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Making the Case for Jubilee: The Catholic Church and the Poor-Country Debt Movement

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Abstract:

Since the late 1970s, an increasingly global coalition of churches and nongovernmental organizations has pressed for reduction if not outright cancellation of the foreign debt of highly indebted poor countries, because of its deleterious impact on poor people. The movement achieved limited yet substantial success in the Jubilee 2000 campaign. In it, the movement invoked a biblical prescription of periodic debt relief to urge the international community to mark the millennium by recognizing a period of “jubilee” for heavily indebted poor countries, in which government debts would be cancelled and freed up resources used to alleviate poverty. The Catholic Church made a crucial contribution to the movement, through the involvement of its personnel, justice and peace offices, social service agencies, academic and research institutions, national bishops’ conferences, Vatican agencies, and Pope John Paul II. The essay traces the moral arguments the church made for debt relief, with a particular focus on two influential statements: those of the Vatican’s Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission in 1987, and the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference in 1989. By stimulating discussion of the ethics of debt among senior policymakers, the church’s efforts strengthened the legitimacy of the claim that excessive debt servicing was unjust. Zambia is offered as a case study of church and coalition efforts to press not only for debt cancellation, but also for measures to ensure that freed-up resources be used effectively for poverty reduction, and that debtor governments contract new debt in a transparent manner.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-7093.2007.00063.x

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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