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Pope berates 'inhuman' loan sharks

Usurers 'starving families' says Francis

29 January, 18:52
Pope berates 'inhuman' loan sharks (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Vatican City, January 29 - Pope Francis on Wednesday blasted "inhuman" loan sharks he said were "starving" Italian families forced ever deeper into debt by the country's worst postwar recession.

"When a family doesn't have anything to eat because it must pay the mortgage to usurers, no, that is not Christian, that is not human," said Francis at Wednesday's general audience in a salute to an Italian anti-usury association in attendance.

The pope called for the "commitment of institutions" to fight usury, which he called a "dramatic social scourge that wounds the inviolable dignity of the human being".

According to figures released after the pope's message, the number of extortion and usury victims who asked for help from an interior ministry crisis centre on loan-sharking more than doubled last year, to over 1,500.

"And that is quite obviously just the tiniest tip of the iceberg," the centre said. Francis's broadside was the latest in a string of condemnations of the effects of unbridled global capitalism which has widened the gap between rich and poor worldwide.

Francis devoted much of his first major written teaching, an apostolic exhortation, to a scathing critique of unchecked neoliberal free-market policies, chiming with the message of Jesus.

In the words of Rolling Stone, which put Francis on its cover this week under the Bob Dylan protest song caption The Time They are a-Changing, "The pope revealed his own obsessions to be more in line with the boss' son". Time magazine, which anointed Francis its person of the year last month, highlighted that, in the exhortation, Francis could "barely contain his outrage when he writes, "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?".

"Elsewhere in his exhortation," Time went on, "he goes directly after capitalism and globalization: "Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion...has never been confirmed by the facts".

"He says the church must work "to eliminate the structural causes of poverty" and adds that while "the Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike...he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor". On January 23 Francis called on the world's media to help bridge the "scandalous" divide between rich and poor.

"On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor," said the Argentine pope in his message for the Catholic Church's World Communications Day this summer.

Francis has taken every opportunity to draw attention to the plight of the world's poor since his election to replace Benedict XVI following his abdication last February.

"Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives," the pope continued.

"In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all," said Francis.

Just before Christmas Francis said he wanted to visit the southern Italian city of Taranto, plagued by environmental and labour disasters caused at the troubled ILVA steelworks.

"The pontiff is eager to see the problems for himself," Taranto Archbishop Filippo Santoro said after a private audience with the pope.

The ILVA steel plant has been at the centre of a long-running judicial and political drama as courts have moved to force the company to make expensive environmental upgrades to the plant, accused of polluting the area and creating health problems for more than a decade.

Meanwhile hundreds of jobs have been put at risk in an area suffering the brunt of the recession.

A month earlier, Francis voiced the hope that Italy would "find again the creativity and harmony necessary" for its industrial development in a blessing at the presidential palace in Rome.

Speaking beside Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, the pontiff said the recession-hit country's development was critical to "promoting the common good and the dignity of every person, and to offering the international community its contribution for peace and justice".