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February 28, 2015

Pope Francis attacks economic injustice

ROME - Pope Francis launched a fresh attack on economic injustice on Saturday, condemning the "throw-away culture" of globalization and calling for new ways of thinking about poverty, welfare, employment and society.

In a speech to the association of Italian cooperative movements, he pointed to the "dizzying rise in unemployment" and the problems that existing welfare systems had in meeting healthcare needs.

For those living "at the existential margins" the current social and political system "seems fatally destined to suffocate hope and increase risks and threats," he said.

The Argentinian-born pope, who has often criticized orthodox market economics for fostering unfairness and inequality, said people were forced to work long hours, sometimes in the black economy, for a few hundred euros a month because they were seen as easily replaceable. 

"'You don't like it? Go home then'. What can you do in a world that works like this? Because there's a queue of people looking for work. If you don't like it, someone else will," he said in an unscripted change from the text of his speech.

"It's hunger, hunger that makes us accept what they give us," he said.

His remarks have a special resonance in Italy, where unemployment, particularly among young people, is running at record levels after years of economic recession.

The cooperative movement in Italy, whose roots go back to 19th century workers' associations, have long had close ties to the Catholic Church, with credit services, agricultural and building co-ops forming an important part of the overall economy.

Pope Francis said they could help find new models and methods that could be an alternative model to the "throw-away culture created by the powers that control the economic and financial policies of the globalized world."

Perhaps mindful of a wide-ranging corruption scandal linked to some cooperatives in Rome last year, he attacked those who "prostitute the cooperative name".

But his overall message was that economic rationale had to be secondary to the wider needs of human society.

"When money becomes an idol, it commands the choices of man. And thus it ruins man and condemns him. It makes him a slave," he said.

"Money at the service of life can be managed in the right way by cooperatives, on condition that it is a real cooperative where capital does not have command over men but men over capital," he said.