THE TABLET THE I NTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY
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AN EXEMPLAR OF PUBLIC DUTY
The announcement that the Queen has accepted advice to strip the knighthood from Fred Goodwin, the former boss of the Royal Bank of Scotland, brings into focus two models – the old-fashioned but still admired sense of public duty that motivates the Queen, and the prevailing ethos of business and finance where all that matters is the bottom line. It was that which drove Mr Goodwin (as he now is) to take Britain’s largest bank to the brink of the abyss, pulled back only by a vast rescue package supplied by the British taxpayer, which in turn caused immense damage to the public finances.
This was also undoubtedly a factor in the bad-tempered debate about the remuneration of his successor, Stephen Hester, who was first disposed to accept, and then persuaded to reject, a bonus of just under a million pounds in shares. It took him a while to realise that the bottom line was not the only thing that mattered and that the wider public good also came into the calculation. If business reputations could be given monetary value, the good name of RBS would have lost considerably more than a million pounds in the process.
The repeated assertion that the forces of secularisation are trying to drive religion out of the “public square” has distracted attention from an even more fundamental danger – the retreat of morality itself from the public to the private sphere. This being the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the time has surely come to restate the importance of morality, duty and the civic virtues in public life. The ethos of banking in Britain used to be as much about service to the community as about profit, but that was swept aside in the last two decades as being inefficient and old-fashioned, a brake on profit. Perhaps all banks – especially “Royal” ones – should put a picture of the Queen prominently on display in their headquarters and branches, not to prove their patriotism but to remind themselves that what the public really respects is not personal wealth but a lifetime of unselfish dedication to duty.
Six decades is a remarkably long time to maintain an unwavering standard, sufficient indeed for people to begin to ask themselves what is the Queen’s secret. She would give an unswerving reply. Her rock has been her Christian faith, and her profound understanding of the concept of Christian monarchy. It is impossible to understand Elizabeth II without reference to her coronation, which imprinted on her mind an ideal of kingship and on her soul an almost sacramental character. As Shakespeare recalls in Richard II: “Not all the water of the rough rude sea can wash the balm off from an anointed king.”
In the Middle Ages, the sovereign was seen to have two selves, a divine self and a natural self, and in the former capacity was a representative of Christ in whose name political power was wielded – but as a duty rather than as a privilege. Sixty years ago, the nation seemed to understand that. Though the Queen will be 86 in April, there is one more service she can do for her subjects – to remind them again that in the long run selfinterest is not enough to sustain a society, and that the virtues of public duty are indispensable.
DAMAGING LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
Once again the Vatican has responded to a whiff of scandal in a way that makes it worse. Throughout the long and agonising saga of clerical child abuse, there were voices saying that it was all “got up” by the media, some denying that there was any substance to it at all. Sadly, that is how the curial machinery has chosen to deal with recent allegations of financial rather than sexual irregularity, even threatening legal action against the television station that broadcast them. But blaming the messenger is no use. The Greek historian, Plutarch, records how Tigranes had someone beheaded for warning of the approach of his enemy, Lucullus, “so no man dared bring him further information”. What will curial officials who have seen things that disturb them make of the example of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who was deputy governor of Vatican City until he tried blowing the whistle on what he considered corrupt practices in the awarding of contracts? He was whisked away to America. And when Italian television drew attention to these facts, it was blamed by the Vatican press office – undoubtedly under orders from higher up – for mischief-making.
than for ours”. Archbishop Viganò had every expectation of succeeding Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo to the headship of the Vatican City administration, a post that carried promotion to cardinal. Instead he was appointed nuncio to the United States, which does not; and his protests that his work weeding out corruption would be undermined were ignored.
Corruption has to be judged by its context. It is worse if it damages the honour of the Holy See; it is perhaps more easily understood if it reflects local custom and practice. Both those factors apply here. It is arguably as true of contemporary Italy as it was of eighteenth-century Britain, as Adam Smith set out in The Wealth of Nations, that “people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public or in some contrivance to raise prices”. But the fact that such practices could never be entirely stamped out did not mean they should be allowed. Experience throughout the world is that the best antidote to corruption is transparency, which means shining a light in dark places and encouraging those who know of wrongdoing to come forward.
This is despite the fact that the Vatican has not attempted to deny the authenticity of the documents that fell into the hands of journalists. These were messages Archbishop Viganò had sent to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and to Pope Benedict himself, reporting “many situations of corruption and abuse of power that have long been ingrained in the management of various offices”.
He accuses a particular Vatican financial committee consisting of bankers of operating “more for their own interests
That is the fundamental reason why it is bad policy to treat whistle-blowers as Archbishop Viganò has been treated, even if, as the Vatican spokesman seemed to suggest, the reforms the archbishop instituted have dealt with the problem. Turning a blind eye becomes the norm, and one rotten apple can spoil a whole barrel. If this situation reflects badly on the Pope himself, that is all the more true of his right-hand man, Cardinal Bertone. And it reflects badly on the Catholic Church worldwide.
2 | THE TABLET | 4 February 2012