Deputy Principal - Faith

Australian Catholic Bishops 2016 Social Justice Statement – Part 1

On September 6 the Australian Catholic Bishops released their 2016 Social Justice Statement entitled, “A Place at the Table (Social Justice in an Ageing Society)”.  In his opening message to this document, the Chair of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Vincent Nguyen of Parramatta said, “The journey into old age presents both challenges and opportunities for us all. Retirement, changing health and altered living conditions can be confronting for individuals and their families…We are seeing a new vision of ageing, one where many people enter their 60s and 70s in good health and with plenty of skills and energy to offer our communities.”  However, Bishop Nguyen goes on to challenge us by saying, “Stereotypes of older people as doddering, out of touch or dependent are false and dehumanising. People are not commodities, to be valued only for their productivity or purchasing power. They are human beings in the fullest sense, precious in their own right, possessing a dignity that was given them by God. Furthermore, their wisdom and lived experience are priceless treasures that can enrich our lives.”

The Social Justice Statement itself begins by quoting Pope Francis which in
part says, “We must reawaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elderly feel like a living part of the community.”  The Bishops explain that Australia’s population over 65 will double from 3.6 million to 8.9 million by 2050; they are concerned that we continue to support these Australians.  They are concerned that they are not treated as economic commodities, that we give them a high level of care and that we develop a new solidarity between the young and the old.

The Statement highlights the fact that after retirement older Australians will have a productive life by mixing some form of work with learning, caring for family members, many and varied leisure activities and social engagement.  For this to happen the Australian Bishops believe we need to address some key barriers.  Firstly, that of discrimination of the elderly who are denied employment, promotion and training and treated in a derogatory way at the work place.  Secondly, many older people are now part of the marginalised of society because of long term unemployment due to redundancies from global competition and restructuring.  Women are marginalised and disadvantaged due to limited retirement savings and Grandparents can become primary caregivers to grandchildren which causes significant emotional and financial stress.  There are other marginalised groups such as the homeless and the Indigenous also mentioned by the Bishops.  A third barrier addressed by the Bishops is that of regarding the elderly in purely economic or utilitarian terms.  The human person, not money should be the focus of the economy.

The Bishops offer three solutions to these barriers:  Lifting pensions so the elderly do not fall into poverty, acknowledging the true value of those who are volunteering and therefore contributing significantly to the social and economic life of the country and acknowledging the wide-ranging roles older people play in society not just in employment.

 In the next Newsletter I will outline the Australian Bishops’ concerns for the dignity and wellbeing of the elderly.

Dr Michael Grace
Deputy Principal - Faith