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Giving money to beggars ‘sustains a degrading lifestyle’, says bishop

A homeless man begs for small change on the streets (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A month after Pope Francis endorsed giving money to the homeless, the Catholic bishop in Rhode Island has described three reasons not to.

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 just 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 on Tuesday entitled “Three Reasons Not to Give to Panhandlers.”

Bishop Tobin’s spokeswoman said the post was prompted by recent local debate on the panhandling issue, not in response to anything Pope Francis has said.

The bishop said it can be a safety hazard if someone standing on a curb or pavement 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 homeless person 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.

Bishop Tobin also quoted Francis in his post, saying a great danger when aiding the poor is falling into “an attitude of protective paternalism”.