Bishop Ricard on Debt Cancellation, and Aid to the Poor

Interview With President of U.S. Episcopate’s Policy Committee

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CHICAGO, JUNE 21, 2005 ( The U.S. bishops’ conference welcomed the recent decision by the Group of Eight nations to cancel the foreign debt of poor countries.

But now the conference wants the G8 to go one step further and help those poor nations get on their feet, says the president of the episcopate’s International Policy Committee.

Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, in an interview with ZENIT, talked about the moral obligation, and benefits, of helping the world’s poor countries.

Q: In a press statement a few days ago, you indicated that aid should be extended. But in which direction?

Bishop Ricard: Forty billion dollars’ worth of debt was canceled for 18 countries, among them four of Latin America. We are hoping that the amount of debt canceled will be doubled and that at least 20 other poor countries will benefit.

Q: This has been one of the most consistent positions of the U.S. bishops’ conference, wouldn’t you say?

Bishop Ricard: It is the position of Catholics. We bishops of the United States are only actualizing it.

However, it is true that in the last 10 years the episcopate has pointed out, consistently, that to cancel the debt of poor countries is to help people cross over the poverty line.

Q: Do you think that politicians understand what the bishops are requesting?

Bishop Ricard: I don’t know if the politicians do or do not understand, but to seek help for poor countries is an essential part of what it means to be Catholics.

Moreover, we have four or five people lobbying in Washington on these issues. The conference has so pressured President George Bush as well as Treasury Secretary John Snow, to take the appropriate steps to cancel the debt of the so-called highly indebted poor countries. Let’s hope they will continue to do so.

Q: The original idea was Pope John Paul II’s, yes?

Bishop Ricard: The truth is that the previous Holy Father was and continues to be the great animator of the Church’s pressure on political authorities so that they will change their way of acting with the poorest. Emblematic figures have joined this pressure, such as Bono, the singer and composer of the U2 band.

Q: The cancellation of the debt not only benefits the one whose debt is canceled but also the one canceling the debt, would you agree?

Bishop Ricard: This is something we must make those who make the financial decisions in the world understand.

It benefits all of us, primarily the United States. Terrorism, violence, immigration itself are related to poverty. If rich countries invest in poor countries — in development, employment, health, education — violence will tend to diminish, and the investment of millions in defense will no longer be necessary, for example.

Our country has the moral imperative and economic need to protect life and the dignity of the world’s poorest people.

Q: One must go well beyond the strictly monetary …

Bishop Ricard: The cancellation of the debt should be coupled with an increase of investments for development and assistance, as well as just trade norms, which can make a real difference in the eradication of poverty and progress in respect for life and the dignity that God imprinted in each human being.

Q: What teachings did John Paul II leave in this area?

Bishop Ricard: Many, but perhaps the most important is that «human life» must never be separated from the «dignity of the person.» … In life, dignity is born with the new being and never leaves him. This means that we must go further, help whole nations get on their feet, not halt aid, and much less so humanitarian aid.

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