The S-word "spread" enters the papal lexicon

Tue Jan 8, 2013 9:18am EST
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The ubiquitous term "spread" - a staple of financial news bulletins and one of the main measures of investor sentiment - has now penetrated even the elevated lexicon of the papacy.

In his speech to diplomats from around the world, Pope Benedict chastised those who only think of a "spread" in financial terms. He said there should be a simultaneous concern for a social "spread" - the gap between the rich and poor.

"If the differential index between financial taxes represents a source of concern, the increasing differences between those few who grow ever richer and the many who grow hopelessly poorer, should be a cause for dismay," the pope told the diplomats in his speech at the Vatican on Monday.

"In a word, it is a question of refusing to be resigned to a 'spread' in social well-being, while at the same time fighting one in the financial sector," he said.

During the financial crisis facing Italy for more than a year, hardly a week has passed without a news report about the see-sawing spread - the risk premium investors demand to hold Italian bonds rather than their safer German equivalents.

The higher the spread, the greater interest payments are for Italy to finance its public debt. The spread was at 574 basis points about 14 months ago when Prime Minister Mario Monti took office, and is now at about 279 basis points.

But in the part of his speech that centered on financial issues - most of the address was dedicated to hot spots such as Syria - the pope said politicians had to consider people as well as numbers.

"Certainly, if justice is to be achieved, good economic models, however necessary, are not sufficient. Justice is achieved only when people are just," he said.   Continued...

Pope Benedict XVI waves after leading his Wednesday general audience in Paul VI's Hall at the Vatican January 2, 2013. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito