German and Austrian cardinals have warned of growing social inequalities in their respective countries and beyond as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.

– Cardinal Marx: “The more unequal a society is, the more unstable it is”

“The more unequal a society is, the more unstable it is”, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising and former President of the German Bishops’ Conference, alerted April 30 in comments to German newspaper Handelsblatt.

The cardinal explained that the wealthy elite often emerge even stronger from disasters because they have a greater capacity to react to upheavals than do those with modest incomes, many of whom – due to the COVID-19-related closures of businesses and factories – have been receiving subsidies from the State to the tune of 60% of their salaries.

But tensions arise when workers are forced to take cuts to their income and feel they are the wrongful victims of crises, Marx warned.

That situation of tension is compounded by the threat that populisms will take advantage of the pandemic, for which reason the cardinal said “politicians have to react, and they do, for example with short-term subsidies”.

– “I can feel the seething under my feet, I can feel the restlessness”

As an example of bubbling social tensions, Marx gave the example of Italy, the European country hardest-hit by the pandemic and where citizens fear the emergence of a right-wing populist government if the EU doesn’t show greater solidarity.

I have been saying for a year or two, again and again: the social, political and ecological consequences of unchecked capitalism are now increasingly on the agenda”, Marx insisted.

“And I can feel the seething under my feet, I can feel the restlessness”, the cardinal warned.

It is not that he is against capitalism and the free market economy necessarily, he explained, but rather that order is needed in the system.

Insisting that companies pay their fair share of taxes is one way to put that order, Marx went on, especially given the negative effects of internet companies, and others, not paying duties in the countries in which they operate and not thereby participating in the social challenges of those nations.

– Cardinal Schönborn: “Are the big corporate groups coming now, which swallow small businesses like sharks?”

For his part, Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn spoke out to Austrian newspaper heute April 30, on the Day of the Unemployed, to recall that work does not only mean material security, but also gives “meaning and dignity in life”.

The cardinal denounced not only that some 200,000 people in Austria have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but also that the workload for workers in the hospital, agriculture and supply sectors especially is increasing, as it is also in some offices.

Many of the new unemployed are uncertain and concerned about the future, the president of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference went on, expressing worries especially for the single parents, self-employed and small businesses hardest hit by the crisis, and for those who have lost everything they have built up.

Schönborn warned politicians that big decisions on society and the economy are looming on the horizon.

“Will we manage to spread work fairly during and after the crisis? Will we continue to show solidarity with the weaker? Or are the big corporate groups coming now, which swallow small businesses like sharks? Will the winners from the crisis get rich from the needs of others?”, the cardinal asked.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.