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Pope on taxes: A sign of equality, justice and legality

January 31, 2022 GMT
FILE - Pope Francis appears on a balcony of the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome, on July 11, 2021. Francis met with members of Italy’s tax collection agency and recalled that the taxes they gather pay for Italy’s public health care system. Francis urged them to defend that free health care “because we shouldn’t fall into a health care system that you pay for, where the poor don’t have a right to anything.”“One of the beautiful things that Italy has is this: please keep it,” he said. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, file)
FILE - Pope Francis appears on a balcony of the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome, on July 11, 2021. Francis met with members of Italy’s tax collection agency and recalled that the taxes they gather pay for Italy’s public health care system. Francis urged them to defend that free health care “because we shouldn’t fall into a health care system that you pay for, where the poor don’t have a right to anything.”“One of the beautiful things that Italy has is this: please keep it,” he said. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, file)
FILE - Pope Francis appears on a balcony of the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome, on July 11, 2021. Francis met with members of Italy’s tax collection agency and recalled that the taxes they gather pay for Italy’s public health care system. Francis urged them to defend that free health care “because we shouldn’t fall into a health care system that you pay for, where the poor don’t have a right to anything.”“One of the beautiful things that Italy has is this: please keep it,” he said. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, file)
FILE - Pope Francis appears on a balcony of the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome, on July 11, 2021. Francis met with members of Italy’s tax collection agency and recalled that the taxes they gather pay for Italy’s public health care system. Francis urged them to defend that free health care “because we shouldn’t fall into a health care system that you pay for, where the poor don’t have a right to anything.”“One of the beautiful things that Italy has is this: please keep it,” he said. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, file)
FILE - Pope Francis appears on a balcony of the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome, on July 11, 2021. Francis met with members of Italy’s tax collection agency and recalled that the taxes they gather pay for Italy’s public health care system. Francis urged them to defend that free health care “because we shouldn’t fall into a health care system that you pay for, where the poor don’t have a right to anything.”“One of the beautiful things that Italy has is this: please keep it,” he said. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, file)

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis encouraged tax collectors on Monday to keep working to redistribute wealth and fund social services that help the poor, saying their efforts are a “guarantee of equality” that helps the common good.

Francis met with members of Italy’s tax collection agency and recalled that the taxes they gather pay for Italy’s public health care system. Francis urged them to defend that, “because we shouldn’t fall into a health care system that you pay for, where the poor don’t have a right to anything.”

“One of the beautiful things that Italy has is this: Please keep it,” he said.

Francis noted that the taxman is often looked at with suspicion and scorn, but he said that, done well, taxation “is a sign of legality and justice.”

“It must favor the redistribution of wealth, looking out for the dignity of the poorest who risk always ending up crushed by the powerful,” he said. “Let us work so that the culture of the common good grows and — this is important — so that the universal destination of goods is taken up seriously.”

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The reference to the universal destination of goods is a tenet of Catholic social teaching that holds that the goods of Creation should be destined for humankind as a whole, while allowing for private property. Francis has frequently invoked it to demand a reform of today’s “perverse” global economic system that destroys the planet and exploits the poorest, while the wealthy reap the profits.

Francis has previously praised Italy’s free health care system, most recently while he was recovering from intestinal surgery in July at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, a cornerstone of Rome’s public hospital system.

For Francis, the Biblical figure of the taxman also has a personal meaning. Francis noted that Jesus summoned Matthew, a tax collector, to become one of his apostles in a scene made famous by Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which hangs in the French church in downtown Rome.

“He looks at him with mercy and chooses him,” Francis recalled, using the Latin phrase “miserando atque eligendo.”

That phrase is the motto that the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose for his episcopal seal when he was made a bishop, and decided to keep on his papal coat of arms when he was made pope.