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Former Vatican court president Giuseppe Dalla Torre dies at 77

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Giuseppe Dalla Torre, a jurist who retired last year after more than 20 years as president of the Vatican City tribunal, died Thursday at the age of 77.

Dalla Torre was also the longtime rector of Libera Maria Santissima Assunta University (LUMSA) in Rome. He was married and had two daughters, one of whom is deceased.

His funeral will be held on Dec. 5 at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Dalla Torre was the brother of Fra Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, who was the Sovereign Grand Master of the Order of Malta from 2018 until his death on April 29, 2020.

The two brothers were descended from a noble family with long ties to the Holy See. Their grandfather was the director of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano for 40 years, lived in Vatican City, and had Vatican citizenship.

This summer, Giuseppe Dalla Torre published “Papi di Famiglia,” a book about three generations of his family and their service to the Holy See, which spans more than 100 years and eight popes. 

Born in 1943, Dalla Torre studied jurisprudence and canon law before serving as a professor of Church law and constitutional law from 1980 to 1990.

He was rector of the Catholic university LUMSA from 1991 to 2014, and from 1997 to 2019 was president of the Tribunal of Vatican City State, where he led the two so-called “Vatileaks” trials and oversaw the reform of the city state’s penal law.

Dalla Torre was also a consultor of various Vatican dicasteries and a visiting professor at several of Rome’s pontifical universities.

His career included being a columnist for L’Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, a member of the National Bioethics Committee, and president of the Italian Catholic Jurists Union.

Dalla Torre was a lieutenant general of honor of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

LUMSA Rector Francesco Bonini said in a statement on Dalla Torre’s death that “he was a teacher for all of us and a father for many. We remember him with gratitude and we are committed to developing his witness of truth and goodness, a witness of service.”

“We share the pain of Mrs. Nicoletta and Paola, and together we pray to the Lord, at the beginning of this time of Advent, who prepares us, in Christian hope, for the certainty of a life that has no end, in His infinite love,” Bonini concluded.

Scholar: Paper books essential for kids' developing brains

CNA Staff, Dec 3, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic scholar who specializes in dyslexia has warned that children must be exposed to physical books - and not just screens - if they are to develop the skills necessary for analysis and in-depth thinking.

Maryanne Wolf was featured on a podcast entitled, “The Power of Reading: Changing Our Own Brains – Screens vs. Books,” which was produced by the Simbi Foundation as part of its “Impact in the 21st Century” series.

Wolf is a professor-in-residence at UCLA and is the director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice. She also co-founded Curious Learning: A Global Literacy Initiative, which seeks to address the educational needs of under-resourced communities.

Her research is focused on language, the reading brain, and dyslexia. She was also elected as one of the 80 members of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

On the podcast, she explained that physical books are essential for developing deep thinking skills. She stressed that children should be exposed to paper books as well as screens.

“I love language, I love words, and I love children, and I want to be sure that every child in every country… that everyone who struggles and everyone who doesn’t struggle… understands that they can become something they never imagined because reading will give them a vehicle like no other,” she said.

She stressed that she is not anti-technology, but said the science shows that physical books are necessary to foster “literacy in the fullest sense – and by that I mean a proficient, deep reading brain – I want that for our children, for our next generation. I want it for our world.”

Wolf said that due to the excessive amount of information presented in the digital environment, readers are more likely to skim information instead of reading articles and paragraphs thoroughly. However, reading slowly helps promote critical thinking and empathy, while also reading quickly promotes a reliance on familiar information instead of developing new perspectives.

“My concern about this new norm of the skimming reader – which is really very close to being almost a non-reader when it comes to connecting to the deep processes that we possess – the implications are profound,” said Wolf.

“It’s about how do we interest people in developing their own intelligence, their own best thinking, and not to be content with a skim that literally misses beauty, misses the depths of language and meaning, misses complexity, misses our own ability to be critically analytic, misses our ability to leave our little selves, our egocentric spheres, and enter the perspective of another person.”

“We are challenged by perspectives of others into analyzing ourselves, analyzing where we are,” she said. “And that is what makes us able to be not just a better individual but a better member of society, who will say, ‘Wait, pause. We can’t just accept something just because it’s in our familiar silo.’”

