Pope Francis smiles during a private audience with Andry Nirina Rajoelina, president of the High Transitional Authority of Madagascar, in his private library at the Vatican April 26. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani)
Pope Francis smiles during a private audience with Andry Nirina Rajoelina, president of the High Transitional Authority of Madagascar, in his private library at the Vatican April 26. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Corruption is worse than any sin because it hardens the heart against feeling shame or guilt and hearing God’s call for conversion, Pope Francis said.

“Situations of sin and the state of corruption are two distinct realities, even if they are intimately linked to one another,” he said when he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The future pope’s comments come from a small booklet that was originally published in 2005.

Titled “Corruption and Sin: Reflections on the Theme of Corruption,” the booklet was based on an article he wrote in 1991 in the wake of a scandal in which local authorities in Argentina tried to whitewash the death of a teenage girl because the murderers’ fathers were linked to local politicians and the governor.

In the booklet’s introduction, the future pope said he wanted to republish the article because the problem of corruption had become so widespread a decade later that people began to almost expect it as a normal part of life.

While many sins can lead to corruption, sinners recognize their own weakness and are aware of the possibility of forgiveness, he said. “From there, the power of God can come in.”

People who are corrupt, on the other hand, have become blind to the transcendent, replacing God with their own powers and abilities, he said.

“A sinner expects forgiveness. The corrupt, on the contrary, don’t because they don’t feel they have sinned. They have prevailed,” he said.

One who is corrupt is “so holed up in the satisfaction of his own self-sufficiency” that his bloated self-esteem refuses to face the reality of his fraudulent and opportunistic behavior, he said.

“He has the face of someone trying to say, ‘It wasn’t me!’ or as my grandmother would say, ‘The face of a darling little angel,” he said.

The ability of the corrupt to disguise their true self should qualify them for an honorary degree in “social cosmetology,” he said.

They hide their thirst for power by making their ambitions seem frivolous and socially acceptable. With “shameless priggishness,” they adhere to “severe rules of a Victorian tint,” he wrote.

“It’s a cult of good manners that cover up bad habits,” he said.

The future pope referred to many biblical passages to offer concrete examples.

Most notably, the corrupt, like the scribes and the Pharisees who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, launch “a reign of terror” to discredit, attack or eliminate anyone who tries to criticize, question or contradict them.

“They’re afraid of the light because their souls have taken on the attributes of an earthworm: in the shadows and underground.”

Corruption, however, can never remain hidden forever; evidence of it eventually oozes or bursts forth like all things that are forced to stay closed in or wrapped up too tightly within themselves, he said.

But the corrupt don’t notice the stench; “It’s like bad breath. Rarely the person with bad breath realizes it. It’s others who notice it and they have to point it out for him.” But “the amount of built-up resistance is enormous.”

Corruption isn’t an instance of one singular act but represents a state of being, a culture that an individual or whole society can get caught up in and accustomed to without realizing it.

Priests and religious are not immune to corruption, he said; in fact, “Corruptio optimi, pessima” (“The corruption of the best is the worst of all.”)

The path to corruption for them may begin with a painful situation, which “always demoralizes.”

“Experiencing defeat leads the human heart to get used to it,” he said. People get used to the status quo and feel they shouldn’t be surprised or continue to suffer in the face of further defeat.

“The heart doesn’t want any problems,” and religious men and women might become afraid that God is going to “send us off on a voyage that we can’t control.”

The subtle process of corruption in a religious man or woman produces a spirituality that becomes either mediocre or lukewarm.

A corrupted consecrated life may be used as a vehicle to find satisfaction in “the products offered by the supermarket of religious consumerism,” such as satisfaction in professional skills, in the outcome of their projects or in the esteem associated with their position.

Others may try to fill the emptiness in their lives with “an intense social life: They love going out, vacationing with ‘friends,’ huge meals and celebrations,” and make sure they get invited to every occasion.

Women and men who have become corrupt in their religious life are afflicted with “spiritual worldliness,” he said, which is “like paganism in ecclesiastical clothing.”

In confession, they ask forgiveness for other sins and never “show the Lord the state of their soul’s discouragement. It’s a slow, but definitive sclerosis of the heart.”

However, “God never tires of calling us: ‘Be not afraid,'” the future pope said, “Do not fear hope and the hope that does not disappoint.”

He said the booklet was meant to help people understand the “the danger of personal and social collapse that nests inside corruption,” which doesn’t happen overnight, but is a long slippery slide that takes a long time to take root.

He called for “our constant vigilance because a condition of daily complicity with sin can lead us to corruption.”

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service