D’Alise’s comments were based on a report from Caserta’s Chamber of Commerce, which found that loan sharks were demanding children to be sent to work to pay off their parents’ debt as Italy’s economy worsens as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“If there are sons or daughters of a working age, legally, adults or minors, the loan shark asks the father to use them in a firm close to him, but which cannot be traced back to him," Tommaso De Simone, the Caserta Chamber of Commerce president told Avvenire July 10.
Usury in southern Italy has grown “exponentially” in recent months due to the country’s lockdown, according to De Simone.
The Catholic Church has frequently condemned the practice of usury, or the loaning of money while charging unreasonable rates of interest.
“It's a serious sin, because you make money by taking advantage of other people's needs. This is anti-human and anti-Christian,” Bishop D’Alise said.
In this case, Italian media reports that the loan sharks are linked to the Camorra, a mafia group based in Naples.
“Now I have the impression that a new slavery is emerging. Just as the Camorra crept in and hid among us, so did the usury,” the bishop said.
“Many workers are increasingly exploited; we even go now to sons and daughters. Boys who are sent to work instead of adults, to pay off the debts incurred by parents,” he said.
The Archbishop of Naples Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe called the Neapolitan Camorra mafia “another possible epidemic” in a homily during a livestreamed Mass in May.
“There are those who are good at making a fortune in times of epidemic. … Let’s move, intervene immediately, because the underworld is faster than our bureaucracy. The Camorra does not wait. It is up to us to get rid of all [criminal] organizations. We must overcome and affirm the right to hope,” Cardinal Sepe said May 2.
The Neapolitan mafia has been known to take advantage of an economic downturn by lending their money -- earned by illicit means, like drug trafficking -- to businesses who cannot pay the money back.
“When the money cannot be returned, the Camorra takes advantage of that. Because of the money the Camorra can acquire management of the business. From that moment on, the Camorra will use that company as a conduit to launder its own illicit money," Naples police officer Alfredo Fabbrocini told EuroNews July 10.
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De Simone said that loan sharks often have “the face of a friend, a benefactor, who helps you when everyone else has abandoned you. That gives you money right away, when you need it.”
“As long as you have properties, the usurer lends you money. Loans that can hardly be repaid: not so much and not only for the obviously very high interest, but because when, as in the quarantine, there is no economic income, the further loan you need to eat on one side and to pay the installments of the debt on the other,” he explained.
“Children often pay for their families. I have no names to indicate, but from the stories of many economic operators, disgusted by what is happening,” he said.
For Bishop D’Alise, the root of the problem of usury is a failure to uphold human dignity. Because of this, the Italian bishop likened it to the issue of racism in the United States.
“In both cases a person is worthless,” he said. “I still have before me the image of the policeman holding George Floyd with his knee. It crushed him, not only physically.”
He said that the Church’s response needs to be “effective solidarity” that can recognize this dignity and support those most in need.