So each 50
years, the poor and the oppressed were to receive a fresh start.
And in forgiving debts, creditors would demonstrate that all "property"
ultimately belongs to God.
On the threshold
of the new millennium, we're applying this tradition to modern times.
In Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Holy Father writes that "Christians
will have to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the
world, proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought,
among other things, to reducing substantially, if not canceling
outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future
of many nations."
like to reflect on the debt crisis in light of Catholic social teaching,
because the notion of debt forgiveness is not always popular. Some
people believe anyone owed money has a legitimate right to collect
it. This is true. In fact, Catholic teaching includes the presumption
that lawful debts must be paid.
But the right
to collect debts can be overshadowed by more compelling moral concerns.
Any governmental policy or program including a policy to
collect debt must be measured by whether it enhances or diminishes
human dignity. That's because every person is created in the image
of God, and every person has basic human rights.
me to my third point. In many countries today, the interest payments
on international loans are draining the necessary resources to provide
people with their most basic rights. In Ethiopia, for example, four
times more money is spent each year on debt service than on health
care. Meanwhile, 100,000 children die annually from diseases that
would easily be prevented here in the United States.
How could this
occur? Ask anyone with a hefty personal credit card bill. Interest
payments can grow so burdensome that the principal of the debt is
never reduced. Similarly, homeowners often refinance to allow themselves
to pay off education bills or other expenses. They may succeed in
spreading payments over more time but the loans remain, and
the interest grows.
countries accrue debt in much the same way, borrowing from wealthier
nations or international financial institutions. The victims of
the endless debt service usually have nothing to do with the debt
itself. But in order to make payments, desperate governments resort
to denying their populations adequate infrastructures or basic health
care. The result of a corrupt or inefficient government can be generations
of sick or malnourished children.
be done? We celebrate the Great Jubilee in the name of Jesus Christ,
in whom all things are possible. With that in mind, I urge your
support and prayers for a bill currently before the U.S. House of
Representatives, the "Debt Relief for Poverty Reduction Act of 1999."
It would provide deeper debt relief for needy countries. It would
also target future debt relief by depositing savings from reduced
debt service in a Human Development Fund.
When we view
our own resources as gifts from God rather than personal
or national entitlements it's easy to care for our Third
World brothers and sisters. The Catholic principle of solidarity
reminds us that we are each other's keepers, and we should work
for policies that promote justice worldwide.
One final point:
This notion of debt forgiveness is not confined to international
economics. It also applies to our own communities, and more importantly,
to our personal lives. Many of you have heard that the Archdiocese
of Denver is releasing some of our struggling parishes from the
debt they owe the archdiocese. I can't credibly ask others to do
what we do not model ourselves: That is the reason for this debt
But I want
to encourage each of you to consider forgiving another type of debt:
spiritual debt. The notions of debt forgiveness and reconciliation
are closely tied, and both are key in the Jubilee preparation period.
Therefore, seek out those toward whom you harbor anger or bitterness.
Through the grace of God, free them and yourself from
the bonds of resentment.
and personal forgiveness are, at their core, the same. Each is making
things new again. Each is about seeing the face of God in one another.
And ultimately, each is about encountering the peace that only He