by Gabriella Garnini in Buenos Aires
CHURCH leaders in Argentina this week urged the government not to make the poor pay for its plan for national economic reform.
During their annual conference, leading bishops criticised austerity measures they said would unjustly penalise the poor, echoing a warning made by Pope John Paul It last week. The Pope demanded moves towards greater social equality, and said the poor should not bear the brunt of government efforts to repay £40 billion of overseas debt.
"The words of Pope John Paul in relation to the austerity measures being imposed, which are affecting the poor, are not a warning for the future but today's reality," said a spokesman for Argentina's National Body for Ecclesiastical Communities.
Argentina joined the USsponsored "Brady Plan" last month, aimed at helping Third World nations reduce their debt burden.
At the end of the episcopal conference, held in San Miguel outside Buenos Aires, the bishops warned that "large sectors of the population already live in difficult circumstances". Despite recent economic stability there is "more and more poverty and unemployment, It nd reduced pensions for the elderly, who are forced onto the breadline".
But not all the bishops have voiced such harsh criticism of the government. Bishop Emilio Ognenovich of Mercedes said: "Austerity measures are inevitable and the economic specialists should be in charge of evaluating who is going to carry the burden."
The bishop did, however, stress that the rich should pay their fair share for the economic programme. "Those who have should be given most of the responsibility to bear," he said.