The scourge of payday lending

Payday lending really pulls in people who need help and feel they have nowhere else to turn.

The Rev. Lloyd Fields, pastor of Greater Gilgal Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, remembers when he turned to that  type of  financing.

Now 73 years old, he can remember a half-century ago when he was a married deacon with a wife and four children to support. He had a mentor in his denomination, another deacon, “If I ever needed anything, I could always go to Deacon Williams,” Rev. Fields recalled. “But after so many times going to him, I was embarrassed to go to Deacon Williams. So I went to the payday loan company.”

Fifty years later Rev. Fields cannot remember how much he needed, but it was for necessities. “I had a low-paying job and a family. I needed money to pay the light bill, the gas bill, to keep food in the house. And I didn’t have adequate credit to go to the upstanding loan companies.”

Rev. Fields can’t recall the interest rate he was charged. Not that it mattered at the time to him. “I didn’t know. I didn’t care,” he said. “It was the max. And I always had to borrow up to the max,” because as another two weeks passed, he didn’t have enough money to pay off the loan, not to mention the mounting interest.

The poor are the most vulnerable to payday lending schemes. (CNS/Reuters)

The poor are the most vulnerable to payday lending schemes. (CNS/Reuters)

For Rev. Fields, salvation came in the form of a better-paying government job. And with the job came the opportunity to join a credit union. When he went to the credit union, he got a bit of bad news: “They told me I had to be employed for six months before I could join,” he recalled. By this time, he had gone to a second payday loan company to pay off the first one.

But “the first day after the sixth month,” Rev. Fields returned to the credit union to join. He got a loan to consolidate his payday-lending debts, and the credit union “put me on a payroll deduction. It was one of the happiest days of my life.”

Another Kansas City resident, Elliott Clark of Christ the King Parish, told of his five-year struggle to pay off his payday loan in an op-ed article that appeared in the Kansas City Star. It can be read by going to

Rev. Fields, too, have never forgotten his payday-lending experience. He was involved in the unsuccessful 2012 effort to get a referendum on the Missouri ballot to put a 36 percent interest-rate ceiling on payday loans; the average interest rate in the state is 455 percent. “While we were fighting it, one young lady came to me and cried and almost apologized because she had to take out a payday loan while we were fighting the payday loan companies.” he said.

He said he told her not to be sorry. “It’s just not right for them (payday lenders) to charge enormous interest and fees to people who are just trying to make a life for themselves and their families,” Rev. Fields said. “This is ungodly. … I don’t mind you making a profit, but if you make it off the backs of people, it’s dishonest.”

With no lobbying restrictions in Missouri, and no limits on campaign contributions, Rev. Fields fears lawmakers won’t take action. He’s looking to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Board to set nationwide rules on payday lending.

Rev. Fields recalls when preachers “used to talk about taverns on every corner. Now we talk about payday loan companies on every corner.” He added that in Missouri, “there are more payday loan companies than McDonald’s, Wal-Marts and Starbucks combined. In fact, there are almost twice as many.”

Today’s borrowers are no different than he was in the 1960s. They don’t hear the interest rate being charged, and they don’t notice until it’s too late. “They get eaten up to death,” Rev. Fields said.

He plans to take part in a daylong training session Feb. 21 with about 50 others and sponsored by the Center for Responsible Lending to try to protect and inform others about payday loans.

Seeing life behind the door at convents, monasteries

Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming talks to visitors at her order's convent in Washington. (CNS/Julie Asher)

Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming talks to visitors at her order’s convent in Washington. (CNS/Julie Asher)

To help lay Catholics gain a deeper understanding of religious life, priests, brothers and women religious across the U.S. opened their convents, monasteries, abbeys and religious houses to the public a week ago.

More than 150 communities welcomed visitors Feb. 8 for what was the first of three major events planned for 2015 in observance of the Year of Consecrated Life, announced last year by Pope Francis. The special year began last November and will end Feb. 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life.

The open house event was strongly supported and promoted by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

In a posting on their Facebook page, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati deemed the open house at their Mount St. Joseph motherhouse “a huge success!” More than 450 family and friends “filled our home to learn more about the Sisters of Charity community and religious life today.” The three-hour event included guided tours, opportunities to interact with the sisters and associates, children’s activities and musical performances.

At the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, visitors got a taste of Dominican life by meeting the friars, taking guided tours of their house and joining them in sung community prayer. A couple of blocks away others were welcomed to the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia’s convent. After visiting the order’s motherhouse in Nashville, Tennessee, Zoe, a fourth-grader from St. Henry’s School, said: “I learned here that a lot of the sisters work together. They ring a bell to call them to prayer. … They take turns doing things so that one person doesn’t just have to do it. It’s like a big house for a big family.” This issue of the Tennesee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper, had full coverage of the open house on page 11..

