Vatican: It’s time to develop new form of finance

The Vatican is denouncing offshore tax havens and financial instruments such as derivatives as gravely immoral and unjust, calling them “ticking time bombs” that will hurt the world’s poor the most.

In a new document released Thursday, the Vatican’s doctrine office teamed up with its social justice department to give a more solid moral foundation to the Holy See’s oft-repeated call for a more ethical global financial system.

The document, approved by Pope Francis, calls for banks to create internal ethical committees to ensure decisions work for the common good and not just individual corporate bottom lines.

“The recent financial crisis could have been the occasion to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and a new regulation of financial activities neutralizing the predatory and speculative dimensions,” it said.

Instead, the global financial players have returned to the “heights of myopic egoism” that excludes any consideration of the common good or the need to spread wealth and heal economic inequality, it said.

Notably missing from the document was a call for a global political authority to regulate markets and tax financial transactions. The Vatican’s social justice office, which co-authored the new document, had recommended such an authority in a 2011 document that was widely dismissed even within the Vatican.

“All of these factors easily create and diffuse a profoundly amoral culture – in which one often does not hesitate to commit a crime when the foreseen benefits exceed the expected penalty,” it states. “Such behaviour gravely pollutes the health of every economic-social system. It endangers the functionality and seriously harms the effective realisation of that common good, upon which is necessarily founded every form of social institution.”

A new “morally unacceptable” phenomenon has now developed where inequality is used to “create enormous profits” but in the process unjustly disadvantages other people.

This is seen when speculators try and profit at the expense of the financial health of an entire country. Such a practice endangers efforts for a nation trying to balance its books “but also the very economic stability of millions of families”.

Francis and popes before him have frequently denounced the growing income inequality and profit-at-all-cost mentality that drives global capitalism, including in encyclicals and other authoritative teaching documents.

Officials told a news conference Thursday that they thought it was worth articulating considerations about specific aspects of the current economic-financial system for officials who work in the field.

The effort marks something of a shift in attention for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which under the past two popes has focused on issues of doctrinal orthodoxy and sexual morality, not social justice and the poor.

History’s first Latin American pope, however, has made those issues the priority of his pontificate, and the document’s publication suggests the Vatican bureaucracy is getting the message.