Ethics Comes Before Profit, Pope Tells Bankers

Meets Members of Italian Banking Group

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 17, 2004 ( John Paul II told members of the Italian banking group Capitalia that in credit activities, ethical values are above the pursuit of «maximum profit.»

The Pope received the bankers, headed by their president, Cesare Geronzi, at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo today. The bankers were celebrating the second anniversary of the establishment of Capitalia.

Welcoming his guests, the Holy Father delivered a brief address in which he referred to the «complex world of credit» which «calls for reflection by the Church because of the many ethical implications that regard it.»

«It would in fact be decidedly inadequate to limit oneself to pursuing only maximum profit,» he said. «It is necessary, rather, to always refer to the higher values of human living if one wants to help the true growth and full development of the community.»

In this connection, the Holy Father quoted the Italian Catholic economist Giuseppe Toniolo, for whom «Christian morality must be considered ‘as the most powerful factor in awakening economic energy in peoples and in guaranteeing its most regular and efficacious relations.'»

From this perspective, the Pope told the bankers that their «presence in society can become an instrument of true progress, offering support for valid initiatives of individuals and groups who come to you for their legitimate financial and economic needs.»

John Paul II took leave of the bankers hoping that «your work will always be sustained by this higher vision, so that you contribute to the well-being of all who avail themselves of your activity and, in general, of those of the entire community in which you work.»

The Pope’s address was a summary of the proposal he made in his 1991 encyclical «Centesimus Annus,» No. 35, where he recognized «the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well.»

«When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied,» the encyclical reads.

«But profitability is not the only indicator of a firm’s condition,» it states. «It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people — who make up the firm’s most valuable asset — to be humiliated and their dignity offended.

«Besides being morally inadmissible, this will eventually have negative repercussions on the firm’s economic efficiency. In fact, the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society.»

The encyclical adds: «Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.»

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