Loaning money to the poor may not be as good as GIVING it, but depending on what is charged, it may be the next best thing. If you're broke, and you need money like RIGHT NOW... and all of your options are just a bunch of people who are going to charge you as bad as credit cards would... then I dare say almost anything would be better.
Poor people do not sin when they take out interest loans to pay for their basic needs. The people charging interest do.
I heard on the news once about an organization simply lending money to the poor outright, at a low interest rate (but only very small sums, like in the hundreds of dollars range). Sounds like they sure helped a lot of people that way. Can't Catholics do something similar? I'm sure they can. It's only evil if you're charging an amount that would be unjust or hurting these poor people unduly.
I always understood it as any interest loan for consumption goods was immoral for the person lending. There is no such thing as an ambiguous usurious threshold interest amount, once crossed "it is now usury". That is a modern notion, that "10% interest rates are fine, once you get to 15% it is usurious" or whatever."Interest" can be charged for company investments, then you are sharing in the profits of the company (stocks, dividends, etc).
Just because someone thinks of "lending" doesn't make it evil. If you haven't got much money to work with yourself, you don't have much to lend, or to loose with unscrupulous borrowers. And you have to make SOMETHING to keep the operation going, especially how people get scalped in taxes whenever they attempt to employ themselves. As long as the rates are moral and just, I don't see why this is such an evil idea.
"Interest" loans for businesses are different than interest loans for bread for starving poor (consumables). For the reason I stated above. No interest should ever be charged for consumption loans. So the Church, I believed, taught.
In the Council of Vienne (1311) it was declared that if any person obstinately maintained that there was no sin in the practice of demanding interest, he should be punished as a heretic (see c. "Ex gravi", unic. Clem., "De usuris", V, 5).http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15235c.htm
So how can Montes Pietatis be reconciled with the Church's teaching on usury?