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Church of England says bankers should repent role in financial crisis

Church of England says bankers should repent role in financial crisis

Think Progress reports that the Church of England wants bankers to repent of their role in the financial crisis:

In the U.S., few have stood up to the banking industry. But over in the UK, the banks have earned themselves a new critic: the Church of England. The Church submitted a comment to a parliamentary commission investigating the LIBOR rate rigging scandal that called on the banks to make a “public, corporate contrition for past failings”:

“The financial crises and emerging scandals of recent years have…raised profound concern not simply about the ability of the system to prevent extreme and criminal behavior by individuals but about the system itself and a whole cadre of professionals within it. The question is not whether systems have been adequate to identify and deal with the bad apples but whether the whole orchard needs replanting. […]

One insight from the Christian tradition of penitence and forgiveness is that is often not enough to put matters back to where they were before things went wrong; some demonstration of a change of heart by means of restitution and a visibly robust refusal to let the same failings occur again is necessary before a bad situation can be made good….

To achieve this is not just a matter of technical “fixes” but may require public, corporate contrition for past failings…and possibly some symbolic steps to assure the public that the corporate culture has changed.”

Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, director of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council, told the Wall Street Journal [the blog, Total Return], “you need to rethink how banking is done so that good people can flourish and good people can do good things.” Here in the U.S., meanwhile, a group of nuns have been touring the country focusing on a different public policy issue: the detrimental effect budget cuts will have on low-income families.

The Wall Street Journal has an article in its September 30 issue featuring the bishop at the center of Church of England’s recent criticism of the banking industry, the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby.

Sitting in a castle in his diocese in northern England, Bishop Welby said the inquiry isn’t about digging into the details of banks’ alleged failings in the Libor scandal and other matters. Rather, it is an attempt to determine more broadly the future role of the industry.

“It’s an existential question,” he said. “It’s about why the banking industry is here.”

The arrival of one of the Church of England’s most respected bishops into the debate underscores the depth of British banks’ problems, according to industry experts.

Welby has been in the news for another reason. Although he has been a bishop for less than a year, the former oil industry executive is considered a top candidate to replace Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury.


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Bill Dilworth

While the article title speaks of bankers repenting, the bishops seem to be talking about banks, not bankers. The problem is that “corporate contrition” is cheap, easy, and not terribly useful. Romney’s opinion about the personhood of corporations , SCOTUS opinions as to their constitutional rights, and the modern penchant for groups (Churches and governments, mostly) to publicly beat their breast notwithstanding, banks are not people and cannot repent, and any notion that things will improve if the banks apologize or make amends is mostly illusory.

Peter Pearson

While I would agree that banks owe a great deal of amends for the suffering they have and continue to cause, I would also caution the C of E about finger pointing.

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