The Church Participates in the Social Debate at World Economic Forum in Davos
In a message read by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, at the World Economic Forum held in Davos from January 23 to 26, 2018, Pope Francis warned against a “throwaway” culture.
It was thanks to an invitation from Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, that the pope was able to participate in this meeting of the planet’s political and economic elite on the theme: “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” His message was dated January 12, 2018.
What the Pope Said
Duly noting the global governance that is developing in a fragmented world, the pope encouraged the participants to “seek better foundations for building inclusive, just and supportive societies.” For him this means finding an answer to the challenge presented by new technologies that, in a globalized world, serve only individual interests and the search for profit. Economic freedom must not take precedence over human freedom; the market “must not be absolute but honor the exigencies of justice.”
The Pope pointed out the problems of poverty, unemployment, and new forms of slavery, but also “rather selfish lifestyles” in which technical and economic questions dominate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings. Hence the risk human beings run of being reduced to seeing themselves treated as “items of consumption to be exploited”. It is thus that human life comes to be eliminated with “few qualms” – doubtless an allusion to the practices of abortion and euthanasia that are being imposed everywhere, but also to the development of the genetic manipulation of human “material.”
“In this context,” declared the Pope, “it is vital to safeguard the dignity of the human person, in particular by offering to all people real opportunities for integral human development and by implementing economic policies that favor the family.” “Economic models, therefore, are also required to observe an ethic of sustainable and integral development, based on values that place the human person and his or her rights at the center”.
Coming back to the rise of new technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence, the pope asked that they, too, “contribute to the service of humanity and to the protection of our common home, rather than to the contrary.”
Before the spread of poverty and injustice, “it is a moral imperative to create the right conditions to allow each person to live in a dignified manner”. The entrepreneurial world needs to reject “a “throwaway” culture and a “mentality of indifference” and instead implement changes by “increasing the quality of productivity, creating new jobs, respecting labor laws, fighting against public and private corruption and promoting social justice, together with the fair and equitable sharing of profits”. By so doing, they will help promote “a more secure future, one that encourages the prosperity of all,” “authentic values,” “our beloved planet,” and the “development of humanity.”
The pope concluded by expressing his hope that this forum in Davos may help to advance the common good and calling down upon “all participating in the Forum the divine blessings of wisdom and strength.”
The Limits of this Exercise
A papal intervention at an economic forum based on the principle of global governance is a delicate exercise: as Head of State, the pope can participate ex officio in a political debate on the common good, but he is also the head of the Church, and as such he must be able to expose and promote the social doctrine of the Church.
This social doctrine of the Church is based on “the respect of natural law”, as Pius XII recalled in his Address to the members of the International Congress of Humanist Philosophers on September 25, 1949.
In Davos, Francis mentioned this basis of natural law very discreetly in his message, by defending the principles of the right to life and respect for human dignity; this term of “human dignity,” however, needs to be thoroughly explained, so that it is clear that it is based on action that is in conformity with right reason, which was given to man by God when He created him in His image and likeness.
While the pope did voice a thinly disguised criticism of today’s globalization, he denounced its harmful consequences more than its actual principles. It is true that the call for “the formation of a world community, in which each individual nation, conscious of its rights and duties, can work on terms of equality with the rest for the attainment of universal prosperity” came from Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Mater et Magistra (May 15, 1961).
And God in All of This?
It may be a delicate exercise, but it is still strange not to hear the Pope mention even once the name of God or the role of His commandments or even the role of religion in the lives of men. His invocation of divine blessings upon the work of the Forum is the only religious (rather than supernatural) touch in this papal message.
