From the introduction to “ Poverty and Charity in Past Times” by Mark Cohen (Journal of Interdisciplinary History 35.3, 2005, p. 354)”, an analysis of Catholic confraternities in the 16th century :
Traditionally, Catholic poor relief was shaped by the overlapping but distinct concepts of “charity” and “mercy.” “Charity” could exist between equals (neighbors, friends, and family), and “mercy” entailed transactions between the strong and the weak, the prosperous and the poor, etc. The evidence of mercy provided a soul’s defense at the Last Judgment; to neglect them was to court damnation. The rules of many Catholic institutions, including confraternities, were designed to ensure that Christians performed good deeds systematically. Many theologians validated good deeds even to the benefit of unworthy persons, regardless of any undesirable social consequences. Critics have argued that these Catholic doctrines encouraged dependence, palliated poverty, and probably fostered a class of professional beggars who traded on the belief that almsgiving was vital to salvation.
And an analysis of subsequent Protestant activities:
Catholic societies retained and expanded certain kinds of institution that were alien to most Protestant communities: hospitals for abandoned children; pawn banks, which lent money to the needy at moderate interest rates; and convent-like institutions for women whose honor was threatened or lost. Behind them, arguably, lie variations on the principle of tolerating a lesser evil to avoid a greater one. Protestant poor relief was an instrument for creating a disciplined society in which overt sinfulness was repressed, even though all human beings remained sinners. Catholic poor relief was more willing to accommodate sin and bring it to the surface—the better to counter it through conversion and penance—within the processes of redemptive charity.