City is resisting calls to reform after financial crisis, says Archbishop Vincent Nichols BY MARK GREAVES
THE FINANCIAL sector has “failed to wake up” to its moral responsibility to serve society, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has said.
In a lecture at the London School of Economics last week he said that some financial leaders had sought a “change of culture” but that collectively the sector did not want to reform itself.
His comments were echoed days later by Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, who said high street banks were risking another financial disaster by seeking to “maximise profits next week”.
The archbishop’s appearance at the LSE also came amid mounting controversy over the university’s links to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Two days later its director, Sir Howard Davies, resigned.
In his lecture, entitled “Good life in hard times”, the archbishop said that society, the market and the state all exist “to be at the service of the human person” and the common good.
But he said that “once again” the financial sector was starting to assume that it “somehow sits outside the moral calculus we want to apply to the rest of society”.
His comments followed private talks last year with some of the most senior figures in the City in London. The talks, organised by Arch bishop Nichols, were intended to examine how the Pope’s encyclical Caritas in Ueritate applied to the financial sector.
The archbishop described the talks as “fascinating”, saying it was clear some financial leaders were trying to change the City’s culture.
He said: “I applaud the leadership some have given, but also lament that the financial sector seems collectively still to have failed to wake up to the moral responsibility they have, as we all do, to serve society. Until a different culture has taken hold, I cannot see how a real and necessary change can take place.” In a wide-ranging lecture Archbishop Nichols argued that religious freedom is crucial to a thriving civil society and “increases our capacity to do good in the public square”.
He addressed several myths that imply religious freedom is harmful to society. One of these, he said, is that religion “pollutes the rational mind”, and “should not be imposed on others”. Another is that religious freedom encourages fundamentalism, as if “any religious faith involves a kind of lobotomy”.
The archbishop said: “I’m often struck by how, in polemics about religion, people of faith are seeking to ‘impose’ their views whereas their secularist opponents are much more reasonably only seeking to ‘propose’ theirs. This sleight of hand barely conceals a deep prejudice about what religion really is about.” He said that as a society of many faiths Britain had a chance to export to the world a new model of tolerant pluralism. He cited his rela tionship with Hindu, Muslim and Sikh leaders in Birmingham, where he was archbishop until 2009. “Britain is a remarkable test case. We are living in a crucible in a global experiment of religious co-existence,” he said. “In this country we have the opportunity, through the greater acceptance of the positive role of religion, to exemplify and perhaps export a new model of tolerant religious pluralism.” The archbishop argued that religious voices should not be excluded, but should not be given special privilege, either.
He said: “The mature and enlightened secular square should echo to the sound of many faiths, in dialogue with one another and with secular protagonists to the enrichment of all. The secular public square should not be faith-blind but faith-sensitive, welcoming and testing reasoned argument.” Archbishop Nichols also cited the benefits that religion brought to society, including a “richer understanding” of what it means to be human, the contribution of social goods such as “neighbourliness, volunteering and philanthropy”, and a respect for human dignity which “guarantees the freedom of all”.
The seminar on Caritas in Ueritate, organised by Archbishop Nichols in October, took place at Schroders private investment bank in London and was attended by financiers such as Marcus Agius, the chairman of Barclays, and Sir Win Bischoff, chairman of Lloyds TSB, along with academics such as Sister Catherine Cowley lecturer at the Jesuits’ Heythrop College, London, and Stefano Zamagni, an economist at the University of Bologna and an adviser to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The meeting came after Archbishop Nichols wrote in an article for the Sunday Telegraph arguing that the banking crisis had been caused by a “gradual erosion of the duty of service to society”.
He said the crisis could only be overcome by a change in the culture of the City, and not by merely tinkering with regulation. A few days after the archbishop’s lecture the Governor of the Bank of England, accused banks of taking a short-term view to “maximise profits”. Asked whether there could be a repeat of the financial crisis, Mr King said: “Yes. The problem is still there... Imbalances are beginning to grow again.”