Ruthless money making
A recent TV programme tackled the subject of usury – the illegal practice of charging excessive, unreasonably high interest rates on loans. Various reports in local newspapers, coupled with the painful experiences of victims of usury, spurred the discussion team to explain and show the cruelty of this inhuman act.
Unfortunately, usury is not alien to our self-proclaimed ‘Christian’ society. A number of people who overtly profess themselves to be Christians are secretly and unscrupulously engaged in this ruthless money making. In fact, they are making an extravagant living on other people’s misery by forcing them to pay phenomenal interest through merciless extortion either directly or indirectly.
This awful way of doing business is claiming the lives of many silent victims. How many people have ended up in a mental asylum, have had their families ruined, or have helplessly resorted to attempt suicide precisely because they could no longer endure the terrible threats they were continuously receiving from their usurers?
Can one ever define usury as just business when, for example, for a loan of €300 one ends up paying €30,000? A case I came across really made me wonder if certain people really care, or at least have the slightest awareness that they have a conscience that they are responsible to nurture and answer for before God on their judgment day.
A man borrowed under usury. The lender demanded a substantial amount of money on a daily basis. When the man was unable to deliver the money he became a victim of a series of threats and was also beaten up by thugs.
The man was constrained to abandon his home and take refuge in a hotel. In his absence his family received all kinds of threats one can imagine, including that the children would face death and that acid could be thrown at them.
The door of the house was damaged. The man’s wife has also had to flee the house after receiving serious threats from the lender.
In their pastoral letter for Lent 2000, then Archbishop Joseph Mercieca and the late Bishop Nikol Cauchi had spoken frankly about this detestable crime. They openly denounced what they referred to as “unrestrained craving for money that sometimes leads us to try to become rich very quickly”.
Among the various resulting detrimental consequences stemming from this moral malaise, the bishops outlined “drug trafficking, prostitution, exaggerated profits in business or in providing professional services, usury, stealing in every imaginable form, tax evasion, abuses concerning social benefits, fraud in claims for payment of insurances, and corruption”.
The underlying faulty principle behind these social and moral scourges is the shameless abuse of one’s position to nurture his or her hidden interests together with those of personal friends. Even if a person intentionally neglects his or her duties to ensure that a job is done properly he or she becomes a partner with those carrying out such abuse.
The Church has always spoken against usury. Pope Leo the Great said the vice of usury is sinful as it makes the lives of those involved miserable whereas the wealthy become wealthier. Usury is morally wrong because it unjustly takes advantage of the poor’s needs.
More recently, Pope Benedict XIV condemned this deplorable act when he said: “The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin in a loan contract. This financial contract between consenting parties demands, by its very nature, that one return to another only as much as he has received.
“The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious”.
In the Bible, the repentant usurer Zacchaeus truly repented when he confessed to Jesus: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19, 8).
Why don’t you, dear usurer, copy his brave example?
Fr Attard is from the Order of Franciscan Capuchins.