 

Supreme Court vacates ruling on California church closures

CNA Staff, Dec 3, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- In an apparent victory for religious freedom during state efforts to impose necessary COVID restrictions, the Supreme Court on Thursday vacated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling against California churches.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Brooklyn Diocese and Orthodox Jewish synagogues in their case against the state’s COVID restrictions. On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court accepted the appeal of California churches against the state’s restrictions and vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision, sending the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of its opinion on the Brooklyn Diocese case.

On Nov. 23, Harvest Rock Church--a church with several campuses in California--and Harvest International Ministry--an association of churches in the state--appealed to the Supreme Court for relief from the state’s pandemic-related restrictions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” in August, restricting the operations of some businesses and organizations. Depending upon the severity of the spread of the coronavirus in a particular area, the order curbed the operations of certain businesses and organizations. 

In “Tier 1,” the areas with the supposed worst spread of the virus, the order banned indoor worship altogether but permitted outdoor worship; these areas included the locations of Harvest Rock church campuses.

According to the churches’ appeal, California banned indoor worship “in over 41 counties,” prohibited singing as a high-risk activity in counties where indoor worship was allowed, and even banned some indoor religious gatherings in private homes.

Harvest Rock alleged that Newsom has applied a double-standard during the nine months of the pandemic, curbing religious services while allowing comparable non-religious gatherings and mass protests to continue “without numerical restriction.”

“Despite his nine-month reign of executive edicts subjugating Californians to restrictions unknown to constitutional law, the Governor continues to impose draconian and unconscionable prohibitions on the daily life of all Californians that even the Governor disregards at his own whim,” the church said in its appeal.

Harvest Rock said that following Newsom’s order, local officials began sending letters “threatening up to 1 year in prison, daily criminal charges and $1,000 fines against the pastors, church, governing board, staff, and parishioners” if they did not comply with the restrictions.

The church filed a lawsuit against the state, but a district court would not grant its request to halt the restrictions. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled against the church in October, refusing to overrule the district court’s decision and saying that while the state provided expert testimony to support its public health restrictions, the church had not provided its own health expert to make its case.

The church appealed its case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the state’s restrictions marginalized its religious freedom to “constitutional orphan status.”

On Thursday the Supreme Court accepted the church’s appeal, vacated the Ninth Circuit decision, and sent the case back to the circuit court for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Brooklyn Diocese case.

In that case, the diocese had appealed for relief from state restrictions on churches and other establishments. New York had identified certain geographic zones where the virus was supposedly spreading, and set up a color-system based on how serious the spread of the virus was.

In the “red” zones, where the spread was most severe, churches were effectively limited to only 10 people at a time for indoor Mass, sacraments, and prayer.

The court found that, while churches were restricted, other businesses deemed “essential” by the state did not have capacity limits indoors. In addition, the state could have used less restrictive measures on the freedom of religion, especially given there was “no evidence” the churches “contributed to the spread of COVID-19.”

The majority opinion, joined by new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, stated that “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

“The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the ruling concluded.

Catholic bishops welcome ‘realistic’ new measures for public Masses in France

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Bishops in France have welcomed new government measures that will allow more people to attend public Masses during Advent. 

Gérald Darmanin, French Minister of the Interior, announced Dec. 2 a change to a previously proposed 30-person limit on attendance of public Masses after France’s highest administrative court overturned the restriction in response to a legal appeal by the Catholic bishops’ conference.

Under the revised measures, people will be required to leave two free seats between each person or family and to only occupy every other pew.

The French bishops’ conference issued a statement Dec. 2 calling the new measure “more realistic”  as it is proportionate to each church’s  building capacity. 

The bishops said that the new measure would apply through the next two Sundays of Advent and then should be reevaluated on Dec. 15 on the basis of the latest health data. They expressed hope that Christmas liturgies would be able to take place with “the least possible restriction.”

Vincent Neymon, spokesman of the French bishops’ conference, wrote on Twitter Dec. 2: “It governs the capacity of churches until December 15. Afterwards, let us hope that the sanitary conditions allow more people and that Christmas 2020 will bring together all those who want to celebrate the coming of Jesus.” 

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops’ conference, has been a primary point of contact in the bishops’ negotiations with the French government since public Masses were suspended on Nov. 2.

The Vatican announced that Moulins-Beaufort met with Pope Francis Dec. 3, along with the two vice presidents of the French bishops conference, Bishop Dominique Blanchet of Belfort-Montbéliard and Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras, and secretary general Fr. Hugues de Woillemont. The Vatican did not disclose any further details about the meeting. 

