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1. The International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on the theme "The Fight against Corruption" was held in the Vatican on 2-3 June 2006. Participants included high-level officials of international organizations, specialists and scholars, ambassadors to the Holy See, professors and experts. The purpose of the Conference, as stated by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino[1], was to arrive at a better understanding of the phenomenon of corruption, to identify the best methods for countering it and to explain the contribution that the Church can make in this undertaking. Distinguished speakers, scholars and experts on the phenomenon in question helped the participants gain insight into what corruption is and how to counter it at the global level (Antonio Maria Costa)[2], in the private sector (François Vincke)[3], in the public sector (David Hall)[4], in civil society (Jong-Sung You)[5], in rich countries and in poor countries (Eva Joly)[6], depicting the harsh impact of this phenomenon on the poor people of the world (Cobus de Swardt)[7] and the characteristics of a culture of corruption (Paul Wolfowitz)[8]. Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi [9] presented an overview of the aspects of the social doctrine of the Church regarding these issues.

2. The phenomenon of corruption has always existed, nonetheless it is only in recent years that awareness of it has grown at the international level. In fact, with regard to conventions on corruption and plans of action adopted by individual States and groups of States and by international organizations in the area of international trade, in the discipline of international commerce and especially in the field of finances, the majority of these efforts have been made in the last fifteen years. This means that corruption has only recently become recognized as a significant phenomenon and that a negative judgment of it is spreading at the worldwide level, while at the same time there is a growing awareness of the need to fight it. To this end, methods for an empirical analysis and a quantitative assessment of corruption have been put into place that will allow for a better understanding of the dynamics behind the illegal practices connected with it. Thus, it will be possible to come up with more adequate methods, and not only law-based systems and repression, to fight these phenomena. This recent change was brought about in particular by two important historical factors: the fall of ideological blocs after 1989 and the globalization of information. Both of these processes have contributed to shedding greater light on corruption and making people more effectively aware of it. The opening up of borders as a result of the process of globalization has made it possible for corruption to expand with greater facility in respect to the past, but also offers greater opportunity to fight it, by means of more resolute and coordinated international cooperation.

3. Corruption is a phenomenon that is not limited by politics or geography. It exists in rich countries and in poor countries. The economic impact of corruption is difficult to establish with precision; in fact, available data is often inconsistent. Nonetheless, we are dealing with enormous amounts of resources that are taken away from the economy, from production and from social programmes. The costs are borne by the citizens: the price of corruption is paid by using monies intended for the legitimate use of society.

Corruption crosses all social sectors: it cannot be attributed only to those who work in the economic sector or only to public officials; nor is civil society exempt. Corruption is a phenomenon that involves both individual States and international organizations.

A ready climate for corruption is fostered by a lack of transparency in international finances, by the existence of financial havens and by the disparity between the level at which corruption is fought — often limited to the level of single States — and the level at which corruption is carried out, usually at the supranational and international levels. It is also facilitated by limited cooperation between States in the fight against corruption, by the excessive differences in the norms of various legal systems, by the lack of media coverage of corruption in parts of the world, and by the lack of democracy in various countries. Without a free press, without democratic systems of checks and balances, without transparency, corruption is made that much easier.

Corruption is a cause of great concern today, in that it is also connected to drug-trafficking, to money-laundering, to the illegal trade of arms, and to other forms of criminality.

4. If corruption causes serious harm from a material point of view and places a costly burden on economic growth, still more harmful are its effects on immaterial goods, closely connected to the qualitative and human dimension of life in society. Political corruption, as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches, "compromises the correct functioning of the State, having a negative influence on the relationship between those who govern and the governed. It causes a growing distrust with respect to public institutions, bringing about a progressive disaffection in the citizens with regard to politics and its representatives, with a resulting weakening of institutions" (No. 411).

There are very clear and empirically demonstrated connections between corruption and an absence of culture, between corruption and functional limitations of institutional systems, between corruption and the index of human development, between corruption and social injustices. This is not merely a process that weakens the economic system: corruption hinders the promotion of the person and makes societies less just and less open.

