Honduran Cardinal: Bishops Lobbied for Debt Cancellation

Says Prelates Pushed for Relief for Poorest Nations

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ROME, JUNE 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- “Moral lobbying” of Western governments by some Catholic bishops had a role in the cancellation of the foreign debt of the world’s poorest countries, says a Honduran cardinal.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Avvenire, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, called the cancellation of the debt “an act of justice.”

On June 11, the Group of Eight industrialized nations announced plans to cancel $40 billion in debt owed by 18 of the world’s poorest countries.

On June 17, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, 62, met with Benedict XVI in an audience in which, according to the Honduran prelate, the Pope “showed great interest in the action of the Church and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in particular, to alleviate the condition of the poorest countries.”

The cardinal told Avvenire: “They were loans contracted in the ’70s, at the time of the petrodollars, with an interest rate of 6% which later, with the crisis of the ’80s, rose unilaterally up to 20%. Thus it became an unbearable weight for the fragile economies of our countries.”

Briton’s visit

The Honduran cardinal linked the debt-cancellation plan, in part, to a visit to Rome last year by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. That is when the British official attended a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

“Brown presented his project to put an end to the debt and to relaunch the idea of allocating 0.7% of the gross national product of the richest countries to the development of the poorest,” Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga told Avvenire. “Today the first objective seems to have been achieved.”

He continued: “At the start of this year, CIDSE” — a network of Catholic development agencies of Europe and North America — “called us to a meeting in Brussels to request that we engage in, so to speak, ‘lobbying’ action with governments in preparation for the G-8 [summit], which will be held in July in Scotland, and which will have to ratify the commitment for the cancellation of the debt.”

With the Honduran cardinal for that meeting was Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, India, and three African archbishops: Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria; and Medardo Joseph Mazombwe of Lusaka, Zambia.

The prelates approached European government representatives, particularly those of Germany, the United Kingdom and France, as well as the president of the European Commission.

U.S. angle

For his part, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., exerted pressure on the Bush administration, “and I think with success,” said Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga.

“Now,” he added, “it is a question of convincing the president of the United States, as well as that of Canada and of Japan, so that they will allocate 0.7% of the gross national product to development, and of verifying that the promise of the European Union to do so before 2015 is maintained. We’ll see.”

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga added that “lobbying” was not foreign to men of the Church.

“The Catholic Church has moral authority in the world of which at times we, the ecclesiastics, are not even conscious,” he said.

“No one can think that with the cancellation of $40 billion the problem of the 18 countries has been solved,” the cardinal cautioned. “It would be folly.

“But this doesn’t mean that one must be disdainful of the result. In the case of Honduras, for example, $400 million is saved a year in interest, money which can be made available to alleviate poverty. We hope this will be the case.”

“If, on the contrary, it serves to increase the cancer of corruption, it will be very grave,” he added. “Public opinion is beginning to be sensitive, and is not willing to mobilize to help countries led by corrupt governments.”

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