In substance, the head of the Church is right to point an accusing finger at the injustice and dysfunctional aspects of the world’s economic system. That being said, happiness on earth thanks to the creation of new jobs, social justice, equitable sharing of profits, the protection of the planet, and the development of humanity sounds more like utopic socialism than Christ’s reign here below. Read the letter in which St. Pius X condemned the Sillon, the Democratic Christian movement that sought to subordinate the Church to humanity, with eloquent but deceptive wording. “Authentic values” (which ones?), even if they are human, and “integral human development” are nothing but slogans so long as their meaning has not been clearly defined. Faith, the true religion, our duties towards God and neighbor, morals in conformity with human nature, none of these are superfluous in today’s context, especially at a time when work on Sundays, laws that go against the good of the family, and the precedence of economy over true politics are developing everywhere.
In the encyclical that offers the foundation for the social doctrine of the Church, Rerum Novarum, (May 15, 1801), Leo XIII did not fail to recall a few evangelical truths: there is no shame in being poor; economy must respect the commandments of God and natural law; the rich and powerful will be held accountable. Here is an extract:
As for those who possess not the gifts of fortune, they are taught by the Church that in God's sight poverty is no disgrace, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of in earning their bread by labor. This is enforced by what we see in Christ Himself, who, ‘whereas He was rich, for our sakes became poor’ (II Cor. 8:9); and who, being the Son of God, and God Himself, chose to seem and to be considered the son of a carpenter - nay, did not disdain to spend a great part of His life as a carpenter Himself. ‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?’ (Mk. 6:3).
There is no shame in being poor; it does not destroy man’s dignity.
To the contrary, continues Leo XIII:
From contemplation of this divine Model, it is more easy to understand that the true worth and nobility of man lie in his moral qualities, that is, in virtue; that virtue is, moreover, the common inheritance of men, equally within the reach of high and low, rich and poor; and that virtue, and virtue alone, wherever found, will be followed by the rewards of everlasting happiness. Nay, God Himself seems to incline rather to those who suffer misfortune; for Jesus Christ calls the poor ‘blessed’ (Mt. 5:5); He lovingly invites those in labor and grief to come to Him for solace (Mt. 11:28); and He displays the tenderest charity toward the lowly and the oppressed. These reflections cannot fail to keep down the pride of the well-to-do, and to give heart to the unfortunate; to move the former to be generous and the latter to be moderate in their desires. Thus, the separation which pride would set up tends to disappear, nor will it be difficult to make rich and poor join hands in friendly concord.
Now, it is to the interest of the community, as well as of the individual, that peace and good order should be maintained; that all things should be carried on in accordance with God's laws and those of nature; that the discipline of family life should be observed and that religion should be obeyed; that a high standard of morality should prevail, both in public and private life; that justice should be held sacred and that no one should injure another with impunity; that the members of the commonwealth should grow up to man's estate strong and robust, and capable, if need be, of guarding and defending their country.
Therefore, those whom fortune favors are warned that riches do not bring freedom from sorrow and are of no avail for eternal happiness, but rather are obstacles (Mt. 19:24); that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ - threatenings so unwonted in the mouth of our Lord (Lk. 6:24) - and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all we possess.
What to Conclude?
Granted, the message from Francis read at the Forum in Davos is not an encyclical and was not addressed to his fellow bishops. However, we can legitimately wonder what is the use of such interventions, in which the message of the Church is diluted among so many other opinions. Pope Francis admitted this at the beginning of his message: the idea was simply “to include the perspective of the Catholic Church and the Holy See at the meeting in Davos”. The Church risks being used as a sort of moral support for a globalist forum.
As for the social doctrine of Christ the King, that Jean Madiran liked to present as the fulfillment of the social doctrine of the natural law, it was noticeably absent from this message, as it has been from so many others…
It is time to “take courageous and bold steps” in order to “keep the compass continually oriented towards ‘true North,’ represented by authentic values,” wrote Francis in the conclusion of his message. And what if the boldest step of all were to restore the social doctrine of Christ the King to its rightful place in the Church and to present it to those who govern and make decisions at every level of society?
Sources: Vatican News / Zenit / FSSPX.News – 2/5/2018