France’s current lockdown restrictions are expected to be lifted on Dec. 15. But a curfew will be enforced and bars and restaurants are likely to remain closed over Christmas. Shops have reopened and people are allowed to move within a 12-mile radius of their homes.

France has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 2.2 million recorded cases and over 52,000 deaths as of Dec. 3, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Catholics in Paris have begun a novena, which will end on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. They are asking for the intercession of St. Denis, St. Genevieve, St. Louis, St. Vincent de Paul, and other saints of the country known as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.”

Polish Catholic leader to European Parliament: There can be no compromise on the right to life

CNA Staff, Dec 3, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic archbishop spoke out Wednesday after the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning Poland’s pro-life laws. 

In a Dec. 2 statement, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of Poland’s bishops’ conference, said that there could be no compromise on the right to life. 

He said: “The right to life is a fundamental human right. It always takes precedence over the right to choose, because no person can authoritatively allow the possibility of killing another.”

The archbishop was responding to a resolution adopted by the European Parliament Nov. 26 condemning Poland’s “de facto ban on the right to abortion.” 

The European Parliament, the European Union’s law-making body, passed the resolution by 455 votes to 145 after Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled Oct. 22 that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

Gądecki, the vice president of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), noted that the resolution repeatedly referred to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, pointing out that the charter declares that “Everyone has the right to life.”

“The European Union thus recognizes that the inalienable dignity of the human person and respect for the right to life are fundamental criteria for democracy and the rule of law,” he said.

The archbishop of Poznań argued that the title of the resolution was itself misleading as there is no “right to abortion” either from an ethical standpoint or in international law. 

“In no democratic legal order can there be a right to kill an innocent person,” he said.

He also objected to the resolution’s reference to an “abortion compromise” in Poland. The phrase refers to laws passed after the collapse of communism which restricted abortion but still permitted it in limited circumstances. 

He said: “Talking about the so-called legal compromise on the protection of life is a falsification of reality because it omits the most important third party in the dispute, i.e. unborn children and their inalienable right to life.” 

“Any compromise in this matter is tantamount to depriving some children of their fundamental right to life and imposing the death penalty in a brutal way, which, let’s recall, is also prohibited by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. There can therefore be no compromise in this regard.”

Gądecki quoted Pope Francis several times in his statement, including the pope’s Nov. 22 letter to a group of Argentine women. In the letter, the pope said that abortion was primarily an ethical issue rather than a religious one. “Is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem?” he wrote after Argentine President Alberto Fernández introduced the bill to legalize abortion. “Is it fair to hire a hitman to solve a problem?” 

Gądecki also noted that Pope Francis had expressed support for pro-lifers in Poland following mass demonstrations against the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling. 

Protesters disrupted Masses while holding signs supporting abortion, left graffiti on Church property, vandalized statues of St. John Paul II, and chanted slogans at clergy. 

The archbishop thanked those who witnessed to the value of human life despite being “often met with aggression and contempt.” 

He also praised communities in Poland that sought to defend unborn life. 

“They are the voice of natural reason, which consistently, contrary to ideological conformism and opportunism, defends human life in every phase of its development,” he said. 

“They are the voice of hundreds of millions of people around the world who have discovered the beauty of every life.”

“Unfortunately, this brave and righteous voice is often met with aggression and violence by the supporters of the civilization of death.”

The archbishop praised people who not only worked for full legal protection of unborn life, but also offered help and support to expectant mothers. 

“From the heart I bless all people of goodwill and pray for the grace of conversion for those who have not yet discovered the stunning beauty of every life,” he wrote. 

“I also recommend to God all those who in Europe maintain an awareness of their spiritual and religious and moral heritage.”

Pope Francis: Disabled people must have access to the sacraments, Catholic parish life

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2020 / 06:05 am (CNA).- People with disabilities must have access to the sacraments and, as missionary disciples, the ability to be full and active participants in the life of their Catholic parish, Pope Francis said Thursday.

“Before all else, I strongly reaffirm the right of persons with disabilities to receive the sacraments, like all other members of the Church,” he said in a message for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities Dec. 3.

“All liturgical celebrations in the parish should be accessible” to the disabled, he continued, “so that, together with their brothers and sisters, each of them can deepen, celebrate, and live their faith.”

