Texas Catholic Conference hosts Houston federal town hall on payday lending; files SCOTUS brief with USCCB on abortion law case

February 21, 2016

HOUSTON — The devastating impacts of predatory lending practices on Texas’ poor attracted U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray to join a Houston townhall meeting hosted by the Texas Catholic Conference (TCC) Payday Lending Roadshow on January 19. 

Cordray came to Houston to share concerns about the financial inequalities of payday and auto title lenders and to hear firsthand from faith and community leaders—including Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and United Way of Greater Houston—about the crushing cycle of debt on the community. 

Through the TCC, the Catholic Bishops have been advocating against the usurious rates charged by payday and auto-title lenders for several years. Payday loans are marketed as short-term small cash advances for unexpected, discrete costs. In reality, the combined fees and interest of these loans total annual percentage rates of over 500 percent, making repayment difficult. What is left is an inevitable cycle of debt that traps financially vulnerable families throughout our state. It is time to end that cycle and offer families protection from this abuse. 

During the Roadshow event, Galveston-Houston Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza was joined by Father Christopher Plant, Father Albert Zanatta, and Father Daniel Kelly along with faith leaders from several Houston-area Baptist churches in a private meeting to discuss the impact of payday and auto-title lending on parishioners and church ministries. Also joining the meeting were United Way leaders from Houston, Brownsville, Dallas, and Central Texas in addition to business leaders raising concerns about the impact of payday lending on employees caught in the cycle of debt.

“We cannot ignore the painful impacts of these loans on vulnerable families struggling to maintain self-sufficiency families,” said Archbishop Fiorenza at the meeting. “This inequity is what compels us to speak out on behalf of the struggling families we serve.”

Director Cordray spoke to the issues raised by the faith and community leaders and promised that the CFPB would soon post new federal regulations to address predatory lending, and encouraged participants to participate in the regulatory comment period about the need to reign in the more usurious lender practices.

Later, at a packed community session hosted by Texas Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and United Way of Greater Houston, Director Corday outlined the agency’s enforcement role and urged community leaders to use the CFPB complaint system at www.consumerfinance.gov to report payday and auto-title lenders who use inappropriate debt collection tactics or whose practices may be out of compliance with federal law or regulation. 

After presentations by Anna Babin, executive director of the United Way of Greater Houston and Jennifer Allmon, associate director of the Texas Catholic Conference, there was a community listening session in which more pastors, payday lending consumers, and charitable volunteers shared their concerns about the impact of predatory loans in the community. 

Ultimately, the authority with ending these unfair lending practices rests with the state of Texas, and the legislators who have so far neglected to find an end to the cycle of debt created by these loans. The Texas bishops have indicated that they will continue to work for state regulatory reforms that reign in the worst excesses of these lenders. 

Texas bishops, USCCB file SCOTUS brief on abortion law case

AUSTIN — The Texas Catholic Conference (TCC) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have jointly filed an amicus curiae (i.e., “friend of the court”) brief before the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Texas law mandating health and safety standards to protect women who undergo abortions. 

Texas legislators passed the law during a special session in the summer of 2013 to require abortion facilities to maintain the same health and safety standards as ambulatory surgical centers and requires that abortionists have hospital privileges within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed. 

Since becoming law, abortion centers filed a federal lawsuit in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, dismissing the state’s authority to regulate the facilities and that the statute is “too strict” in ensuring safety standards. 

The Catholic bishops’ brief responded by noting that “there is ample evidence in this case that hospital admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements protect women’s lives and health. When such requirements are not enforced, abuses detrimental to women’s lives and health arise.”

Bishops also argued that abortion providers “should not be allowed to rely upon their own failure to comply with health and safety laws” as a reason to strike such laws down. They also noted that over 40 years of precedent, including the Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, reaffirms that states may regulate abortion to protect maternal life and health.

“The Catholic Conference has consistently argued that while it opposes abortion, it equally values protecting and preserving the health of women, whose lives and dignity are just as precious as those destroyed by the act of abortion. Short of closing these abortion facilities, abortionists must meet the most rigorous, mandatory standards of medical inspections and regulation to protect the mother and her health,” said Dr. Jeffery Patterson, executive director of the TCC.

The Catholic Bishops were joined in the brief by other religious denomination, including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. 

Court watchers anticipate that the case set to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in early March.