Archbishop Speaks Out Against Rent-To-Own Companies

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce - Milwaukee
April 26, 2013

I am here today because, as our Catechism states, “those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church.” (CCC 2448) And, because the Catholic tradition has consistently taught that economic activity must be at the service of the human person. 

As a Church, we are committed to assisting those in need through our various charitable agencies. But, we also need to speak up when public policies threaten to make people more vulnerable to exploitative practices.

When I was Bishop of La Crosse, I saw first-hand the excellent work that our Catholic Charities agency does to help clients overcome their financial difficulties. The St. Lawrence Community Services counselors at Catholic Charities help with everything from budgeting, financial literacy, bankruptcy counseling, mentoring, and charitable assistance. 

Here in Milwaukee, Catholic Charities’ Community Outreach Services provides crisis intervention and case management services to individuals facing financial or other kinds of difficulty. 

What Catholic Charities staff tells me is that all too often people living in poverty end up paying far more for goods and services than the rest of us. All too often, residents in poor communities are not able to benefit from competitive pricing, but rather they become the targets of businesses that charge high prices and even higher interest rates. 

Our agencies educate clients to compare prices and interest rates – a task made more difficult, if the government allows businesses to conceal the true cost of an item by not disclosing the annual percentage rate. Simply put, public policies should not encourage businesses that depend on financial ignorance and debilitating debt. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, “[T]he market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak." (Deus Caritas Est, 36)

Government has a responsibility to ensure that the market operates in a free, transparent, and honest manner. This is why the Wisconsin Consumer Act is so valuable. It ensures that consumers are not misled or exploited.

I strongly urge legislators to remove the rent-to-own provision from the state budget. In the words of Pope Francis, “Do not forget the poor.”

The Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee

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