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Social services, Laudato Si’ and Jack Mundey’s legacy



In thinking through how social services can contribute to what society or the economy needs in light of the ramifications of COVID-19, Catholicism and communism are not two traditions that probably come to the mind for most. But for the kind of thinking that governance and leaders require to make good decisions in and beyond a time of crisis, there are people and concepts from each tradition that we can learn from. There is a contemporary synergy that has come to the fore in the past week between Catholicism and Communism, which is both challenging and invigorating — and we all should be paying attention.

Laudato Si'

On May 10th, Jack Mundey died, and obituaries and articles on his work, thoughts and achievements have been spread across the political and ideological media landscape. Self-described as someone who ‘joined the Communist Party in the 1950s and remained a member until it went out of operation in 1991’, a unionist and according to Meredith Burgmann ‘…an environmentalist before that term was even used’, he spoke eloquently, and put his life and actions in and on the line, linking the workers movement with the protection of public urban green spaces. He brought idealised concepts, written about by others, into concrete reality.

In 2011, at the 40th anniversary of the first of the Sydney ‘green bans’, he reminisced about what made them significant; ‘They weren’t about workers looking out for their own hip pocket, but for society in general. Yes, it’s our job to build, but we wanted to determine which buildings we built — we were concerned about the end results of our labor.’ Jack Mundey was talking about how things were interconnected, that there was a common good, that the environment was central to this common good, and that workers have power when they work together. He lived out that the health of our working conditions and the environment go hand in hand.

This week, 16th – 24th May has been claimed as Laudato Si’ week, a marker of five years since Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical ‘addressed to all people of good will’. Across its 180 or so pages it sets out the intimate connection between humans and their environment. Touching on labour, technology, consumption, politics, costs and power while seamlessly integrating the works of Popes across the ages, Laudato Si’ argues that the cry of the earth, and the cry of the poor, are one. There is intimate, inseparable connection between a society that is good for people and a society that is good for the environment.

It is more than just an abstract or material interconnection for Pope Francis, it is relational and therefore fundamentally spiritual. Integral ecology is the concept developed to bring all of this together.

In the light of the current COVID-19 crisis, thus far articulated and informed through a public health lens, how do integral ecology, workers’ rights and social services knit together? This crisis, like none before, has and will continue to hit both the supply and demand sides of our economic system. We stand to see unemployment in the lowest income brackets at rates unprecedented in history.


'It will be work for all people of good will to make sure that the lessons learned from Jack Mundey’s life of action are propagated through our communities and institutions during this time of crises.'


The COVID-19 crisis has compounded other crises already inherent and acutely experienced by Australian society. These are crises of our environment — bushfires, floods, drought, and crises of working conditions and policies — a terribly low safety-net welfare payment, a large subsection of the workforce that is precariously held in subcontracted work arrangements and labour hire, a shortage of affordable homes.

Australia continues to require an adept and skilled social services sector that can support people. Even with distinct limits due to funding and an increasingly competitive and ‘impact’-driven management model embraced by much of government and philanthropy, social services have put up a valiant struggle to maintain focus on the person through it all. Now at this crucial juncture of compounded crises, social services need to fully embrace a mode of operating that treats the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor as one.

Here within Catholic social services in Victoria Jack Mundey’s thinking has already had influence. Bronwyn Lay posits that the current CEO of Jesuit Social Services, Julie Edwards 'was inspired to introduce ecology into a traditionally social justice focused organisation seven years before Pope Francis' environmental encyclical Laudato Si' was released'.

This is but one contemporary example of a Catholic social services agency drawing on its tradition and ‘personal’ understanding of what it is to be human in a Created world, and attempting to incorporate this relation to its model of service delivery. It makes sense to dialectically organise our social services organisations to be in right relation with the environment that forms the platform for all human relationships that they stand to work with and within.  

It will be work for all people of good will to make sure that the lessons learned from Jack Mundey’s life of action are propagated through our communities and institutions during this time of crises. This Laudato Si’ week is a great time to visit, or revisit, Pope Francis’ work. If listened to by our Government, social services, businesses and those who work within them, Laudato Si’ will allow humans to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis connected and connecting, transformed even — perhaps in ways enough to transform society itself.



Joshua LourenszJosh Lourensz is Executive Director of CSSV, the peak body for Catholic social services in Victoria. He was profoundly influenced by attending a ‘Living Laudato Si’ workshop last year in Bukidnon, put on by the Jesuit Conference of the Asia Pacific. He is a member of the Australian Services Union.


