The fact that all political parties constantly talk about putting more money in the pockets of the middle class isn’t an accident. 

As our world eventually gets back to normal our attention will turn to other things and concern over inequality will undoubtedly fade. 

Catholics need to keep the momentum going. We need to be the voices demanding more from our elected officials. 

We also have to be honest. Many of us could pay a little more in taxes or accept higher prices for goods and services as companies provide better wages and benefits to workers 

This pivotal moment in our world’s history provides us with a wonderful opportunity to live out our faith. In the words of the Holy Father: “Our civilization — so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock and renew itself.”

(Milloy, a former Liberal MPP and cabinet minister, is the director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College in Waterloo, Ont.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

A very nice article that highlights the urgency of this current crisis, especially from a perspective within Catholicism, and points out the inequality that has been shown through this experience.
Yet, with the points made comes the realization...

A very nice article that highlights the urgency of this current crisis, especially from a perspective within Catholicism, and points out the inequality that has been shown through this experience.
Yet, with the points made comes the realization that it is the choices that we make that determine our outlook of this situation. This experience should not be skewed to promote excessive social assistance, as the government is already taking actions to amend this instance with relief benefits. At this time, the highest and lowest earners are able to work while middle class workers are kept out. This issue is difficult as its scope impacts all nations. As such, the problem with inequality will never fade, yet the methods in which we try to address it (whether through public or private institutions) will. A question that we might get from the COVID-19 crisis is understanding how poverty continues in a country that seeks to prioritize an individual's freedom and decisions.
All in all a worthwhile article to read.

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