KUALALUMPUR, Malaysia—Members of the world's largest anti-corruption movement have urged Church leaders to back their campaign against the growing worldwide practices of bribery and misappropriation. They added that abuse of public office should be seen as a major human rights issue, and condemned as a sin equally with theft and lying.

“Churches are one of the forces of civil society which should mobilize themselves behind this cause, especially in countries where they have a moral authority,” said Dieter Frisch, a senior Catholic adviser to the European Union.

“Corruption is a moral and human issue, as much as an economic one. Struggling against it should be seen as a corollary to Christian doctrine.”

The Belgian adviser was speaking at the end of a September annual meeting of Transparency International, a global coalition with active members in 70 countries worldwide.

In a Register interview, he said Catholic Church leaders had played key roles in the transition from military to civilian rule in parts of the Third World, and should now involve themselves more forcefully in the struggle for openness and accountability.

“You don't have to be a Christian to oppose corrupt practices,” Frisch continued. “You just have to be able to see the catastrophic harm it is doing by depriving people of basic needs.”

Founded in 1993 by German former World Bank director Peter Eigen, TI has gained an average of 14 new national chapters yearly.

The movement helped formulate a ground-breaking Anti-Bribery Convention, signed in December 1997 by member-states of the Organization for Economic and Cultu-ral Development (OECD), and is widely credited with persuading other intergovernmental organizations to adopt anti-corruption policies.

A concluding declaration at the five-day Kuala Lumpur meeting, which was addressed by representatives of the International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and other institutions, said “corruption, cronyism, and insider exploitation” had contributed to the current East Asian crisis, with dire consequences for the region's most vulnerable citizens.

It added that corruption had a negative impact on human rights and development, but also threatened peace and security by undermining political and economic stability.

The U.S. was placed 18th in TI's 1998 annual Corruption Percep-tion Index, published Sept. 22, which rates 85 countries from least to most corrupt.

The list, compiled from surveys among investors and risk analysts, cited Denmark, Finland, and Sweden as the world's “cleanest” countries, and Honduras, Paraguay, and Cameroon as its most “highly corrupt.”