“I reiterate the need to make available suitable and accessible means for handing on the faith,” he said. “No one should be excluded from the grace of these sacraments.”

Francis emphasized that, by virtue of their baptism, disabled people are called to missionary discipleship just as much as every other baptized person. He encouraged parishes to include them not only as “recipients” of pastoral ministry, but also as “active subjects.”

“All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization,” he said, quoting his 2013 apostolic exhortationEvangelii gaudium.”

He also urged that special attention be paid to those who have not yet received the sacraments of Christian initiation, saying “they should be welcomed and included in programmes of catechesis in preparation for these sacraments.”

Though it takes effort to fully include everyone, according to their own gifts and talents, he said “the active participation of people with disabilities in the work of catechesis can greatly enrich the life of the whole parish.”

“Precisely because they have been grafted onto Christ in baptism,” Francis wrote, “they share with him, in their own particular way, the priestly, prophetic, and royal mission of evangelizing through, with and in the Church.”

He added that he hoped that resources for catechesis would be made available cost-free to those who need them, also by utilizing technology, which has become even more important during the pandemic.

Pope Francis said that he also wanted priests, seminarians, religious, catechists, and pastoral workers to receive regular training about disability and inclusion.

“I trust that, in parish communities, more and more people with disabilities can become catechists, in order to pass on the faith effectively, also by their own witness, he said.

“Parish communities should be concerned to encourage among the faithful a welcoming attitude towards people with disabilities,” he explained.

“Creating a fully accessible parish requires not only the removal of architectural barriers, but above all, helping parishioners to develop attitudes and acts of solidarity and service towards persons with disabilities and their families. Our aim should be to speak no longer about ‘them,’ but rather about ‘us.’” 

The theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “Building Back Better: Toward a Disability-inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable post-COVID-19 World.”

Pope Francis said “it is important on this Day, to promote a culture of life that constantly affirms the dignity of every person and works especially to defend men and women with disabilities, of all ages and social conditions.”

Referring to the parable of the houses built on rock and sand, he said “inclusion should be the first ‘rock’ on which to build our house.”

In society, “inclusion should be the ‘rock’ on which to build programmes and initiatives of civil institutions meant to ensure that no one, especially those in greatest difficulty, is left behind,” he said.

Catholic priest in Nigeria released after being held captive for 10 days

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- A priest who was kidnapped in Nigeria has been released after being held captive for 10 days. 

“We thank God for the safe release of our brother, Fr. Matthew Dajo … We thank you all for your kind prayers. We also thank the family of Fr. Dajo and all those who assisted in securing his release,” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja said Dec. 2 in a statement sent to CNA.

“We pray that there will be improved security in the country. Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us,” the archbishop said.

Dajo was released by his kidnappers on Dec. 2, according to the archdiocese. During the 10 days that Dajo was held captive, Kaigama repeatedly appealed for people to pray for his safe release and for others also held captive.

On Dec. 1, the chancellor of Abuja archdiocese said: “His Grace requests that you and your parishioners should not relent, but rather, intensify your prayers for his safe return and for our country Nigeria. May Our Lady Queen of Nigeria continue to intercede for us. Amen.”

Dajo was abducted by gunmen on the night of Nov. 22 during an attack on the town of Yangoji, where his parish, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, is located.

“Armed bandits raided the community and shot sporadically for about 30 minutes,” Fr. Kevin Oselumhense Anetor told CNA’s African news partner, ACI Africa.

“The gunmen scaled through the fence of the priest’s house, while others positioned themselves outside, before entering Fr. Matthew’s bedroom and whisking him away.”

Kidnappings of Catholics in Nigeria are an ongoing problem that not only affects priests and seminarians, but also lay faithful, Kaigama said at a virtual event on persecuted Christians Nov. 25.

“We have cases of abductions, detentions, and killings by terrorist groups, criminal herdsmen, bandits, and gangs of kidnappers to contend with,” he said.

“Last week, in one of our parishes in Abuja archdiocese behind the parish house, five children of the same parents were kidnapped, and the following day a woman preparing for her church wedding was also kidnapped. They have not been found.”

The Islamist group Boko Haram is behind many of the abductions. On Nov. 28 Islamist militants massacred at least 110 farmers and beheaded an estimated 30 people in Nigeria’s northeast Borno State.