5. The Church considers corruption to be a very serious fact that distorts the political system. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church offers a very negative judgment: "Corruption radically distorts the role of representative institutions, because they are used as an arena for political bartering between clients' requests and governmental services. In this way political choices favour the narrow objectives of those who possess the means to influence these choices and are an obstacle to bringing about the common good of all citizens" (No. 411). Corruption is listed "among the causes that greatly contribute to underdevelopment and poverty" (No. 447) and sometimes it is also present within the very mechanisms by which aid is given to poor countries.

Corruption deprives peoples of a basic common good, that of legality: respect for rules, the correct functioning of economic and political institutions and transparency. Legality is truly a common good intended for everyone. In fact, it is a critical key to development, insofar as legality makes it possible to establish correct relationships between society, the economy and politics, and insofar as it makes possible the framework of trust on which economic activity is based. As a "common good", it must be appropriately promoted by all people, in fact all peoples have a right to the good that is legality. Among those things that are owed to men and women by virtue of their being human persons is, precisely, legality. The practice and the culture of corruption must be replaced by the practice and the culture of legality.

6. From the perspective of overcoming corruption, very positive developments are seen in the transition from authoritarian to democratic societies, from closed to open societies, from vertical to horizontal societies, from centralized to participatory societies. But this passage is not automatically positive. Great care must be taken that the new openness does not undermine the strength of moral convictions and that plurality is not a hindrance to solid social bonds. The breakdown of moral standards in many advanced societies can conceal a great danger of corruption, as great as the danger present in the rigidity of so many archaic societies. There are societies that are highly structured, very rigid and closed, and even societies that are authoritarian within themselves or toward the outside world. There are societies that show much greater flexibility and mobility, with streamlined structures and democratic institutions that are open and free. On the one hand, we can note how corruption is facilitated in the first type of societies, because it is more difficult to become aware of the presence of corruption within them: those who are corrupt and who corrupt others can remain hidden and even protected when there is no transparency and when the State is not authentically based on the rule of law. Corruption can perpetuate itself because it can count on a situation of stability. On the other hand, however, we can easily note how, in the second type of societies also, there are hidden dangers. Excessive pluralism can possibly cause an undermining of the ethical consensus of the citizens. Confusion arising from different life styles can also weaken moral judgment with regard to corruption. The disappearance of the internal and external borders of these societies can lead to facilitation of the international exportation of corruption.

7. To avoid these dangers the Church's social doctrine proposes the concept of "human ecology" (Centesimus Annus, 38), which can also be a useful criterion in the fight against corruption. The attitudes of corruption can be satisfactorily understood only if they are seen as the result of a breakdown of human ecology. If the family is not put in a position to fulfill its educational role, if laws contrary to the authentic good of men and women — such as those against life — miseducate citizens concerning what is good, if the pace of justice is excessively slow, if basic morality is weakened by tolerance of transgressions, if living conditions have deteriorated, if schools do not stimulate personal growth and do not create independence, it is not possible to guarantee "human ecology"; and the absence of human ecology allows the phenomenon of corruption to thrive. In fact, it must not be forgotten that corruption implies a whole series of relationships and complicity; it involves the numbing of consciences, blackmail and threats, unwritten agreements and conspiracies that first involve, overall, people and people's moral conscience, and after, their structures. This, then, is the context for the enormously important task of the moral education and formation of citizens, and for the duty of the Church, which — with her communities, institutions, movements and associations, and with the presence of individual members of the faithful in every segment of modern society — can play an ever more significant role in preventing corruption. The Church can cultivate and promote the moral resources that will help to build a "human ecology" in which corruption will not find an hospitable habitat.

8. The Church's social doctrine makes use of all its fundamental guiding principles, which it puts forth as indications of personal and collective behaviour, placing them on the front-line in the battle against corruption. These principles are the dignity of the human person, the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, the preferential option for the poor, the universal destination of goods. Corruption stands in radical contrast to all these principles. It exploits the human person, disdainfully using men and women for selfish interests. It represents an obstacle for achieving the common good, because it is based on individualistic criteria of selfish cynicism and illicit special interests. It is a contradiction of solidarity because it gives rise to injustice and poverty, and a contradiction of subsidiarity because it does not respect the different social and institutional roles but corrupts them. It also acts against the preferential option for the poor by hindering the proper delivery to the poor of the resources intended for them. Finally, it stands in contrast to the universal destination of goods because the good of legality, as we have already seen, is a human good for every man and woman, intended for all people.

