WASHINGTON (October 28, 1998) -- Candid dialogue among international bankers, government and religious leaders, academics, and representatives of non-governmental organizations from several countries characterized two days of unprecedented meetings on the topic of the international debt of the poorest countries, hailed by all participants as a constructive beginning.
The "Conference on the Ethical Dimensions of International Debt" was convened in response to Pope John Paul II's call for such a gathering and his appeal for a "substantial reduction, if not outright cancellation" of the debt of the most impoverished countries by the Jubilee Year 2000.
"I am both impressed by and proud of what we have done together," Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, chairman of the conference, said. "I believe this unprecedented gathering has lifted the moral and human dimensions of the debt crisis in new ways. We have worked together to uncover differences and to build up a common ground and seek the common good. This offers great hope for a suffering world and a call to action for all of us. The test of debt relief must be this: does it clearly protect the lives and enhance the dignity of the people in the poorest nations on earth. Our goal is not simply reduced loan payments, but the elimination of poverty."
The off-the-record meeting was designed to bring together major decision makers on international debt in an environment that would foster open dialogue. Discussion among participants was sparked by several major addresses:
- Msgr. Diarmuid Martin, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Father Bryan Hehir of Harvard University, articulated the ethical principles which should guide the dialogue on international debt issues;
- James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, spoke on the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative;
- Michel Camdessus, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, spoke on designing and implementing debt relief programs that take into account social justice and the concerns of the poor;
- Lawrence Summers, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, discussed the role and limits of debt relief in fostering sustainable development; and
- Archbishop Medardo Mazombwe of Lusaka, Zambia, spoke of human poverty and the pastoral implications of debt relief.
In addition to representatives from major creditor governments -- the United States, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom -- the governments of three debtor nations sent high-ranking officials. Participants heard from the Honduran minister of finance, the Zambian deputy minister of finance and economic development, and the Ugandan budget director during the plenary sessions. During simultaneous break-out sessions, the debtor nations presented case studies on the debt situation in their countries, giving the participants from the international financial institutions and other organizations a unique opportunity to hear and respond to the difficulties experienced in developing nations.
The conference builds on long-standing efforts of the U.S. Catholic Conference to encourage major creditors to provide debt relief. Those efforts have included congressional advocacy, development of resource materials for Catholic parishes in the United States, support of debt campaigns in Zambia and Malawi, and joint advocacy work with Catholic agencies in other nations. Follow up to the conference will include continued efforts among parishes and updating a statement issued by the USCC in 1988.
Other participants at the conference included six U.S. Bishops, professors from several universities, executives from international commercial banks, other staff from the World Bank and the IMF, representatives of Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis, and a range of other major policy advocacy and development organizations.
The conference was jointly sponsored by the USCC, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Seton Hall University. It was held on the campus of Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ.