In one of his most outspoken comments since his election two months ago, Pope Francis has called for worldwide "financial reform along ethical lines" which would curb the "tyranny" of "markets and financial speculation".
Addressing new Vatican ambassadors from Krygyzstan, Botswana, Luxemburg and Antigua and Barbuda yesterday, the pope suggested that modern man had a pathological relationship with money in that he accepted its power “over ourselves and society”.
“The financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis . . . We have created new idols. The worship of the Golden Calf of old (Exodus 32) has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal.”
Just three days after his election in March, in an audience with the world's media, Francis had spoken of his wish that the Catholic Church be a "church of the poor, a church for the poor".
He took up that theme again, arguing that the majority of world’s population lived in “situations of insecurity” in which a “minority” get richer whilst the “majority” get poorer.
“This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to states, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good”
Francis suggested that today’s world had seen the instigation of a “throw-away culture” in which “human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods”.
Arguing that credit distanced people from their real buying power and that debt moved countries away from their “real economy”, the pope added: “There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. This would nevertheless require a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders . . . Money has to serve, not to rule.”
Calling for a “return to person-centred ethics in the world of finance and economics”, he urged those in power to be “truly at the service of the common good of their peoples”. In this context, he said the pope had the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them and to promote them.
In an indication that the concept of ethical economics started at home, the Vatican Bank, IOR, this week announced that for the first time it would this year launch its own website as well as publish an annual report, in an effort to increase transparency.
Often accused of being secretive, IOR has also hired the services of an (as yet unnamed) auditing firm in order to ensure that it meets international safeguard standards against money laundering.
The forthcoming changes at the Vatican Bank, at the centre of the infamous Banco Ambrosiano scandal in the early Eighties, were announced this week by the IOR governor, Ernst von Freyberg, at a meeting with bank employees.
The appointment of the German banker in February, as a replacement for Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, sacked in May 2011, was one of the last important appointments of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate.