Business ethics summit begins at the Vatican

Cardinal Peter Turkson (center right) and other participants in the Vatican business ethics meeting
Cardinal Peter Turkson (center right) and other participants in the Vatican business ethics meeting


The Vatican launched a major conference today on business ethics, aimed at discussing whether or not unethical practices were at the root of the economic crisis and if ethics can prevent a future collapse.

“As we know from others sectors of society - and also in our lives - we often ask ourselves questions and make resolutions to do thing differently during and after a crisis,” Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, commented to CNA.

The three-day gathering is the co-creation of the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum and the Fidelis International Institute for Business Ethics, and is aimed at promoting ethical business practices that accord with Catholic social principles.

In all, around 100 key figures from business, academia and the Church are present for the “Executive Summit on Ethics for the Business World,” which began with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica this morning. Several of the participants spoke with CNA about the conference and their impressions so far.

“Ethics is, or has to be, put into practice in many areas of business - especially finance, entrepreneurship and social engagement,” said Marcelo Benitez, the Managing Director of Fidelis International.

“So the purpose of this conference is to discuss these matters in the light of the teachings of the Holy Father in order to get to the bottom of these issues and apply the lessons to the real issues of financial world,” he explained.

Foremost among those papal teachings being discussed is Pope Benedict’s 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” or “Charity in Truth.” In the midst of global financial collapse, it advocated financial ethics rooted in the dignity of the person and the pursuit of the common good.

“I come from a much more secular perspective, so for me this is all a bit new,” Professor Andy Zelleke of Harvard University’s Kennedy School remarked.

“But I have to say that in reading carefully through the encyclical letter I found that its discussion of the economy and the problems surrounding the financial crisis - including some of its prescriptive thinking for business - to be extraordinarily insightful,” Zelleke said.

Of course, different ethical questions arise in different parts of the global economy. Denis Chang, a senior counsel lawyer from Hong Kong, said the realization that economic growth has to be matched by ethical development is becoming increasingly accepted in China.

“I think people are beginning to realize that you cannot simply conduct business without regard to business ethics, without regards to social responsibility, and it’s not just a case of ‘business is business is business,’ but you’ve got to look at the social consequences of every single economic decision,” Chang said.

As for corruption in Africa, Patrick Bitature of Uganda’s Investment Authority believes the social teachings of the Church can help alleviate the problem.

“Corruption is like a cancer – it’s easier to stop if if you catch it early. So I think the family unit and the Church can play a big role. And that’s why a conference like this is so useful.”

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