Catholics Must Confront Predatory Lending

Bishop Edward Weisenburger recently penned an article in America:

The bishops of Kansas, along with the staff of the Kansas Catholic Conference, undertook a careful survey of the more pressing social issues of our state. We concluded that among the structural evils affecting the poor, predatory lending—also known as payday lending—stands out as especially cruel. Like a cancerous tumor, it has grown swiftly, and it is dehumanizing to its victims—all while creating barely a ripple of public interest or concern.

To understand how we got to this point, first recall that from the beginnings of civilization, there have been teachings and laws against usury. Abusing the poor by lending money to those in crisis at astonishingly high interest rates is a practice that has been restricted or condemned by every civilization. Such behavior was rightly recognized as destructive and corrosive for communities and society. Moreover, from biblical times, one of the hallmarks of a jubilee year has been the cancellation of debts that were beyond the ability of the poor to pay. Liberation from the psychological and material “prison” of indebtedness is the perfect metaphor for God’s mercy.

Even given our nation’s secular history, legislation preventing usury was a natural part of our legal system until very recently. It was only in the 1990s that subtle changes in the law quietly and quickly eroded legal protection from usury. The result is a billion-dollar industry now advertised as friendly, safe and legitimate; indeed, it is actually presented as an altruistic financial service. The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth….

The predatory lending industry very much wants us to look the other way—not to notice Lazarus at the gate.  But confronting poverty like this begins with shining a light upon it. Then there are many ways to touch this particular poverty and to take practical steps to alleviate it. One is for faithful Americans to call upon national and state legislators to initiate true reforms providing the same consumer protections afforded to those who use banks and savings and loan institutions. We must ask for a special focus on those who are already considered particularly vulnerable to the false security advertised by predatory lenders on virtually every street, but primarily advertised in our poorest neighborhoods.

You can read the full article here.