In a new interview, the cardinal archbishop of Barcelona and president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference has hit out at capitalism and supported a universal basic wage.

– “Capitalism, the free market, must have a social corrective”

“Capitalism, the free market, must have a social corrective”, Cardinal Juan José Omella told El Diario de León in an interview published May 19.

“In the last economic crisis, we found that those who fell into poverty later could not get up”, the archbishop continued, referring to the 2008 global financial crisis in Spain that left over ten million Spaniards still living below the poverty line.

Asked whether the time has come for society to get serious in stopping tax evasion and tax havens, Omella was unequivocal.

“Absolutely, not only because of the epidemic, but at all times”, he insisted.

– “Where decent jobs, homes and wages can’t be guaranteed, the universal basic wage must be permanent”

On the question of the universal basic wage – which Pope Francis himself proposed in an Easter letter to the world’s popular movements – Cardinal Omella referred to the controversy in Spanish society that arose when secretary and spokesman of the country’s Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Luis Argüello, appeared to contradict the pontiff on the need to protect society’s most vulnerable.

Francis said a universal basic wage “would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights”. But Argüello affirmed that such “subsidies” for citizens were “not a desirable long-term horizon for the common good”.

Many regarded Argüello’s words as an uncalled for interference in Spanish politics, as the government, too, was preparing to implement a minimum living wage from June that will range from 462 to 1,015 euros a month and will potentially benefit up to a million households.

But Omella played down the controversy with Argüello and recalled that a universal basic wage “is the idea of Caritas and of so many people who want there to be decent jobs, homes and wages”.

“When this cannot be guaranteed, the [universal basic] income must be permanent”, the cardinal insisted.

– Against the “useless wars” of anti-coronavirus lockdown protests, for the regularisation of ‘illegal’ migrants

On the question of anti-coronavirus lockdown protests currently raging around Spain, Omella called for citizens to maintain a “cool head”.

“The virus has a great power of contagion, so we must respect the preventive rules [and] not hold rallies so to avoid a new outbreak and the collapse of hospitals. Having said that, we must be guided by common sense and not wage useless wars that are very painful for everyone”, the cardinal warned.

On the issue of whether Spain should regularise the situation of ‘illegal’ migrants without papers in the country, as Portugal and Italy have done amid the pandemic, Omella was equally clear.

“My position is that the Earth is everyone’s common home, as Pope Francis rightly says. It hurts me that people have to flee, whether it be in the third world or in the first world, because of poverty, war or persecution”, he said.

– Christian Workers’ Movement of Portugal also supports basic wage

The push for a Europe-wide guaranteed minimum income is gaining steam in Spain, Portugal and Italy, with politicians and bishops from those countries agreeing on the need for a “social shield” to protect the 113 million citizens on the continent at risk of poverty.

Cardinal Omella’s latest comments give new impetus to that push, as does a reflection last week from the Christian Workers’ Movement of Portugal.

With COVID-19, “We may be entering into the Crisis of Crises of the 21st century”, the Movement warned, adding that “this pandemic situation we are experiencing due to the new coronavirus challenges us to find solutions to the problems and in particular to the poverty that threatens the planet”.

“This health crisis, which is causing hundreds of thousands of deaths throughout the world and which presents us with an unprecedented financial and economic crisis, must also provoke profound reflection at various levels in order to find different responses so that everyone can lead a more dignified, just and humane life”, the Movement added, insisting that the universal basic wage forms part of an “uncompromising defence of the common good”.

More on Novena on the debate over the universal basic wage:

13/4: Prophetic: Pope rages against “economic power”, “idolatry” of money; proposes universal basic wage

“An anchor for the most disadvantaged”: bishops in Portugal, Spain back Europe-wide guaranteed minimum income

French traditionalist abbot resorts to fearmongering on minimum income, says it would lead to “apocalypse”

Caritas Europa calls for guaranteed minimum income “to ensure dignity for all”

Cardinal clarifies Pope’s ‘universal basic wage’ not ‘universal basic income’

Austrian Catholics argue from Church teaching for minimum income during coronavirus, beyond

“Time to support the people”: 127,000 Europeans ask Brussels for urgent coronavirus relief in form of minimum income


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.