January 29, 2014 / 7:03 PM / 5 years ago

Pope condemns loansharking as slump in Italy boosts usury

Pope Francis waves as he leaves at the end of his general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Wednesday condemned loansharking, which is on the rise in Italy as families and businesses struggle to make ends meet, as an inhuman social scourge that has to be combated.

The pope’s comments at his general audience coincided with statistics issued on Wednesday by the country’s tax police that showed they had seized some 168 million euros from loansharks in 2013, up some 1,250 percent over the previous year.

“When a family has nothing to eat, because it has to make payments to usurers, this is not Christian, it is not human,” the pope said.

“This dramatic scourge in our society harms the inviolable dignity of the human person,” he said, expressing his support for Italian groups who help families and businesses and who attended the audience.

A number of Catholic associations in Italy help victims of loansharks. According Abele, a Catholic social services group, the illicit lenders are tied to organized crime and charge annual interest rates that can reach 1,500 percent in some cases. The annual rate is usually between 150 and 400 percent.

Italy is struggling to emerge from a two-year recession which has seen family incomes decline and unemployment rise to record levels, while credit offered by banks has become harder to obtain.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Larry King

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