Corruption has been likened to a cancer that has spread through all levels of society — from the village to local government units to the police and the army, to the judiciary and the legislative and executive branches of the government. In a pastoral letter titled “Thou Shalt not Steal,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines condemned corruption.
It is not a surprise anymore to many people, said the PhilippinePBishops, stressing that corruption has become a way of life, something considered normal by many.
Knowingly or unknowingly, some members of the clergy and religious have become beneficiaries through donations coming from those engaged in corruption. From a moral viewpoint, how should we, as Christians and as church people, view and judge corruption?
The Bishops said that it is, first and foremost, a personal act that has social consequences. It is a form of stealing — fueled by greed for wealth and power. Money that is meant to benefit the people — especially the poor — is diverted to the pockets of corrupt government officials and their conspirators.
Corruption can lead to death and damage of property when corrupt government officials allow corporations to destroy the environment that causes flooding, air pollution and climate change. It can lead to murder when the corrupt try to silence those who try to denounce them. Those involved in corruption end up losing their soul, even if they make it appear that they are pious.
Corruption is not only a personal act — a personal sin which has harmful social consequences. It is also the manifestation of social sin. Sin is not just found in the hearts of individuals, but embedded in systems and structures of society — in political, economic, social structures. It has become a way of life — part of culture. It has become the dominant environment.
Thus, in our case, we end up with a corrupt and sinful system, structure or situation. Those working within the system will most likely be corrupted — especially if their moral conscience and integrity is lacking.
“Everybody is doing it. I might as well do it.” This can become their justification. There is an added pressure that they might lose their job if they refuse to cooperate or lose their life if they expose the anomalies.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines condemned graft and corruption — in the plainest of language, stealing from the public through the misuse of influence or position — has become, to our shame as a people, an ordinary fixture of our nation’s public life,” the bishops noted.
Stealing from public funds is “so much more food plucked from the mouths of the starving, so many more chains binding us, plunging us deeper into the enslaving spiral of poverty from which we are begging to be extricated with outside help. Under present circumstances, it becomes a sin of the blackest hue, a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance,” added the church leaders.
It is part of the church’s prophetic mission to denounce corruption as a moral evil and social sin. It is her duty to call people to personal conversion. This is the fruit of new evangelization.