Catholic Social Teaching and Political Corruption

As political corruption has plagued civil society for centuries, Sacred Scripture and the Church from earliest times have commented on its detrimental effects, particularly on the poor.

 You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit…And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Exodus 6:8

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (447) recognises that political corruption is one of the causes that greatly contributes to underdevelopment and poverty especially in developing countries. This is particularly true of countries that are in debt which are not repayable in part due to corruption, poor administration of public finances or improper utilisation of loans already received (450). In these situations the people who suffer the worst brunt of political corruption are the poor and the powerless.

 The Church, while drawing on Pope St John Paul II’s works and the Code of Canon Law is also aware that she herself and her institutions are not immune from corruption: “The Church, aware that her essentially religious mission includes the defence and promotion of human rights … profoundly experiences the need to respect justice and human rights within her own ranks (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 159).

The Church has drawn attention to the context and consequences of corruption by noting that “in every part of the world stark inequalities between developed and developing countries … inequalities marked by various forms of exploitation, oppression and corruption have a negative influence on the internal and international life of many States” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 192).

Both Church and secular commentators have noted the particularly adverse effect that political corruption can have on democratic institutions and societies. Especially in democratic governments, the Church states that  “political corruption is one of the most serious [deformities]  because it betrays at one and the same time both moral principles and the norms of social justice...Corruption radically distorts the role of representative institutions,” because it makes the political sphere a place for a bartering of priorities of those who have wealth and influence instead of working towards the common good with a preferential option for the poor (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 411). As Pope Francis recognised in Laudato Si’,  it is essential to developing a culture of integrity to have transparent political processes with a free and well informed debate (182).

“The absence of stability, together with the corruption of public officials and the spread of improper sources of growing rich and of easy profits deriving from illegal or purely speculative activities, constitutes one of the chief obstacles to development and to the economic order.” Pope St John Paul II, Centisiumus Annus, 48

Pope St John Paul II in his Message for World Day of Peace 1999 recognised that “All citizens have the right to participate in the life of their community … But this right means nothing when the democratic process breaks down because of corruption and favouritism, which … prevents people from benefiting equally from community assets and services, to which everyone has a right.”

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis recognised that some countries are gradually making significant progress towards combating corruption but he also stressed that for poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people and an effective means of doing this would be to curb corruption more stringently.  Pope Francis also recognised that despite corruption being wrong in law, a lack of enforcement is too often inadequate to combat corruption and called on individuals to exert public pressure on politicians to develop more rigoruous anti-corruption protocols and practices.

“Often, politics itself is responsible for the disrepute in which it is held, on account of corruption and the failure to enact sound public policies.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 197