The whole of the Church's social doctrine proposes a perspective of social relationships that is completely at odds with the practice of corruption. Thus we can understand the gravity of this phenomenon and the Church's utterly negative judgment with regard to it. We can also understand the origin of the great resource that the Church brings to the fight against corruption: the entire body of her social doctrine and the work of those who are inspired by it.

9. The fight against corruption requires a greater conviction, by means of the consensus given to moral evidence, and a greater awareness that this fight will provide important social advantages. According to the teaching of Centesimus Annus: "Man tends towards good, but he is also capable of evil. He can transcend his immediate interest and still remain bound to it. The social order will be all the more stable, the more it takes this fact into account and does not place in opposition personal interest and the interests of society as a whole, but rather seeks ways to bring them into fruitful harmony" (No. 25). This is a very effective and realistic criterion. It tells us to aim at the characteristics of virtuous behavior in men and women, and also to encourage these characteristics; to think of the fight against corruption as a value, and also as a need; that corruption is an evil, and that it also involves a great price; that rejecting corruption is a good, and also an advantage; that abandoning corrupt practices can lead to development and well-being; that behaviour marked by honesty is to be encouraged and behaviour marked by dishonesty is to be punished. In the fight against corruption it is very important that responsibility for illicit acts be exposed, that the guilty be punished with reparative measures aimed at restoring socially responsible behaviour. It is likewise important that there be rewards for countries and economic partnerships that work in conformity with an ethical code that does not tolerate corrupt practices.

10. On the international level, the fight against corruption requires that people work together to increase transparency in economic and financial transactions and to enact within different countries uniform legislation in this area. At the present time funds arising from corruption are easily concealed, as are the dishonest gains of corrupt governments; these governments are able to export huge amounts of capital effortlessly with many forms of complicity. Harmonized or uniform legislation is to be encouraged as a step in prevention, so that poor countries do not attract this illicit capital solely because such uniform legislation is lacking.

Since organized crime knows no borders, international cooperation between governments also needs to increase, at least with regard to juridical cooperation in the area of extradition. The ratification of agreements against corruption is very important, and it is desirable that the number of countries ratifying and enforcing the U.N. Convention against Corruption increase. There remains, however, the problem of the concrete application of these agreements, since — because of political motivation — they are not observed in many countries, even in countries that have signed them. It is necessary that a common accord be found also at the international level for confiscating and recovering what has been illegally obtained; at present, norms regulating such procedures exist only within individual Nations.

It is the hope of many that an international authority against corruption will be established, with the ability to act autonomously even while working in conjunction with States, and with the ability to verify whether crimes of international corruption have been committed and, if verified, to punish the perpetrators. The principle of subsidiarity can be useful in this area, applying it to the different levels of authority at work in the fight against corruption.

11. A particular kind of attention is called for with regard to poor countries: they must be helped, as noted above, when there are voids at the level of legislation and when they do not yet have adequate legal institutions for the fight against corruption. Bilateral or multilateral cooperation in the area of justice — for the improvement of prison systems, the acquisition of investigative competence, the structural independence of the courts with respect to the government — is most useful and is to be fully included in aid given for development.

Corruption in developing countries is sometimes caused by Western corporations or even by state or international agencies; other times it is brought about by corrupt local oligarchies. Only with a consistent and disciplined approach on the part of rich countries will it be possible to help the governments of poorer countries to acquire credibility. A most desirable approach is certainly the promotion of democracy in all countries, the promotion of a free and vigilant press, and the revitalization of civil society. Specific plans on the part of international agencies, developed on a country-by- country basis, can lead to good results in this area.

The local Churches are heavily involved in the formation of a civil conscience and in the education of citizens to a true democracy; Episcopal Conferences of many countries, have made interventions against corruption and on behalf of a society that is governed by law. Local Churches should cooperate in a valuable manner with international organizations in the fight against corruption.

Vatican City, 21 September 2006, Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino

Giampaolo Crepaldi


[1] President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

[2] Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

[3] President of the Anti-Corruption Commission of the International Chamber of Commerce.

[4] Director of Public Services International Research Unit, Business School, University of Greenwich.

[5] Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

[6] Special Counselor for the fight against corruption and money-laundering, Norway.

[7] Director of Global Programmes of Transparency International.

[8] President of the World Bank.

[9] Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.