British Bishop Challenges Government on Economy

Says Solution Is Virtue, Not Regulation

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BIRMINGHAM, England, NOV. 26, 2008 ( Causes of the British financial crisis are ethical, and civic leaders must look past financial measures to the realm of virtue to resolve economic recession, says Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

The archbishop of Birmingham affirmed this in Sunday’s sermon at an annual Civic Mass. «The Christian faith is a guardian of the true human virtues we need as we begin to live in a time of austerity and hardship,» he stated.

«A market controlled only by regulation, sooner or later will succumb to its inherent drive for profit at all costs,» the prelate said to the civil servants in attendance.

He added: «Of course the profit motive is crucial and responsibility to investors is a significant balancing factor in risk taking. But what we have seen is that, left to itself, the financial market has no robust external frame of reference, not even a wider economic framework.

«The financial market has behaved as if it exists for itself and within itself and to the benefit of those who are part of it.»

Archbishop Nichols spoke of the market’s need for «the perspective and practice of true virtue, which builds trust, and without which every human endeavor is unstable.»

The prelate invoked God’s blessing on those present at the Mass, and all public servants. «We will not find financial or commercial solutions here,» he acknowledged. «But we should gain some insight into our situation, in the light of the truth about our human nature which this feast [of Christ the King] expresses, and which faith in God makes clear.»

Virtues, not values

Archbishop Nichols emphasized society’s need for the «perspective and practice of true virtue.» He asserted: «As a society we have neglected the development of shared ethical values and principles to guide and shape our behavior, believing that to be an unattainable goal, and we have substituted raft after raft of regulation.

«Whereas the notion of ‘values’ is a flexible and friendly one — because a person can establish or negotiate their own values, and accommodate them to their own behavior — virtues are more demanding.

«A virtue is a personal capacity for action and a power for progress and perfection. The rules of the game alone have never produced a masterful performance. Only dedication, sacrifice and true skill do that. This is the arena of virtue.»

The prelate spoke about the human virtues of prudence, courage, justice and temperance, adding «These human virtues have their true foundation in the greater, theological virtues: faith, hope and love, which bind us to God and to each other.»

He turned his focus to the virtue of mercy «by which the application of expected rules is suspended, out of love and compassion.»

«A family or society that is incapable of showing mercy to its weak and vulnerable is dead from within,» the archbishop concluded. «The wooden application of regulation squeezes the life out of us, and can only be rescued or redeemed, by lives of true virtue and above all by mercy, the most precious quality of God.»

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