Topic tags: Joshua Lourensz, social services, Jack Mundey, Laudato Si', COVID-19, integral ecology



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Existing comments

I think Mundey was more about people than politics, about the everyday person than the powerful. At the time, perhaps the only way to express that was through the Communist party, at least to the level of commitment that he felt. Where would he go now?

ErikH | 22 May 2020  

"There is an intimate, inseparable connection between as society that is good for people and a society that is good for the environment." This is a principle on which all people of good will can agree. However, Communist ideology is not representative of it, and its materialist conception of human beings is radically incompatible with Catholic social teaching, which understands human dignity to derive from our relationship with God, our Creator; a premise which, categorically rejected by Communism, facilitates the expendability of the individual and the family in the interests of the State, evident wherever Communist ideology has established itself. Moreover, the value placed on praxis in Communism is at the expense of truth, whereas Catholic social teaching, affirms the intrinsic connection between the two: love expresses itself in action, the principle that underpins "Laudato Si" and the social ministry of the Society of Jesus.

John RD | 24 May 2020  

There has been an interesting nexus between Catholicism and Communism witnessed at its peak in Australia post-World War II when many of this country's most militant Communists were baptised, frequently apostate Catholics educated in Catholic schools and nurtured in the Trade Unions. Within the ranks of Catholicism in more recent times we have witnessed Catholicism and its Social Justice imperatives usurped by Marxist Communism in a movement which has spread from its origins in South America's hybrid brand of social justice/theology. While the social justice imperatives of Marxism are similar in their expression to Catholic Social Justice teaching, they unfortunately exclude God's universal love for all men as the essential philosophy in the implementation of the principles. The big difference between the two is the difference between Christ's socialism of love and care for all within the shepherd's fold and Marxism's socialism of hate and exclusion for any of the flock who dissent.

john frawley | 24 May 2020  

Well said, John RD and John Frawley; except that the shepherd's fold is all embracing and antipathetic to excluding and demonising those mere and significant, and sometimes foolishly exaggerated, temporal attempts, alas all but extinguished these days, to challenge capitalism's proclamation of the gospel of possessive individualism. Far more insidious than communism is the extant philosophy of the free market that so egregiously continues to attack and undermine at every juncture the Gospel message that underpins Catholic Social Teaching.

Michael Furtado | 26 May 2020  

Michael Furtado, to pursue the scriptural metaphor you introduce: the Good Shepherd actually guards against the entry into his fold of wolves intent on devouring his flock. In fact, were the world other than it actually is, there would be no need for a fold at all. Moreover, it is not a question of "demonising" Communism, which, by its own actions, conspicuously manages to disgrace itself - not least by the suppression of the truth and freedom essential to the flourishing of human dignity. Even by its own economic goals and criteria it has proven to be an abject failure, and, ironically, a mere opiate of the masses it controls; increasingly, countries where it still prevails politically engage in the economic activities of the very system it purports to deplore - a system far from perfect, but one at least in principle, and more often than you evidently concede, in practice, committed to and respectful in law of the individual freedom, opportunity, and initiative necessary for economic, social, cultural and political growth.

John RD | 27 May 2020  

Contrary to general presumption, “we” have a lot of money available for socially useful purposes. An incredible proportion of Budget revenues go to the already filthy rich wastrels: Class A - utterly wasted: (a)....owner-occupier cgt exemptions.........................................$74 billion (b) ....extra owner-occupier marginal tax rate c g discount .............................................34 billion (c) ....c g tax discounts for indiv . trusts ................................................................9.6 billion (b) ....fossil fuel subsidies..................10 billion (c) ....borrow from RBA not filthy rich ……........................................................18 billion (d) ....mining industry subsidies.......2.5 billion (e) ....negative gearing................. ... .3.7 billion (f) ....superannuation tax concessions .............................................................33 billion in FY17 (g) ....fuel tax credits..........................6.2 billion (h) ….excessive tax breaks for over 65s......1 billion (i) .... undeserved cash conversion of excess imputation credits..................................................5.6 billion (j) ....general Cwlth industry assistance ……………………................................…12 billion (k)…tax system integrity measures….9 billion I make that roughly $217 BILLION per year of desirable cuts, increasing every year. You try. Lots of money there for much better causes. Ignoring (a) still leaves a fabulous sum for useful purposes.

R. Ambrose Raven | 27 May 2020