Pope Francis said Dec. 2 that he was praying for Nigeria after the attack, which a United Nations representative called the most violent direct attack against civilians in the country this year.

“I want to assure my prayers for Nigeria, where blood has unfortunately been spilled once more in a terrorist massacre,” the pope said at the end of his general audience.

“Last Saturday, in the northeast of the country, more than 100 farmers were brutally killed. May God welcome them in His peace and comfort their families, and convert the hearts of those who commit similar atrocities which gravely offend His name,” he said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but local anti-jihadist militia told AFP that Boko Haram operates in the area and frequently attacks farmers. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has also been named as a possible perpetrator of the massacre.

More than 12,000 Christians in Nigeria have been killed in Islamist attacks since June 2015, according to a 2020 report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, a Nigerian human rights organization.

The same report found that 600 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first five months of 2020. 

Christians in Nigeria have been beheaded and set on fire, farms have been set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.

Boko Haram kidnapped 110 students from their boarding school in February 2018. Of those kidnapped, one girl, Leah Sharibu, is still being held. 

“Leah has become a symbol of Christian resilience against forced conversion,” Archbishop Kaigama said.

He added that “however we must not forget the remaining 112 Chibok girls and others who are held captive with many either dead or forcefully married off,” referring to the kidnapping of 276 girls in the town of Chibok, Borno State, in 2014.

“Others like her are used as human shields, sex slaves, or bargaining chips for ransom from government and international organizations,” he said.

“The forceful abduction and conversion of underage Christians girls is real. On the other hand, Muslim girls who freely choose to marry Christian men face threats of death.”

Kaigama said that the United Nations, the European Union, and key countries like the United States could do more to share strategic intelligence and give more technical support to Nigeria in the face of terrorist threats.

“Western nations need to pay the same attention to this reality as they vigorously do in their countries in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“The Christian-dominated Middle Belt and some parts of northern Nigeria will have no future if groups like Boko Haram and allied terror groups continue to harass them.”

Pope Francis’ ambulance brings free flu shots and coronavirus tests to the homeless

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 04:10 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ charity brought free flu vaccines and coronavirus tests to homeless people living in a town outside Rome on Wednesday.

The Vatican ambulance carried the medical supplies to the small seaside town of Torvaianica, located outside the wider metropolitan area of Rome, about 45 miles south of the city center.

Despite heavy rain, health staff from the papal charity office administered the flu shots and COVID-19 tests to 35 people in the courtyard in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate Parish, according to Vatican News.

Those who received the help were mostly immigrants from Argentina, Colombia, and Peru, who do not have access to regular medical services. 

Torvaianica is marked by poverty and homelessness, and some of the people who received help Dec. 2 engage in prostitution on the town’s beachfront, Vatican News reported.

The local priest, Fr. Andrea Conocchia, said that this may have been the first time they had “received such concrete and effective attention on the part of the Church.”

Despite the clouds and rain, he said that “it was a sunny day, because it was illuminated and warmed by the presence of friends who arrived in the Vatican ambulance.”

“People are happy for this closeness, for this presence, attention and care,” the priest added. “They were very excited.”

“They pray for the Church. They ask for blessings for the pope. They are really very content and very happy” to receive help, he said.

In April, Pope Francis’ almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, sent money to a group of transgender prostitutes in Torvaianica who were facing homelessness and had asked for assistance from the local parish.

Krajewski sent money for them to cover their rent and bills until Italy’s nationwide lockdown ended in May.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the papal charity office, led by Krajewski, has been helping the poor and homeless around Rome by handing out meals and protective gear such as face masks.

The office has also donated ventilators to hospitals in Italy, Brazil, and Spain.

In April, Krajewski wrote to cardinals, archbishops, bishops and other members of the Papal Chapel, which assists the pope during liturgical ceremonies, inviting them to make a financial offering to support those suffering during the pandemic. 

The cardinal told CNA that some officials had given the equivalent of a month’s salary, while others had donated two months’ worth of their earnings. 

He praised the “heartfelt response,” which he said “exceeded all of our thoughts.”

Some of the funds were given to the needy in Romania and ventilators were sent to Zambia, Krajewski said.

Vienna terror attack reportedly intended to target church youth group

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 06:11 pm (CNA).- A gunman affiliated with the Islamic State had planned to attack a Catholic youth group meeting at a church in Vienna during his Nov. 2 terror attack, according to local media.

