Corruption Seen as a Threat to Democracies

Vatican Conference Looks at a Widespread Scourge

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 6, 2006 ( Corruption undermines the development of peoples and nations, and distorts the role of democratic institutions, says a Vatican official.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, made that assessment at an international conference on the struggle against corruption, sponsored by the council. The conference was held in the Vatican last Friday and Saturday.

At the opening of the conference, Cardinal Martino noted that “corruption undermines the political and social development of people and nations, afflicting equally rich and poor nations, developed and developing countries, totalitarian and authoritarian states and democracies.”

“Distorting the role of democratic institutions at its roots,” he added, “it induces inexorably to a culture of illegality with tragic effects especially on the lives of the poor.”

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, sent a message to the conference in the name of Benedict XVI, expressing the hope that “this significant meeting will contribute to inspire renewed commitment to the promotion of the culture of legality.”

The cost

Antonio Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, stressed that “corruption strikes all, and it is the task of each one to combat it,” hence, the community must be mobilized in this struggle.

Costa gave a picture of the world situation. In Africa alone the cost of corruption reaches $150 million a year, he said. In many ex-Communist countries, the political elite have compromised with former totalitarian regimes.

In many countries of Latin America, close to half of the income from commercial activities ends up in “commissions,” boosting the cost of the production of merchandise, Costa observed.

The U.N. official was convinced that “it is possible to create an anti-corruption global system” through implementing “the United Nation Convention against Corruption,” adopted in Mexico in 2003 and in force since December 2005.

Costa emphasized that for “citizens and investors, democracy means having confidence in public and private institutions. If this confidence is lacking, the whole democratic system fails. This is the price of permissiveness in the face of corruption.”


On the second day of the conference, Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, focused on the causes of what he called the “culture of corruption.”

He emphasized the World Bank’s concern to eliminate poverty, and to increase efforts to develop a high level of education, a proper understanding of the state, and appreciation of legality.

Another speaker, Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, referred to the relationship between the Church’s social doctrine and the struggle against corruption.

The prelate said that extensive research “has shown that there is a negative relationship between corruption and economic growth, between corruption and the rate of human development, between corruption and the functionality of the institutional system, and between corruption and the struggle against social injustices.”

“In other words,” the bishop explained, “a primarily corrupt society tends to grow less from the economic point of view, is less of a promoter of the person, less open and less just.”

The secretary of the Vatican dicastery said that the factors needed to end corruption include “good laws, healthy social relations, valid education and instruction, justice and solidarity, the maintenance of grass-roots morality and formation of consciences.”


Bishop Crepaldi specified that “honest conduct must be rewarded and dishonesty punished.”

These criteria, he continued, are “perfectly in line with the social doctrine of the Church” and, at the same time, they express “the concrete exigencies of the struggle against corruption today.”

The bishop added: “The social doctrine of the Church clearly relates these three aspects, understanding justice as inseparable in the legal, social and moral sense. These three aspects are considered inseparable because they must be kept together by the principle of subsidiarity as the way of articulating the common good.”

In regard to the relationship between corruption and development, Bishop Crepaldi explained that “corruption is also at the root of poverty and underdevelopment. Its negativity, even before removing resources for growth and having repercussions on the system with very high costs, contributes to create an ethical, social and cultural context of constraint to development.”

“The social doctrine of the Church believes in the economy and gives it an important role in human development,” the prelate added.

Clean economy

At the same time, the social doctrine believes that true development is the fruit of a “clean” economy and that business activity requires by its very nature virtues contrary to corruption, such as “diligence, industry, prudence in taking reasonable risks, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal relations, and fortitude in executing difficult and painful but necessary decisions,” the Vatican official said.

Bishop Crepaldi pointed out: “Markets dominated by corruption favor the less capable; in corrupt markets parasitic incomes prevail; markets cannot subsist without written and unwritten rules which corruption eliminates in fact; the market cannot live without the circulation of information which corruption instead contaminates.

“A market distorted by corruption prevents the entry of new businesses; corruption is fed by the excesses of bureaucracy which curb the dynamism of markets; the connection between the economy and politics, with the participation of politicians in the administrative councils of businesses, fuels corruption and at the same time hinders productive and economic efficiency.”

“Open but regulated markets, both juridically as well as morally, are needed for the struggle against corruption,” stressed the prelate.

A challenge

On greeting the close to 80 internationally distinguished scholars and experts at the conference, Cardinal Martino stressed that the “dicastery will make every effort to assess what has been said, preparing to this end a ‘detailed’ text which will highlight the most significant and consolidated results and the most mature and enlightening lines to combat corruption effectively and to govern it with determination.”

The cardinal then sketched the essential outline of this text:

1) The phenomenon of corruption must be studied continually and carefully. To govern it properly, it must be properly understood.

2) Corruption challenges our responsibility toward present and future generations. All must make their own contribution: individuals, organized entities, national institutions and international organizations.

3) The struggle against corruption must involve the Church’s efforts.

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