Vatican Conference Tackles Corporate Corruption

VATICAN CITY — As president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino is clearly delighted to see business executives tackling the issue of corruption in the corporate world.

Speaking to the Register at a break during a March 5-6 meeting titled, “The Business Executive: Social Responsibility and Globalization,” the cardinal praised the business leaders for being “very courageous in their convictions, in wishing to resist the immoral.”

“I was very happy with the meeting [on corruption],” he said. “It was discussed that making profits is not a sin — it's something good, provided you don't make them illegally or improperly, exploiting whatever by way of corruption.”

The cardinal and his staff, together with the International Union of Christian Business Executives, hosted the conference. It was attended by more than 70 business executives and professionals representing multinational corporations as well as smaller companies from India, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.

In his closing statement, Cardinal Martino said he hoped the conference would serve “to attest to the end of a long period of misunderstandings and ambiguities between the churches and the world of business.”

The Church has a “positive view of the market and profits,” he affirmed, but added that it condemns “the idolatry of the market and profit as anti-religious, inhuman and socially untenable.”

Strong Words

Cardinal Martino had strong words of caution to business leaders in light of the many highly publicized financial scandals in the business world, most notably those of Enron, WorldCom and, in Italy, the food company Parmalat, whose business leaders are alleged to have carried out widespread fraud and embezzlement.

“Amorality — or worse still, immorality in business — does not make business greater but smaller and more fragile, as the scandals and failures that are before everyone's eyes demonstrate,” he said.

Investing in ethics, Cardinal Martino explained, is “one of the best ways to affirm the rationality of the economy and business.”

In a written address to open the conference, Pope John Paul II reinforced the need for sound ethical practices in the financial and commercial sectors in order to safeguard the common good.

The Holy Father pointed out the virtues that should characterize the Christian businessperson as “diligence, industriousness, prudence in undertaking reasonable risks, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal relationships, and courage in carrying out decisions that are difficult and painful.”

And he stressed that in a world “tempted by consumerist and materialist outlooks, Christian executives are called to affirm the priority of ‘being’ over ‘having.’”

Christians have a responsibility to “combine the legitimate pursuit of profit with a deeper concern for the spread of solidarity and elimination of the scourge of poverty, which continues to afflict so many members of the human family,” he said.

He also appealed to business executives to make sure globalization becomes “more than simply another name for the absolute relativization of values and the homogenization of lifestyles and cultures.”

Rather, the Pope said, a “sound globalization carried out in respect for the values of different nations and ethnic groupings can contribute significantly to the unity of the human family and enable forms of cooperation that are not only economic but also social and cultural.”

New Documents

Cardinal Martino revealed at the end of the meeting that the council will publish two key documents to help address these matters.

The first will be a “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” which has been five years in the making and was initiated under Cardinal Martino's predecessor, the late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan.

The second is a report on poverty in the age of globalization and has been assembled as the Church's contribution to the United Nations' millennium goals, which aim to rapidly reduce poverty by 2015.

“There will be a chapter that will take a hard look at poverty to determine who is genuinely poor and who is not,” Cardinal Martino said. “We will also look at the moral duties in tacking poverty, as this is the Holy See's particular area of specialization.”

It is hoped the documents, tentatively planned for publication in May and June respectively, will specifically address the need for education and formation of business leaders — a factor many blame for the lack of adequate ethics in the field.

When asked about the importance of education, Cardinal Martino believed there was a need for it “starting from the beginning.”

“In order to construct something that can eliminate corruption, you have to start at the roots,” he said. “This is important because corruption is very hard to eliminate.”

The cardinal revealed that the Holy Father is particularly keen to see the compendium of social doctrine, making a point of inquiring about it when the cardinal and his staff last had a meeting with him.

Moral Vacuum?

In his closing address, Cardinal Martino stressed that the fundamental principles of the Church's social doctrine can be “translated into the daily practices of entrepreneurial activity.”

As one delegate at the conference pointed out, capitalism functions in “a moral vacuum” so Christians should “apply Christian principles to the way the economic system operates.”

“The critical question is not what the Church should do,” the delegate concluded, “so much as how we can put its teachings into practice each day of our working life.”

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.