Catholic bishops seek cancelation of poor countries’ debts at G20 finance summit

15797646067 a58d0a91d7 k Bishop John Arnold of Salford, England. | Mazur/

Catholic bishops have urged the U.K.'s finance minister to press for the cancelation of debts owed by the world's poorest countries at this weekend's G20 finance summit. 

The bishops signed a letter, dated July 10, from 77 religious leaders calling on the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to help "to cancel, rather than merely suspend, bilateral debt payments" amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The letter applauded Sunak for helping to secure an agreement to freeze the debt service payments of 77 countries at a G20 finance ministers' meeting in April. 

"We now ask you to work with your fellow finance ministers at this month's G20 meeting to cancel, rather than merely suspend, bilateral debt payments, as well as to urge the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and private creditors to cancel debt payments owed in 2020 and 2021 by these countries," it said.

The letter, signed by imams, rabbis and Anglican bishops, cited Pope Francis' Easter Urbi et Orbi message, in which he called for countries to be "put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations."

The letter's Catholic signatories included two English bishops -- Bishop Declan Lang, chairman of the English and Welsh bishops' department for international affairs, and Bishop John Arnold, lead bishop for environmental affairs -- and two Scottish bishops, Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell and Bishop William Nolan of Galloway.

The letter noted that the World Bank estimates that up to 100 million people will fall into extreme poverty as a result of COVID-19 and that the World Food Programme forecasts that 130 million more people will suffer from chronic hunger by the end of 2020. 

"To insist on debt repayment in the face of the suffering caused by this pandemic would be an affront to the faith traditions that we represent," it said.

The G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors will take place July 18-19 in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah.

The letter, which was also signed by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, concluded: "This crisis has emphasized the need to stand together and debt cancellation represents an urgent and essential means of assisting the most vulnerable communities to withstand the suffering the pandemic will otherwise unnecessarily cause." 

"We urge you to show the ambition and leadership needed to meet this challenge."

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