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By John Follain and Flavia Rotondi, Bloomberg News (TNS)

ROME — Pope Francis will denounce the inequalities of capitalism when he becomes the first pontiff to address Congress on his visit to the U.S. in September, according to his closest adviser.

Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, a fellow Latin American whom the Argentine pope has appointed to advise him on governing the church, said in an interview in Rome that Francis will speak “not as an enemy of the system or of the culture” but “as a shepherd who wants to make the world better, especially for those who do not have a voice.”

On his election as leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, Francis called for “a poor church for the poor,” setting a humbler tone for his papacy that began with his decision to live in a modest residence. At the same time, he’s set out an ambitious political agenda, from lobbying for a global climate accord to decrying the widening gap between rich and poor.

Francis will present the lawmakers with “the same way of thinking that he expressed” in Evangelii gaudium, his first 2013 encyclical, or major papal writing, according to Maradiaga. In that document, Francis attacked the “idolatry of money” and a financial system “of exclusion and inequality,” adding: “Such an economy kills.”

Free-market laws aim to “to produce the biggest revenue possible and the lowest costs possible,” Maradiaga, 72, said on Wednesday. “Change is needed, making capitalism more human, otherwise inequalities will continue growing and inequalities produce violence, frustration, pain and especially insecurity in every sense.”

Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, expressed the hope that the Republican-dominated Congress will hear the pope “with open hearts.”

Francis, 78, will travel to Cuba Sept. 19-22, and then to Washington, where he will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House, to New York, where he will address the United Nations General Assembly, and finally to Philadelphia.

The White House said in a March statement that the discussion between Francis and Obama will include “caring for the marginalized and the poor” and “advancing economic opportunity for all.”

As the Vatican’s spokesman on developing countries’ debt at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Maradiaga helped negotiate a write-down for his native Honduras in the 1990s. Continued pressure on debt forgiveness culminated in 2005 action by the Group of Eight leaders to eradicate the external debts of 26 of the world’s most impoverished nations.

While he declined to comment on whether Greece — Europe’s most indebted country — should receive similar treatment, Maradiaga said the policies of austerity associated with the debt crisis were weighing unfairly on the poor.

“It’s necessary also that the rich corporations could pay part of the price,” he said. For lenders that need rescuing, “all the money of the world is available,” yet “there is no money for the poor.”

Maradiaga, the outgoing president of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic development charity, also heads a commission of nine cardinals appointed to overhaul the church’s administration.

Maradiaga, who speaks six languages and can fly a helicopter, has said that he dived into the study of economics after being told by officials of international organizations that as a priest he knew nothing about the discipline.

“For us in the church, poverty is the concrete faces of people,” Maradiaga said. “For the economy, it’s only numbers.”

(c)2015 Bloomberg News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Flickr

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