Corruption, “the worst social wound,” “form of blasphemy” and “cancer,” and its remedies, are at the heart of Pope Francis’ Preface of Cardinal Turkson’s book “Corrosion: Overcome Corruption in the Church and in Society,” in bookstores this Thursday, June 15, 2017 in Italy, published by Rizzoli, at the moment the Vatican is organizing “an international debate on corruption.”
The Italian daily Corriere della Sera published the Preface. In the book, the Cardinal questions the “interior origin” of corruption, which affects human life at all levels. It is “a sickness of the heart.”
The Pope points out the basic remedy: mercy, which enables one to go “beyond” oneself, and “beauty.” In sum, a “new humanism” of “snowflakes” that unite for a beneficent “avalanche.”
The Pontiff wrote the Preface to the book-interview of Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson with Vittorio V. Alberti, entitled “Corrosion.” As Prefect of the Dicastery for the “Service of Integral Human Development,” Cardinal Turkson, native of Ghana, is in some sense Pope Francis’ minister of the environment, of justice and of peace.
The Fundamental Relationships
Out of hand, the Pope describes corruption, which he combatted by his writings, words and gestures already when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and which he sees as a profound attack on the three fundamental relationships of man: “In its etymological root, corruption represents a laceration, a rupture, a decomposition and a disintegration. In as much as an interior state or a social fact, one can understand its action by looking at the relationships that man has with his profoundest nature. In fact, the human being has a relationship with God, a relationship with his neighbour, and a relationship with Creation, namely, the environment in which he lives. This triple relationship — in which man’s relationship with himself also enters – gives a context and a sense to his action and, in general, to his life. When man respects the exigencies of these relationships he is honest, he assumes his responsibilities with rectitude of heart, and he works for the common good. When, on the contrary, he suffers a fall, namely that he is corrupted, these relationships are torn. Thus, corruption expresses the general form of fallen man’s disordered life.”
The Particular Good Instead of the Common Good
The Pope also stresses the social consequences of this radical “corruption, ” which goes well beyond bribes: “At the same time, always as consequence of the fall, corruption reveals an anti-social behavior to the point of dissolving the validity of relationships and, therefore, the pillars on which a society is founded: the coexistence of persons and the vocation to develop them. Corruption breaks all that and replaces the common good by a particular interest that contaminates any general perspective. It is born of a corrupt heart and is the worst social wound, because it generates very grave problems and crimes that involve everyone.”
For the Pope, before being a social wound, corruption is a sickness of the heart: “The word ‘corrupted’ recalls a broken heart, wrecked heart, stained by something, damaged as a body that, in nature, enters a process of decomposition and gives off a bad odor.”
With a series of questions, the Pontiff asks about the origin of the evils of societies, in terms that question the ideologies of the 20th century, as an invitation to go to the end of their unfinished interrogation: “What is at the origin of man’s exploitation of man? What is at the origin of the degradation and the lack of development? What is at the origin of the trafficking of persons, arms and drugs? What is at the origin of social injustice and the mortification of merit? What is at the origin of the absence of services for people? What is at the root of slavery, of unemployment, of the carelessness touching cities, the common goods and nature? In sum, what undermines the fundamental right of the human being and the integrity of the environment?
For the Pope, the answer to all these questions is in one word: “Corruption , which is in fact the weapon, which is also the most common language of the mafias and of the world’s criminal organizations. It is because of this that it is a process of death, which is the sap of the culture of death of mafias and of criminal organizations.” And the Pope just met in the Quirinale Palace with Italian President Sergio Mattarella whose brother, Piersanti Mattarella, was murdered by the Sicilian Mafia when he was Governor of the region of Sicily on January 6, 1980: President Mattarella then engaged in politics.
The Holy Father invites to “address” this “profound cultural question” that denotes a “change of epoch”: “Many today are unable to imagine the future; for a youth today it is difficult to truly believe in the future, whatever it is, and the same for his family. This change of epoch, a very great time of crisis, represents the most profound crisis that attacks our culture. It is in this context that it is necessary to situate corruption and that corruption arises under its different aspects.”