The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity held numerous open houses at their convents in seven states: Arizona, Hawaii, Ohio, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

“It was such a wonderful pleasure to work with religious sisters and brothers across the country to open their doors to families of the Catholic faithful and introduce them to religious life,” said Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life and chairperson of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.

In a statement released by the council, she noted that the next events will be a day of service and a day of prayer.

consecratedlifelogo“We are so happy that religious across the country joined in this first ever nationwide initiative and saw life behind the convent door,” added Mother Agnes.

For its part, the council, with support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, launched a nationwide promotion campaign that included online advertising, social media, press releases, and an interactive open house map that listed its member communities that participated. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations developed and promoted the “Days with Religious” initiatives.

Visiting new cardinals with thousands of their friends

VATICAN CITY — The most rambunctious ritual associated with becoming a cardinal is the afternoon reception. The Vatican audience hall and two rooms in the Apostolic Palace — just outside the Sistine Chapel — are open to the public so anyone can greet the churchmen who received their red hats this morning.

While long lines wind around St. Peter’s Square, journalists are let in a bit early to get a couple of quotes before the crowds arrive.

New Zealand Cardinal John Dew of Wellington said Pope Francis’ meditation this morning on the meaning of love and the obligation of charity — particularly for church leaders — was striking. “He is absolutely convinced of what he was saying and was saying it in a way that makes you know you must go back and read it calmly, reflecting” on its applications.

Cardinal Soane Mafi of Tonga, who at 53 is the youngest members of the College of Cardinals, said he hopes “being young, I will have much vitality with which to serve the church.” Still, he said, “I’m 53 — it’s not that young. I have more gray hairs than many of the others.”

Italian reporters pressed in on him, begging for a few words in their language. “I need to learn Italian,” he said. “I didn’t know I would need it. I didn’t know I would be coming to Rome.”

Choosing the first-ever cardinals from Tonga, Myanmar and Cape Verde, he said, “the Holy Father is recognizing the peripheries — the little ones.” He has just over 14,000 Catholics in his diocese.

Having a cardinal “is a big thing in Tonga,” he said, and he hopes “it will widen our sense of the church. But maybe we can give something, too. In our poverty, sharing the little we have is one of our big values.”

This morning, Cardinal Mafi said, “watching the Holy Father there in the midst of all the cardinals, I felt a sense of being called from so far away, but being with the others, I also felt the sense of belonging.”

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangoon, Myanmar, arrived rather late to the reception and some of the pilgrims who came to celebrate with him were not pleased at the media huddle blocking their access. The interviews were short.

In his choices for cardinals, Cardinal Bo said, “the pope has given preference to the peripheries, to every corner of the earth.”

Explaining that 85 percent of his fellow citizens are Buddhist and that only 1.3 percent of Myanmar’s population is Catholic, the cardinal said he appreciated the pope’s remarks this morning about loving what is small and calling “the small to go forward with courage.”

Like most of the pilgrims, I took photos with my phone:

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Archbishop tells social ministry advocates to be courageous, compassionate and calm

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave Catholic social ministry leaders these words of advice before they went to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers: “Be courageous, be compassionate, be civil, stay calm. Do not fear. Go forth.”

The archbishop in his homily at the Feb. 10 Mass at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington — where more than 500 Catholic leaders had been meeting and attending workshops for three days — stressed that they were “not only about facts and figures, about programs and policies (though you are properly armed to make a case!) but you are people who have met someone, and this has changed your life.”

He told participants of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering: “You are likely here because of that someone,” noting that “all work for justice in this world has a ‘face,’ a ‘someone.'”csmg-logo-2015-300x137

He said the faces he keeps in mind in his ministry include his older brother, George, who was born with Down syndrome; a Haitian man he recently met who was working in a newly rebuilt hospital and spoke of his love for God and his family; and the Little Sisters of the Poor, who care for the frail elderly in Louisville, and are advocating for their religious freedom.

The archbishop urged the participants to keep the faces of those in their minds and hearts as they presented their cases on Capitol Hill advocating for “just immigration policies; for a budget that does not forget those who are poor; for efforts in the Middle East – in the land which Jesus walked; for a lasting peace.”

Today’s caption contest on social media


It was a fairly ordinary day in the Catholic News Service Rome bureau and in our Washington newsroom when, out of the blue, a caption contest broke out.

We won’t identify the culprit who launched it, but you may be able to find him on Twitter.

So, of course, quicker than you can recite the Confiteor, the contest was joined. Here are a few of the responses:

This from one of our paying customers, The Criterion in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis:

(Barb works here. Yes, she really knows her way around a first-aid kit.)

And this was declared the winner by our Rome bureau:

(We know Gretchen, who is editor of the national Catholic newsweekly Our Sunday Visitor, so we’re absolutely positive she was kidding!)

