A different kind of money laundering

The Bishop of Rome has warned Christians against leading a “double life.”

Mar 03, 2017

By Anil Netto
The Bishop of Rome has warned Christians against leading a “double life.” He said some regular church-goers might think: ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this association and that one but my life is not Christian. I don’t pay my workers a just wage, I exploit people, I am dirty in my business, I launder money…’ A double life.

“And so many Christians are like this, and these people scandalise others. How many times have we heard — all of us, around the neighbourhood and elsewhere — ‘but to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.’

“It is that, scandal. You destroy. You beat down. And this happens every day...”

Francis used the example of a company in financial trouble and unable to pay its workers. As a result, the workers didn’t have enough money for their needs. The political leaders wanted to avoid a strike, so they wanted to talk to the company boss. Unfortunately, the company boss was enjoying a winter vacation on a beach in the Middle East — while the workers suffered at home.

We see the same thing happening here. Many companies here say they can't afford to pay their workers a decent wage for them to live in dignity. We hear all kinds of excuses for this: the company has to take risks; business might go bad; the economy is in poor shape; the business is very competitive.

But then we see how shareholders, the CEO, the directors, top management in many companies all earn fatter and fatter pay packets — many times more than the wages of their workers — and drive in flashy cars and go on expensive holidays abroad.

With the US Department of Justice’s probe into 1MDB, many of us are now familiar with the term “money laundering.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the concealment of the origins of illegally obtained money, typically by means of transfers involving foreign banks or legitimate businesses.”

Apart from money laundering, there is transfer pricing to move profits to places where the tax rates are lower or to offshore tax havens, so that certain large companies, including the multinationals, and tycoons scandalously pay very little tax.

Or investments may be made in countries where raw materials and labour are cheap. So we end up with a situation where farmers and workers in source countries are paid negligible amounts in comparison to the final retail price of the product — whether it is designer jeans and sweatshirts, athletics shoes, smart phones, and laptops, even coffee beans. This allows the “middle-men,” the shareholders, the financiers and the marketers to earn staggering profits.

But there is also a different kind of ‘money laundering’ — a spiritual money laundering, if you will.

Some of those with ill-gotten wealth or those whose wealth is acquired through morally questionable means (e.g. by paying their workers low wages or exploiting and degrading the environment) may then try to assuage their conscience by making relatively small contributions under ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ schemes and donating to educational foundations or charitable foundations.

For example, a company that pollutes the environment or contributes to global warming might make a small donation to a token green project — ‘green-washing’, they call it.
Individuals who acquired their wealth through dubious means might even donate a small part of their their wealth as offerings to the church or other places of worship for all kinds of projects. For instance, Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and disgraced American financier Charles Keating were reportedly accused of making donations to Mother Teresa’s charities.

Others might help finance the construction of places of worship, hoping to secure a place for themselves in the afterlife or perhaps to cleanse their wealth, if not their souls.
This is a different kind of ‘spiritual money laundering,’ — which Francis, the Bishop of Rome was, perhaps, alluding to when he preached:

“Jesus talks, in the Gospel, about those who commit scandal, without saying the world ‘scandal,’ but it’s understood: But you will arrive in heaven and you will knock at the gate:

‘Here I am, Lord!’ – ‘But don’t you remember? I went to Church, I was close to you, I belong to this association, I did this… Don’t you remember all the offerings I made?’

“‘Yes, I remember. The offerings, I remember them: All dirty. All stolen from the poor. I don’t know you.’ That will be Jesus’ response to these scandalous people who live a double life.”

So if it is not acceptable to donate “dirty” offerings to the church, should we then examine how our wealth is acquired before we donate a part of it to the church? Was it acquired on the back of the misery and suffering and exploitation of others or from the degradation of the environment, God’s very Creation? Would the Lord find such an offering pleasing?

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