“Corruption stinks” were Pope Francis’ strong words at Scampia, in the Camorra-plagued hinterland of Naples. In Kenya, he described corruption as a  “path to death”, comparing graft with the addiction to sugars. “We like it. It’s easy, then we end up in a bad way.”

The word ‘corruption’ comes from the Latin root cor, meaning ‘altogether’, and ruptio, which means ‘broken’. Corruption ‘breaks’ the wholeness, the integrity of the political process, since it breaches the basic principles of rule of social justice, and law, upon which the representative democratic system is based.

Corruption at the level of government distorts policies and governance in general, it leads to the public losing trust in those holding public office, and in the State in general. This results in an exacerbation of the problem of poverty, degradation of the environment, infringement of human rights and the impairment of a sustainable and healthy economic growth.

During the past years, we have been inundated with news of shady deals, nepotism and misuse of public resources. Perceptions of corruption in public life are on the increase. The public perception is that people in power leave behind a whiff of putrefaction, rather than a heartening fragrance.  How are we called to evaluate the situation and respond?

Simply evaluating the practical consequences of corruption is not enough. Short-term economic results may put blinkers on our conscience. After all,  one could be tempted to say that our country is earning monetary from shady deals that are contributing to sustain our standard of living.

What is fundamentally good increases the respect we have for the truth

Those involved in these recent scandals often claim that they did not breach the law. Nominally sticking to the rules and following the word of our Criminal Code will not prevent the perversion of standards in public life and the gradual and inexorable degradation of the common good.

We need to aim higher, we are capable of more. Archbishop Charles Scicluna, in his sermon on the occasion of Independence Day,  proposed the four transcendental values: unity, goodness, honesty and beauty. For the broken to be made whole again, it is citizens’ duty to truly work for a meaningful life in a society by fostering relationships where truth is always respected. Corruption can only be eradicated at its roots, if citizens are truly discerning about their own lives and choices.

We cannot afford to lose sight of  the ultimate good and what is truly essential in our lives. The ultimate good is not merely what gives us most pleasure, or the biggest monetary return. What is fundamentally good increases the respect we have for the truth in the relationships we have with ourselves, with God, with others, and with the environment that sustains us.

The human person can thrive only in a society that is not trumped by exclusive self-interest. Pope Francis, quoting Martin Luther King,  proposes the love of the other, more than the self, as the only way out of this chain of evil: “When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. [...] Somewhere, somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil.”