Unforgiving Pope is Right on Money
By Edward Hadas
“Moral debts cannot be written off.”
“Justice, as the pope says, requires unceasing attention to ‘both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.'”
It’s surprising to hear Pope Francis talk about the sanctity of worldly debts. After all, few can be more aware than the head of the Catholic Church of the many biblical texts that call for forgiveness of debts as well as of sins. In last week’s papal Laudato Si encyclical, however, Francis says that sins against creation are very different from broken financial promises made between people.
Christian creditors are supposed to be generous to debtors. Jesus tells them as much by explaining that since all people are children of the same heavenly Father, the bonds of familial love take precedence over all other obligations. In more secular terms, that means our shared humanity brings an obligation to temper justice with mercy.
Modern secular societies tend to recognize that creditors and debtors operate in partnership. The strict terms of a contract, which call for payment to the last penny, are sometimes softened. The mix is good for the economy. There can be little productive borrowing in any society which allows lenders to wreak unlimited havoc on those who cannot pay up without great suffering.