Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster

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Mass and Rite of Reception for Cardinal Vincent Nichols

God in the City

In a Cambridge University lecture hosted by the Woolf Institute and held at St Edmund’s College on Wednesday 8 February 2012, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster has examined how faith communities can individually and jointly work towards a more humane, just and compassionate society.

In the lecture, entitled ‘God in the City’ Archbishop Nichols examined the contribution of education and universities in building virtue, the way that ethnic and religious communities can sustain a dynamic civic culture and the importance of cities being open to the ‘other’ and in particular to the reality of God.

Morality and financial markets

Archbishop Nichols also spoke about the contribution of Catholic Social Teaching to promoting a morally responsible business model in financial markets and the City of London. He said there would need to be ‘real and evident’ change in issues such as lack of effective accountability and the disconnect between performance outcomes and reward before public trust could be regained in the workings of the financial markets.

“Over the last two years there has been much discussion and debate about the need for reform of the financial sector and the need to rebuild trust.  There also remains a deep ambivalence about the private sector more generally with an enduring suspicion that the tendency of business is to exploit people rather than serve them. So many have a deep yearning to see in a more morally responsible and socially driven business model that situates business life within the wider frame of promoting the common good and the justice that entails.”

“This is the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching with its founding principles of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity. It includes the systematic working out of what it means to place the good of the human person at the heart of the social project, from the micro level of personal and family relationships right through to the macro level of social, economic and political relationships and structures, nationally and globally.”

Quoting from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical ‘Caritas in Veritate’ Archbishop Nichols continued:

“Economy and finance as instruments can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends....but it is not the instrument that must be called to account but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility...the economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society.  It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.”  (n.36)

“The insistence of this teaching is the need to ensure that the human is the focus of enterprise and commerce. And this is not foreign to those in the financial sector with whom I have discussed these matters at some length. A group of senior financiers, meeting in October 2009, engaged enthusiastically with the challenges in the Papal document.  And I was struck by comments from the participants afterwards that this conversation and exchange had been different in kind from those in which they were normally engaged.  The framework and vocabulary - even the moral language itself- gave the opportunity for a more rounded and human-centred discussion. They said to me that it helped them to reframe their own questions and to challenge their own assumptions about the purpose of business and their roles as leaders. The course of these discussions has illustrated how difficult it is to move from words to actions. Change of performance and in particular a change in culture is the acid test. As is clear from the continuing and justifiable public controversy about the financial sector there is still a long way to go. In issues such as the lack of effective accountability and the disconnect between performance outcomes and reward there must be real and evident change before public trust is regained. “

The full text of the lecture can be downloaded from the link at the bottom of this page.

About the Woolf Institute

The lecture was dedicated to the memory of Dr Melanie Wright (1970 - 2011), the first Academic Director of the Woolf Institute’s Centre for the Study of Jewish – Christian Relations.  It was chaired by the University of Cambridge’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz.

As an independent institute working closely with the University of Cambridge, the Institute is named in honour of Lord Harry Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and its founding director is Dr Edward Kessler MBE.

Download the transcript of the lecture here.

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