We like this one too:


We then tried to get back to work with:

But then we couldn’t resist this:

And then we declared an honorable mention for Father Mark Gurtner in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for this (if you’re not familiar with the scene, you have to watch to the end to “get” it):

We now resume our regular programming, and we’re turning off the comments box too so we don’t get distracted by that the rest of the day.

– – –

UPDATE: We have a new winner!

And this late entry was the favorite of the Tennessean who is our boss:


Will Blessed Serra statue stay in its place at Capitol?

Statue of Blessed Junipero Serra at National Statuary Hall (Photo from Architect of the Capitol)

Statue of Blessed Junipero Serra at National Statuary Hall (Photo from Architect of the Capitol)

Blessed Junipero Serra, the Franciscan who founded the California missions and is in line to be canonized a saint this fall when Pope Francis visits the United States, could potentially lose his spot in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall under a proposal by a California state Sen. Ricardo Lara.

Lara introduced a resolution Feb. 4 in Sacramento to replace the statue of Blessed Serra with a statue of Sally Ride, the first woman in space who was on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. Lara said Ride, a physicist, astronaut and champion of science, would “become the first woman to represent California and the first member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to be placed in the Statuary Hall.” Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer.

The senator suggests relocating Blessed Serra’s statue to California “where citizens and visitors can enjoy it and be reminded of his significant historical impact upon our state.”

When the hall was dedicated in 1864, Congress invited each state to contribute two statues of prominent citizens. States can request the Joint Committee on the Library to approve the replacement of a statue if the move has been approved by the state legislature and the governor and if the outgoing statue has been displayed in the hall for at least 10 years.

The statue of Blessed Serra, holding aloft a cross, was donated in 1931. California’s other statue, President Ronald Reagan, was placed in the hall in 2009 replacing a statue of the Rev. Thomas Starr King, a Unitarian minister and famous orator credited during the Civil War with saving California from becoming a separate republic.

Blessed Serra’s statue is one of five Catholic missionaries — four priests and a woman religious — on display, and there is also a statue of the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll.

The missionary statues and their respective states are: St. Damien de Veuster, Hawaii; Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino, Arizona; Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, Wisconsin; Mother Joseph, a Sister of Charity, Washington state. Carroll, a Catholic layman from Maryland, was a cousin of the nation’s first Catholic bishop, Archbishop John Carroll.

When Pope Francis told reporters Jan. 19 that he planned to canonize Blessed Serra in the U.S. in September, he said he wished he could do so in California, the 18th-century Franciscan’s mission field, but would not have time to travel there.

He said he planned instead to canonize him during a ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, a fitting location because Blessed Serra’s statue is at the U.S. Capitol.

In Port-au-Prince, closed shops and quiet streets

By Dennis Sadowski

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first day of a general strike designed to keep pressure on the government of President Michel Martelly to lower gasoline prices and schedule long overdue elections kept the streets of the Haitian capital eerily quiet.

Across the capital, schools did not open and most businesses were shuttered Feb. 9. A long line formed at the Eagle Supermarket on Delmas Road, just around the corner from the closed offices of Catholic Relief Services. People expressed frustration that they did not know about the closure and could not buy necessities for their families.

Boys play soccer in a traffic-free street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as the capital experienced a general strike aimed at lowering gas prices and urging elections. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Boys play soccer in a traffic-free street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as the capital experienced a general strike aimed at lowering gas prices and urging elections. (CNS/Bob Roller)

At mid-day Catholic News Service photographer Bob Roller and I ventured out with our driver and translator, Jean-Daniel Lafontant. Encountering one group of student protesters near the site of the earthquake-destroyed National Palace, we were told we were not “following the rule” to keep motor vehicles off the streets. One suggested that because we were driving around we might find a rock being thrown through the windshield of our vehicle. It mattered little that we were journalists surveying the silence on the streets.

Few vehicles were out and about, but the daily traffic congestion the capital experiences was gone. In many neighborhoods young boys played soccer on the traffic-free streets.

The National Police kept a watchful eye on the tense environment. Most officers were in groups of at least four. They held shotguns at the ready.

The two-day strike was the latest challenge to Haitian President Michel Martelly, who is being pressured on a variety of fronts. Since December opposition forces have mounted a series of demonstrations calling for Martelly to schedule parliamentary and presidential elections as planned. Some protesters have called for Martelly to step down.

A small group of senators blocked efforts by Martelly in December to schedule the elections, saying the conditions the president proposed favored his government. The impasse extended past Jan. 12, the fifth anniversary of the country’s devastating earthquake. Under Haiti’s constitution, because there was no election scheduled, the Parliament dissolved that same day, meaning that Martelly could rule by decree.

Haitians who voted for Martelly in 2011 have since become disenchanted with the former carnival singer’s governing ability. They are discouraged by his arrogant comments and by his inability to deliver on campaign promises he made to help the country recover from the earthquake.


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