BY MARK GREAVES THE ABBOT OF WORTH, Christopher Jamison, has blamed the financial crisis on ethical failings in the City.
He said the industry was both overregulated and unethical — "a lethal combination, like a school with strict teachers where, amazingly. the pupils still get away with murder".
The Benedictine abbot — star of the reality television series The Monastery — was delivering the inaugural Operation Noah lecture on climate change at St Alban the Martyr church in London. .
He explained that he was commissioned by the former head of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), Howard Davies, to write a paper on how ethical values could be more widely adopted among City workers. Mr Davies was concerned that the ethics of the FSA was not "fully understood or applied by everyone working in the industry".
The paper, entitled Integrity in Practice: An Introduction for Financial Services, showed how the four classical virtues — fortitude, justice, temperance and prudence — could provide the necessary ethical foundation for bankers. Abbot Jamison said: "We concluded that the industry needed an ethical training programme alongside compliance training if it was to move beyond tick box compliance to achieve ethical integrity."
However, Mr Davies retired as head of the FSA and the new Financial Services Skills Council took over responsibility for ethics, sacking the man who had commissioned the paper and focusing on "tick box" compliance.
"The ethical project was over, the window of opportunity was closed and five years later the consequences are clear," the abbot said. adding: "While there are many proximate causes of the current financial crisis, the ultimate cause is ethical."
The abbot said the experience taught him that people were "frightened" of seriously engaging with ethics in the public sphere.
In fact, he argued, morality no longer even had a place in debate.
"Popular ethics goes as follows: ethics at work is rule compliance, ethics in public matters is what the law allows and the rest of ethics is labelled private. Public morality has become rule and law compliance so that public morality as morality no longer has a place in the public forum," he said.
"The term 'moral' is now so debased that it is usually connected to 'moralising' , a pejorative term to describe people sticking their noses into other people's business."
It was this "debasingof the moral sphere, the abbot said, that was key to understanding the origins of the financial crisis.
Abbot Jamison's comments came as part of a lecture in which he considered how the classical virtues — "endangered species" in contemporary society — could help in the fight against climate change.
The abbot is one of several Catholic intellectuals who have argued that the financial crisis is caused by a lack of morality in the banking industry.
An article in the Vatican newspaper L' Osservatore Romano, written by economist Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, pointed to "the greed of managers and a lack of regulations".
Meanwhile Prof Paul Dembinski, director of Observatoire de la Finance in Geneva, Switzerland, said many people in the industry believed that morality only applied in private life, and that in public life "the market mechanisms take over". '