On Nov. 2, a gunman killed at least four people and injured more than 20 others in Vienna. The attack began at about 8 p.m. near the city’s main synagogue, with a heavily armed man firing a pistol and machine gun at people sitting outside bars and restaurants before being shot dead near a local Catholic church.

The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack, releasing a video of a man identified as Abu Dagnah Al-Albany.

Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung is reporting that Al-Albany had wanted a bloodbath and tried to enter St. Rupert’s Catholic Church, where a Catholic youth group was gathered. He was unable to enter the building, as the gates were locked, and he was then shot dead by police.

The Vienna archdiocese said 17 people were in the church. Upon hearing shots fired, they turned off the lights and hid until 2:30 a.m. the next morning, when police cleared them to leave.

Austrian officials say the gunman’s real name was Kujtim Fejzulai, a 20-year-old Austrian man who last year was sentenced to 22 months in prison for attempting to travel to Syria in order to join the Islamic State. He was released early on parole, according to local media reports.

Austrian officials say they will be enhancing security measures at churches for Christmas.

 

Payday loan expansion means fast money and cycle of debt for Michigan's poor, bishops say

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A Michigan proposal to quadruple the maximum lending amount allowed for payday lenders would exploit the poor and trap many people in a cycle of debt when alternatives are available, the Michigan Catholic Conference has told a State Senate committee.

“People in the state may be unaware that charity agencies and low-income lending opportunities exist to assist those who are in dire circumstances and need quick access to cash,” David Maluchnik, vice-president of communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said Dec. 1.

“High-interest loans that add greater financial burden to poor people should be opposed, as they contribute to an economy of exclusion rather than serving the dignity of the human person. The legislation before committee today is a form of modern-day usury; it would exploit individuals and families facing hardship and poses a danger to the common good,” he said.

Maluchnik testified before the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee against House Bill 5097, proposed by State Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Kalamazoo. The bill passed the House of Representatives in May, with support from 15 Democratic lawmakers.

The bill increases the amount that can be borrowed under the law from $600 to $2,500. It would allow monthly fees of 11% on the loan principal for payday loans, also known as cash advances.

The annual interest rate on a maximum loan would exceed 130%, the Catholic conference said. In a flier criticizing the bill, it said this was “exorbitant.”

“Data shows that rates such as these wreak financial havoc on individuals who typically need a one-time cash solution. In order to pay these loans off, over 70% of borrowers take out new payday loans within 30 days, causing a long-term debt cycle for their family,” said the flier.

The flier recommends alternatives to payday loans: alternative lending programs, credit unions, and financial education resources. During the coronavirus pandemic, it said, Michigan credit unions have made nearly 9,500 emergency cash loans totaling over $22.5 million.

Other critics of the law include the Michigan Poverty Law Program and Habitat for Humanity of Michigan.

Iden, the bill’s backer, told The Detroit News in September that inflation has increased since 2005, when payday loans first became legal and the limit was set. It now takes more money to replace a set of tires than 15 years ago. He said “a number of conversations” with constituents inspired the move.

The industry is also competing with online lenders.

Rep. Diana Farrington, R-Utica, chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, opposed the bill. She said that the average loan is for $400.

“I was just concerned because individuals get into a debt cycle with payday lending,” she told the Detroit News.

Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, supported the bill. He said people need the opportunity to get money in an emergency like the pandemic, and those who make payments on time will build their credit rating.

Hickson said that under the proposed change, someone could pay $4,600 on a $2,500 loan over a year, the maximum loan term allowed. He characterized the proposal as “legalized loan sharking.”

The Detroit News reported that companies or lobbyists backing increased payday lending had given tens of thousands of dollars to Michigan lawmakers’ campaigns.

The Church has consistently taught that usury is evil, including in numerous ecumenical councils.

In Vix pervenit, his 1745 encyclical on usury and other dishonest profit, Benedict XIV taught that a loan contract demands “that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious.”

In his General Audience address of Feb. 10, 2016, Pope Francis taught that “Scripture persistently exhorts a generous response to requests for loans, without making petty calculations and without demanding impossible interest rates,” citing Leviticus.

“This lesson is always timely,” he said. “How many families there are on the street, victims of profiteering … It is a grave sin, usury is a sin that cries out in the presence of God.”