Secret billions for bankers

Hackles were raised in October when the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued a document that condemned, among other things, the idolatry of the market, and said that the financial crisis "has revealed behaviors like selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale."This struck me as a great understatement after I read a report from Bloomberg News on how the Federal Reserve secretly provided major banks with a gargantuan gift - reaching $1.2 trillion in emergency loans at below-market interest rates on December 5, 2008. No typo: $1.2 trillion. That's on top of TARP, which the government was gracious enough to tell the public about.Bloomberg News reporters calculated that by borrowing money without strings at below-market rates - which meant getting it practically for free - the banks were able to make $13 billion. Citibank alone picked up around $1.8 billion, the story said.The news service had to go to court under the Freedom of Information Act to dislodge the dark secret of which banks received this money because the Fed argued it would undermine public confidence in the banks if the truth were known. Not to mention that it would reveal how the public was totally misled by everyone involved.Bloomberg News quoted Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, as saying, "This is an issue that can unite the tea party and Occupy Wall Street."Can it unite conservative and progressive Catholics? Or at least move them beyond a tedious debate over the teaching authority of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace so they can face up to the moral issues posed by systemic greed?

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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