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From the Vatican Insider:

In his first major speech on the global financial crisis, Pope Francis strongly denounced “the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal”.  He called on the world’s financial experts and political leaders to promote “disinterested solidarity” and “a return to a person-centered ethics in the world of finance and economics.

His opportunity to critique the present financial and economic disorder and call for an ethically based global financial reform came on May 15 when he welcomed new ambassadors to the Holy See from Kyrgyzstan, Antigua and Barbuda, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Botswana.

While addressed in the first place to the governments represented by the new ambassadors, his message was clearly targeted at the world’s financial and political leaders.  And it was clearly rooted in his experience in Latin America, and especially in Argentina where over the past decades he had witnessed the country’s economic meltdown, an increase in poverty, the growing gap between rich and poor, and widespread corruption.

“The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but the Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them”, he told the ambassadors.  He made clear that he sees this as one of his duties as Successor of Peter.

He began his speech by noting that “the human family” has reached a “turning point in its history” if one considers the advances made.  He praised the “positive achievements”, particularly in the fields of health, education and communications, but he then moved quickly to highlight the disastrous situation that most people are living in.

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As part of the Catholic Conversations series on the public radio station WNYC, Occupy Catholics organizer Susan Wilcox discusses the views of American sisters on the papal transition:

Sr. Susan Wilcox, 54, is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph/Brentwood. The order, founded in France in 1650, “seeks to promote justice, to live lives of non-violence and to respond to the needs of our time.” She entered religious life in 1999, at the age of 40. She currently teaches at St. Joseph’s College in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

“There is a sense that women in Church are feeling that there’s no place for them, that they are second class status in the Church. It’s a structural problem that needs to be addressed. But ultimately, whatever decisions are made within the structure of the Church, it doesn’t relieve any of us of our own baptismal call to live the Gospel of Jesus. When things get big, that’s what we fall back on. It’s our own responsibility.”

Listen to the show here.

Nathan Schneider in Religion Dispatches:

The pope is not the church.

It’s going to be very tempting to forget this fact over the next few days. The pundits, Catholic and otherwise, have been rapt in the suspense of awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis. We heard a lot of impossible hopes for who the next pope would be, along with the less thrilling reality of the actual candidates. But Catholics, along with the masses who have been suddenly and momentarily interested in Catholic affairs, should remember that the papacy is not to be confused with the church itself. At no time should this have been more clear than those strange and special few days when the Catholic Church was a people—an assembly, a community, a mystical body—without a pope.

Katherine S. Newman in The New York Times:

Debates over the fairness of the tax code are as old as the federal income tax itself. A cornerstone of the tax — established a century ago, by the 16th Amendment — has been the principle that those who make more should pay more, while lower tax rates help the poor to support their families and depend less on government benefits.

That social compact shifted into high gear during the Nixon administration, which tried to incentivize work by rewarding low-income households with a tax break that became the nation’s most successful antipoverty tool ever: the earned-income tax credit. Politicians of both parties have embraced the credit, making it more progressive three times since it was enacted in 1975.

While the federal government has largely stuck by the principle of progressive taxation, the states have gone their own ways: tax policy is particularly regressive in the South and West, and more progressive in the Northeast and Midwest. When it comes to state and local taxation, we are not one nation under God. In 2008, the difference between a working mother in Mississippi and one in Vermont — each with two dependent children, poverty-level wages and identical spending patterns — was $2,300.

Margaret Flowers at Truthout:

Thirty million people around the globe said ‘no’ to a war before it began. The New York Times wrote the next day that there were two superpowers in the world, the United States and the people. We did not stop that war, but history has proved us right. We should know from that experience and so many others that the people can rule better than the elites.

We are now seeing waves of protest in so many areas on so many issues, as the recent issues of this newsletter have shown. People ask where has Occupy gone? If they look, they will see people fighting on so many critical issues: health care because 120 adults die every day in the United States due to lack of health care, housing because millions have lost their homes, millions of homes are underwater and hundreds of thousands are homeless, poverty and hunger which effect 45 million, challenges to the unnecessary austerity and corporate tax breaks being pushed in DC and on and on. On issue, after issue, people are making waves.

Gar Alperovitz at Truthout:

The steelworkers and an ecumenical coalition headed by a Catholic and an Episcopal bishop began to demand that the mill be put back to work under some form of worker or worker-community ownership…”Why should workers not own the companies in which they work?” they kept asking. Why can’t this become an idea to put into everyday practice – now or in the future?

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By Sally Steenland of the Center for American Progress:

In many faith traditions, forgiveness refers to more than sin. It also refers to economic debt. The Hebrew Bible teaches the practice of Jubilee, where debts are forgiven every seven years. The Koran urges compassion for debtors in difficult straits, saying their debts should be postponed until they are “in ease.” In these faith traditions and others, economic and moral behavior is tightly entwined.

That link—between money and morals—isn’t limited to the pages of ancient sacred texts, however. You can spot it in today’s news thanks to a creative new project called the Rolling Jubilee, part of the Strike Debt campaign, which are both offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement and are tackling a huge problem. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, about 30 million Americans are being hounded by debt collection agencies.

