Vatican denounces offshore tax havens as harming the poor

Published 8:05 pm Thursday, May 17, 2018

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is denouncing offshore tax havens and financial instruments such as derivatives and credit default swaps as gravely immoral and unjust, calling them “ticking time bombs” that hurt the world’s poor the most.

In a new document released Thursday, the Vatican’s doctrine office teamed up with its social justice department to give a more solid moral foundation to the Holy See’s oft-repeated call for a more ethical global financial system.

The document, approved by Pope Francis, calls for banks to create internal ethical committees to ensure decisions work for the common good and not just the “myopic egoism” of individual corporate bottom lines. It urged better regulation of financial products and for universities to educate the next generation of business leaders about ethics, not just profits.

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“The recent financial crisis could have been the occasion to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and a new regulation of financial activities neutralizing the predatory and speculative dimensions,” it said.

Instead, the global financial players have returned to the “heights of myopic egoism” that excludes any consideration of the common good or the need to spread wealth and heal economic inequality, it said.

Notably missing from the document was a call for a global political authority to regulate markets and tax financial transactions. The Vatican’s social justice office, which co-authored the new document, had recommended such an authority in a 2011 document that was widely dismissed even within the Vatican.

Francis and popes before him have frequently denounced the growing income inequality and profit-at-all-cost mentality that drives global capitalism, including in encyclicals and other authoritative teaching documents.

Officials told a news conference Thursday that they thought it was worth articulating considerations about specific aspects of the current economic-financial system for officials who work in the field.

The effort marks something of a shift in attention for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which under the past two popes has focused on issues of doctrinal orthodoxy and sexual morality, not social justice and the poor.

History’s first Latin American pope, however, has made those issues the priority of his pontificate, and the document’s publication suggests the Vatican bureaucracy is getting the message.