Pope Francis highlights the issue of “hope”: at stake is “the presence of hope in the world, without which life loses its quest for meaning and the possibility of improvement.”
An Always Present Temptation
Hence the importance of Cardinal Turkson’s book: “In this book, explains the Pope, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, today Prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, and former President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, explains well the ramifications of this sense of corruption, and he does so concentrating in particular on the interior origin of this state that, rightly sprouts in man’s heart and can sprout in the heart of all men. In fact, we are all very exposed to the temptation of corruption: even when we think we have overcome it, it can present itself again.”
The Pope stresses the unity of the human being and his activities. “Man must be considered under all these aspects; he must not be split according to his activities, and thus, corruption must be read – as one reads in the book – altogether, for every man, in its criminal or political, economic, cultural and spiritual expressions.
And he recalls the teaching of the “Extraordinary” Jubilee of Mercy of 2016 and specifies his diagnosis with very novel expressions such as “fatigue of transcendence”: “Mercy enables one to go beyond oneself in a spirit of search. What happens when one withdraws into oneself and when thought and heart do not explore a more ample horizon? One is corrupted, and on being corrupted , one assumes the triumphalist attitude of one who feels himself better and smarter than others. However, the corrupt persons does not realize that he is about to construct on his own his own chains. A sinner can ask for pardon, a corrupt person forgets to do so. Why? Because he no longer has a need to go beyond, to look for ways beyond himself: he is exhausted but satiated, full of himself. In fact, at its origin corruption has s fatigue of transcendence, as indifference.”
Spiritual Worldliness: Corruption
Behold, then, what Cardinal Turkson’s book wishes to answer, adds the Pontiff. “Cardinal Turkson (. . .) explores the different passages where corruption is born and insinuates itself, from man’s spirituality to his social, cultural, political and also criminal constructions, by putting together these aspects and also what challenges us most: the identity and path of the Church.”
Neither the book nor the Pope elude the question of corruption in the Church: “The Church must listen, elevate herself, bend over the sorrows and hopes of persons in keeping with mercy and she must do so without being afraid of being purified, while seeking assiduously the way to improve herself.”
Quoting French Cardinal Henri de Lubac, who said that “the greatest danger for the Church is spiritual worldliness,” the Pope adds: “hence corruption,” is a spiritual worldliness that is “more disastrous than infamous leprosy”
Pope Francis specifies it using the “ecclesial “we” this time: “Our corruption is spiritual worldliness, tepidity, hypocrisy, triumphalism, having the spirit of the world prevail over our lives, the sense of indifference. And it is with this awareness that we, men and women of the Church, can accompany ourselves and suffering humanity, above all those who are most oppressed by the criminal consequences and degradation generated by corruption.”
Beauty and the New Humanism
The Pope then stresses the importance of beauty in the fight against corruption. “At the moment I write, I am here, in the Vatican, in places of absolute beauty, where human ingenuity has sought to elevate and transcend itself in trying to make the immortal overcome the obsolete, the corrupted. This beauty is not a cosmetic accessory, but something that places the human person at the center so that he can raise his head in face of all the injustices. Beauty must espouse justice. Hence we must speak of corruption, lament the evils, understand it, manifest our will to affirm mercy over narrowness of spirit, curiosity and creativity over resigned fatigue, beauty over nothingness.
The Pontiff ends with an appeal to those that believe and those that do not believe to unite against the scourge of corruption. “We, Christians and non-Christians, we are snowflakes but if we unite, we can become an avalanche: a strong and constructive movement. Behold the new humanism, this renaissance, this recreation against corruption that we can realize with prophetic audacity. We must all work together, Christians, non-Christians, persons of all faiths and non-believers, to fight this form of blasphemy, this cancer that undermines our lives. It is urgent to become aware and for this, an education and a merciful culture is necessary, cooperation on the part of each one according to his possibilities, his parents, his creativity.”