The idea behind the Rolling Jubilee, the so-called bailout of people by people, is simple. Financial institutions often sell hard-to-collect debt to third parties at a discount. The third parties—usually debt-collection agencies—buy up the aggregated debt and then go after those who now owe them money. Since the collectors bought the debt at a bargain—usually pennies on the dollar—they’re guaranteed a significant profit if they keep hounding debtors until they pay.

Here’s what the Rolling Jubilee does. It buys up debt at a discount but does not chase down the debtors. Instead, it forgives the debt and sets the debtors free.

The Rolling Jubilee got off the ground in early November and was officially launched on November 15 with The People’s Bailout—a variety show and telethon in New York City that was livestreamed and featured “music, comedy, magic, education, and the unexpected.”

In just over a month the Rolling Jubilee has raised almost half a million dollars, which has been used to erase more than $9 million of debt. Contributors get a bargain and those heavily in debt get a break. According to Jubilee officials, a $10 donation wipes out $200 of debt, while a $100 donation wipes out $2,000 of debt. The project is buying medical debt first since nearly 1 million Americans have been financially ruined by a calamitous illness.

According to the American Journal of Medicine, medical costs triggered over 60 percent of bankruptcies in 2009, and most of those who filed for bankruptcy were middle-class, well-educated homeowners. So much for the stereotype of bankrupt bums who max out their credit cards on reckless consumer spending.

The truth is that wages for the middle class have been stagnant for more than 30 years, while living expenses have sharply increased. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, between 1970 and 2009, health care costs jumped by 50 percent, college costs by 80 percent, and housing costs by 97 percent, net of overall inflation.

Susan Wilcox, director of campus ministry at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and a member of Occupy Catholics, said in a recent interview that the notion that debt is merely an individual responsibility is not true. “Debt is a social contract,” Wilcox said. “You don’t enter it alone—it’s relational and communal. One in seven Americans is in debt. How is it that we all happened to mismanage our money at the same time?”

Wilcox goes on, “Our society has cultivated these individualistic notions. People who lose their home think it’s happening only to them. They feel shame and a sense of moral failure. But it’s about unjust systems.” Wilcox says the ancients would be laughing at us for not understanding the collective nature of debt.

Back in ancient times, the Hebrew practice of Jubilee was meant to ease inequities that had grown over time, restore fairness, and rebuild a level playing field. There was a clear understanding that debt and borrowing led to serious inequalities that needed to be rectified in order for people to have the basics to sustain life. Based on this same philosophy the land too was given a rest. In the largely agricultural societies of ancient times it was ecologically prudent to let the land lie fallow for a period before replanting. The Jubilee was meant not just for people, but for God’s creation as well.

In addition to the Rolling Jubilee effort, the Strike Debt campaign created the “Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual.” The manual serves as an educational and tactical guide that helps people negotiate their personal debt, as well as understand the larger system that pits individuals against global corporations.

Soon the Rolling Jubilee will send letters to the people whose debt the program has erased in hopes that some will come forward and tell their stories and put a human face on national statistics. The project’s organizers hope to transform awareness about medical debt into political pressure, and are working with allies in the health care community to plan direct actions that will coincide with the announcement of debt buys. They hope to expand the project in the coming months, and they are busy researching other debt markets and possibilities.

According to Susan Wilcox, the Rolling Jubilee got a lot of press coverage right from the start. “We hit a spot that everyone could relate to and showed something different,” she said. “We touched the intersection between hopelessness and life.”

At The New Yorker online:

Dorothy Day, a heroine of the American left and perhaps the most famous radical in the history of the American Catholic Church, led one of those remarkable lives that encompassed all the major upheavals of the twentieth century. The twenty-first century, remarkably, finds her being touted for canonization, with a big push this week from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. It’s a terrific idea: a home-town saint for the Occupy Wall Street era.

Briefly noted, in the December 10 issue of America:

From its beginning, Occupy Wall Street has sought to embody a truly democratic community while also responding to people’s basic needs. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Occupy has been able to coordinate an effective relief effort—hot meals, water, medicine and blankets—because of an internal culture that quickly turns volunteers into organizers and expands its reach. The movement has also worked closely with local churches. “Nearly every major distribution site is a church,” said Nathan Schneider, of Occupy Catholics. “This movement is recognizing the vital role religion can and must play in transformation in this society, both in terms of politics and the imagination.”

In addition to the relief effort, this religious imagination has also helped Occupy develop creative responses to the larger economic problems that plague the country. The Rolling Jubilee campaign, launched on Nov. 15, raises money to buy defaulted debt at pennies on the dollar and then abolishes the debt—drawing from the Jubilee tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures. Tim Worstall, a contributor to Forbes, called it an idea “we can all get behind.”

Lending money, like building a budget, is a matter of moral concern. This is why Occupy Catholics and other faith-based groups seek to increase the usage of the terms jubilee and usury in conversations about economics. “The cruelest features of our economic system” need to “be seen for the sins that they really are,” explained Occupy Catholics. As Occupy Wall Street enters its second year, it is evident that the movement has staying power and is growing in relevance and effectiveness in addressing the nation’s economic woes.