PROVIDENCE, RI — A month after Pope Francis endorsed giving money to panhandlers, the Roman Catholic bishop in Rhode Island has posted three reasons not to on Facebook.
Pope Francis was asked last month by an Italian magazine for the homeless “if it is right to give alms to people who ask for help on the street,” according to a transcript of the interview posted on the Vatican website. He replied that there are many arguments to justify not giving money, such as being concerned the person will go buy himself wine. But, Francis said, “Help is always right.”
He added that when people give, they should do so not by throwing coins, but by looking the person in the eye and touching their hands.
Bishop Thomas Tobin posted a Facebook message Tuesday entitled “Three Reasons Not to Give to Panhandlers.” Tobin’s spokeswoman said the post was prompted by recent local debate on the panhandling issue, and not in response to anything Pope Francis has said.
Tobin said it can be a safety hazard if someone standing on a curb or roadway is asking for help, and said the practice enables dishonest people to prey upon others’ compassion when they do not have legitimate needs. He also said throwing loose change at a panhandler is demeaning to that person’s dignity.
“While it might make us feel better, in fact it sustains a very unhealthy and degrading lifestyle. Our community has legitimate and structured means of helping the poor and needy. We should support those,” the bishop wrote.
Tobin also quoted Francis in his post, saying “the great danger, or temptation, when aiding the poor, is falling into an attitude of protective paternalism that, at the end of the day, does not allow them to grow. A Christian’s obligation is to integrate the most deprived into the community in whatever way possible, but definitely to integrate them.”