On Thursday Pope Francis warned Catholic business leaders against the danger of worshipping money, saying corruption is to follow the lies of the devil, whereas practices aimed for the common good are always built around principals of honesty and fraternity.
“Corruption is the worst social plague. It’s the lie of seeking personal gain of that of the group itself under the guise of a service to society,” the Pope said Nov. 17.
The attitude of corruption “is the crassest selfishness, hidden behind an apparent generosity,” he said, noting that corruption stems from the worship of money and comes back warp the worshipper, making them “a prisoner of that same worship.”
Corruption, he said, “is a fraud to democracy” and opens the doors to “terrible evils” such as drugs, prostitution, human trafficking, slavery, the sale of organs and arms trafficking. Above all, “corruption is to become a follower of the devil, the father of lies.”
Pope Francis spoke to hundreds of business leaders inside the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace during a Nov. 17-18 International Conference of Associations of Catholic Businesses. Organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the gathering’s theme was: “Business leaders: agents of social and economic inclusion.”
In his lengthy speech delivered in Spanish, the Pope noted that business activity is constantly plagued by “a multitude of risks,” the first of which, according to Francis, is “the risk of using money.”
Francis has often spoken about the danger of putting money at the center of one’s life and activities, calling it “the dung of the devil.”
He told the business leaders that, as stated by the Fathers of the Church, money and riches “are good when they are put at the service of the other,” but otherwise “they are wicked.”
“Because of this, money must serve rather than govern,” he said. “Money is only a technical instrument of intermediation, of comparison of values and rights, of the fulfillment of obligations and savings.”
As with everything technical, money has no neutral value, but “acquires value according to the purpose and circumstances in which it is used,” the Pope said, explaining that when the neutrality of money is promoted, “it is falling into power.”
Businesses, he said, “must not exist to earn money, even if money serves to measure its function. Business exist to serve.”
Pope Francis stressed the need to recover the full social meaning of financial and banking activities, which must always be accompanied by the “intelligence and inventiveness” of entrepreneurs.
To do this implies taking the risk of “complicating life” and having to renounce certain economic gains, he said, insisting that credit must be accessible for housing, for small and medium-sized businesses, for farmers, educational activities, for health and for the “improvement and integration” of the poorest urban centers of society.
He cautioned that “a crematory logic of the market” makes credit cheaper and more accessible for those who are wealthier, yet more expensive and difficult for those who have less resources “to the point of leaving the poorest sections of the population in the hands of unscrupulous users.”
At an international level, the risk is that financing poorer countries can easily become “a usurious activity,” Francis said, adding that even if one accepts the creation of business procedures accessible to all and which benefit everyone, “a generous and abundant gratitude will always be needed.”
Intervention from the State will also be needed in order to “protect certain collective goods and ensure the satisfaction of fundamental human necessities,” Pope Francis said, noting how his predecessor St. John Paul II insisted that ignoring this aspect would lead to “an idolatry of the market.”
Francis also pointed to the need for honesty, because there is always a danger of corruption, which is “the destruction of the social fabric under the guise of law enforcement. It’s the law of the jungle disguised as apparent social rationality. It’s the deception and exploitation of the weakest or less informed.”
Corruption isn’t a vice limited to politics, but also pervades in many businesses, in communication and in social organizations, he said.
One of the conditions necessary for social progress “is the absence of corruption,” he said, noting how some businesses might feel pressured to fall into blackmail and extortion, justifying themselves by thinking they are saving their business and their workers, or that the business will grow to the point they will be able to free themselves from the threat.
Businesses can also fall into the temptation “of thinking that this is something everyone does, and that small acts of corruption aimed at obtaining small advantages have not great importance,” Francis said, cautioning that “any intent of corruption, active or passive, is to begin to adore the god of money.”
The Pope then turned to the importance of fraternity, saying business activities must always include “the element of gratitude.”
“Relations of justice between leaders and workers must always be respected and demanded by all parties,” but it’s also true that a business is a work community in which “all merit respect and fraternal appreciation” by their superiors, colleagues and subordinates.
This respect shouldn’t be limited to just within the workplace, but must also extend to the local community where the company is physically located, Pope Francis said, adding that all legal and economic relations of the company “must be moderate, surrounded in an environment of respect and fraternity.”
Pope Francis then turned to the topic of migrants and refugees, saying this attitude of fraternity must also extend to the multitudes seeking protection and a better life.
Both the Holy See and the local churches “are making extraordinary efforts to deal effectively with the causes of this situation” by seeking to pacify the regions and countries at war while also promoting a spirit of welcome, he said.
However, the Pope acknowledged that “you do not always get everything you want,” and asked participants to help in encouraging governments to “give up any kind of war activity,” and to collaborate in creating opportunities for decent, stable work in countries of origin and of arrival, both for the local population and the immigrants.
Immigration, he said, “must continue to be an important factor of development.”
Francis concluded his speech by pointing to the Gospel passage in which Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho, climbed a tree in order to be able to see Jesus. When he met the Lord’s gaze, this led “to a deep conversion.”
“I hope that this conference is like a sycamore of Jericho, a tree which can be climbed by all,” he said, so that, “through scientific discussion of the aspects of business activity, all may meet the gaze of Jesus and that from there result effective guidelines in order to make the activity of all their companies always and effectively promote the common good.”
By Elise Harris