Philippine government workers join the observance of International Anti-Corruption Day in Manila in 2012. (Photo by Jimmy Domingo/ucanews.com)
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. Even some NGOs have been linked to anomalies.
It is not a surprise anymore to many people. 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?
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.
In his encyclicalSollicitudo Rei Socialis (Social Concern), Pope John Paul II refers to "structures of sin" that are "rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove... They grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people's behavior."
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.
In a pastoral letter titled "Thou Shalt not Steal," the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines in 1989 condemned corruption.
"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.
"What makes us even more sad is this: acts of graft and corruption or toleration and connivance with them are no longer ordinarily viewed as sin, but are often considered as acts of cleverness [when uncaught] or mistakes [when caught]," they added.
The bishops said that 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.
But calling individuals to personal conversion is not enough to overcome corruption because it is already embedded in the structures and systems of society.
Social and political transformation is necessary. This means awakening the moral conscience of the people vis-a-vis corruption, encouraging more whistleblowers, dismantling the patronage system, supporting the efforts of government agencies in anti-corruption drives.
Voters' education should be carried out, teaching the citizens to vote for honest and competent candidates and reject candidates with track records of corruption.
The clergy and religious should stop asking and accepting donations from government officials and wealthy business-people who may be engaged in corruption.
Basic Ecclesial Communities should be involved in the drive against corruption at the village level and monitor projects initiated by local government units and report instances of corruption.
Thus, the struggle against corruption is waged not only within the hearts of individuals but also in the systems and structures of society.
Father Amado Picardal, CSsR, is known for his activism and advocacy for human rights. He is executive secretary of the Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.