Housing debt, consumerism taking toll: Archbishop Hickey

The real estate boom may be making Perth an investor's paradise but Archbishop Barry Hickey says that the associated problems of bankruptcies and mortgagee sales are causing marriage failures and even suicide.

Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey told the Perth Sunday Times that values, happiness and mateship were also disappearing under pressure from growing mortgages.

"It is an unfortunate development (of the boom) that so many young families are now in terrible debt that will take their lifetime and their children's lifetime to pay off," he said.

"I've never seen people weighed down with so many problems. The number of bankruptcies, mortgages that are called in and people losing their houses, is increasing. That causes terrible problems within marriages, families and also suicide rates and so forth.

"No wonder people are obsessed by money, and equity and property - because they've got big mortgages to pay off," Archbishop Hickey told the Sunday Times.

"They probably can't just take it easy and befriend one another. So the values tend to disappear because of the financial problems and concerns they have."

But people had not lost their values entirely - Australians were still pretty generous he said.

"Most people know where happiness lies," he said. "They know it lies in good relationships, with happy families, getting on with people.

"But I think we've been conned by an enormous publicity machine, that says material goods will make you happy, that a new plasma television screen will somehow or other fulfil your life."

People on high and low incomes were in the same trap.

"You mortgage yourself to the hilt, buy what you can and, of course, you need the high salary to pay that off," he said. "If you've got a low salary, you do the same, you mortgage yourself up to that point.

"So it's not a question of higher salaries. It's a question of just waking up to realise that we ought to be saving and we don't need, for personal happiness, many of the things we're told we need."

Christmas could be an opportunity for people to step back and think about what their priorities should be.

"Loving people, and being kind and forgiving, will emit a real spiritual joy," he said. "What's necessary are the people around you and the love you receive from them and give them."

As Christmas approached, people should not forget it was a celebration of God coming among people as Christ, and that they should be good to one another.

"We should celebrate Christmas properly," he said, "Because if we think it's only about gifts, then we'll be left empty after Christmas, both in our pockets and in our hearts."

Housing boom 'wrecking family life' (The Sunday Times, 26/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archbishop Barry Hickey (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference)
Perth Archdiocese

Triple whammy for low income households: CSSA (CathNews, 3/10/06)
Avoid iPod "self-indulgence", warns family group (CathNews, 13/7/06)

27 Nov 2006