During his visit to the Philippines earlier this year, Pope Francis called on the Philippine government to put an end to corruption in the country, and challenged citizens “at all levels of society, to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor.” While the Pope’s admonishment may seem like mere rhetoric to some, his call to action may have more significant political implications in a country where nearly 83% of the population identifies as Catholic, and where the Church plays a major institutional role in the nation’s culture and government.
In his 2010 piece “’Good News’ in the Fight Against Corruption,” and more recently in a June 2014 working paper on systemic corruption, Professor Roberto Laver highlighted the role religion plays as a cultural force in society, which in turn may impact how societies respond to corruption in government. Religion can affect ethical behavior in obvious ways, but it can also affect how public power and authority are arranged within society. Professor Laver argued that religion, which is often overlooked as a resource for anticorruption efforts, should be used as an “entry point” for a “second generation of reforms” to battle entrenched cultures of corruption.
Assuming Professor Laver is correct that religious institutions are not playing a large enough role in anticorruption efforts worldwide, the Philippine Catholic Church may be an exception to that rule. The Church has been at the center of numerous political debates for decades, and, if the Pope’s speech earlier this year is any indication, it will continue to play a major role in issues involving development, poverty, and corruption. The Philippine example highlights the essential role an institution like the Catholic Church can play in addressing systemic corruption. And by the same token, it demonstrates the costs that come with entrusting that power to religious institutions and leaders.