Saunders’s departure from abuse commission helps resolve body’s identity crisis

Peter Saunders, a British advocate for survivors, talks during an interview with the Associated Press in Rome, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. Pope Francis’ sex abuse advisory committee voted Saturday to temporarily sideline one of its members, a high-profile abuse survivor who had clashed with the commission over its mandate and mission. During a meeting of the commission Saturday, "it was decided that Mr. Peter Saunders would take a leave of absence from his membership to consider how he might best support the commission's work," the Vatican said in a statement. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

[Austen Ivereigh in Bogotá] The Vatican’s announcement yesterday that a British abuse survivor and activist will be leaving Pope Francis’s child protection commission is, of course, sad news. But it was also inevitable, the fruit of tensions over the commission’s identity that have been present within it since its inception.

According to a brief Vatican statement, the 17 expert members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors took a unanimous decision (with one abstention) that that Peter Saunders should take a “leave of absence”.

Saunders was invited to join the body in December 2014 after meeting Pope Francis earlier that year (see CV Comment here).The Commission, which meets twice a year in Rome, includes psychiatrists and therapists and experts of various kinds, and is presided by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston.

Its brief, which was never well defined at first, is to assist the Vatican in developing guidelines and policies for tackling abuse in the worldwide Church, helping to translate best practices developed by the Church in Europe and the US to the developing world. It is not a platform for survivor groups to campaign against the Church, but a policy-making body to assist the Pope.

Saunders, however, soon began exploiting his high-profile role to campaign for action to be taken on specific cases, notoriously accusing Cardinal George Pell, who heads the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, of being a sociopath (See CV Comment here), and recently telling The Times that unless Pope Francis sacked a bishop in Chile accused of complicity in abuse, the Commission would be a “laughing stock”. (For background on the Chilean bishop, see my article for National Catholic Reporter here).

Yet the Commission has repeatedly made clear — and explicitly in June last year (see CV Comment here) that commission members should not publicly comment on individual cases, an agreed position that Saunders continually ignored. The result was that the Commission had great difficulty in being known for anything other than Saunders’s remarks.

Saunders continually expressed frustration to the media at inaction on individual cases. Yet he and the other commission members had direct access to the person tasked with investigating those cases, Fr Robert Oliver, the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), who is also the Commission’s secretary. In the two cases he continually raised — Pell and Barros — the accusations he made are denied, and have been (or are again) in the process of being investigated by judicial authorities.

Ultimately, the issue became one of accountability. The Commission is a Vatican body, funded by the Church, which is answerable — as are all Vatican bodies — to the Pope, not to pressure groups or lobbies outside the Church. Yet Saunders saw himself as representing those survivors’ organisations, and appeared in Rome for commission meetings alongside their representatives. Yesterday, for example, he spoke to the press alongside Juan Carlos Cruz, a bitter critic of Bishop Barros.

In contrast, the remaining abuse survivor on the commission, Marie Collins, who unlike Saunders has been on it since it was first set up, has been careful not to exploit her position to campaign on individual cases. (See her interview with NCR).

Yesterday’s statement made clear that there could well be a body set up in the future to represent survivors groups’ views to the Commission. In such a case, the lines of accountability would be clear.

Although it is obviously a blow, Saunders’ departure comes as no surprise to anyone close to the Commission these past months. It frees Saunders to be what he does well — campaigning on behalf of survivors — and frees the Commission to get on with its vital policy work.

(See Crux, Reuters, & AP.)

Posted in Uncategorized

Historic announcement: Pope to meet Russian patriarch in Cuba

Kirill[From Austen Ivereigh in Bogotá] In one of the biggest ecumenical breakthroughs in centuries, it was announced today that Pope Francis will meet the Russian Orthodox Patriarch next week in Cuba, en route to Mexico.

The two-hour meeting at Havana airport between Francis and Patriarch Kirill on February 12 will be the first ever between the leaders of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, divided by a 1,000-year-old schism.

Following discussions, they will sign an agreed statement that is likely to pledge both Churches to a search for eventual unity. The statement could also include an agreement to find a common Christian date for Easter.

Although the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch (currently Bartholomew) has enjoyed warm relations with popes since the first meeting back in 1964, the  deeply nationalist Russian Orthodox Church has always been the major roadblock to the broader Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

By far the largest of the Churches, with over two-thirds of the world’s 200m Orthodox Christians, the Russian Church has also long been the most anti-western and anti-Catholic.

In a joint statement, Rome and Moscow said the meeting “will mark an important stage in relations between the two churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.”

Pope John Paul II made many efforts to seek reconciliation with Moscow, but was continually rebuffed. Moscow has long viewed the Catholic Church as a foreign intruder and the tiny number of Catholics in Russia – less than one per cent of the population — as a kind of fifth column.

In 2002, for example, a Catholic bishop and four priests were expelled after the Vatican turned the apostolic administrations into dioceses. Another major source of tension is over the so-called ‘Uniate’ Churches in Ukraine — Orthodox Churches in communion with Rome.

There are also deep differences over authority. Moscow has never recognised the Bishop of Rome as having primacy over the other Churches.

Although relations eased after the death of Patriarch Alexy II seven years ago, Patriarch Kirill and Benedict XVI never managed to meet.

Today’s announcement has been over two years in the making and came as a huge surprise — although, as Andrea Tornielli notes, there have been signs that a breakthrough was imminent.

In November 2014, Francis said he had told Kirill. “I’ll go wherever you want. You call me and I’ll go.”

The Russian Orthodox Church, in its statement, said that while many differences remained, “[n]evertheless, the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches. In the present tragic situation, it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution.”

The Cuban president, Raúl Castro, with whom Pope Francis met in September in Havana, will be present for part of the meeting.

Francis told Castro back in September that Cuba had a vocation to be a “point of encounter” between east and west.

Posted in Christian unity

In message for Lent, Francis urges world to learn meaning of ‘mercy, not sacrifice’

epiphanyPope Francis’s message for Lent 2016, a meditation on Jesus’s words “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13), invites the world to “overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy”, above all in concrete acts. He also warns against the blindness to sin induced by power and wealth, which leads to a “diabolic” closing of the human heart to the plight of the poor. The antidote lies in both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, as well as an “attentive listening” to the Word of God.

The text follows.


1. Mary, the image of a Church which evangelizes because she is evangelized

In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). By calling for an attentive listening to the word of God and encouraging the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord”, I sought to stress the primacy of prayerful listening to God’s word, especially his prophetic word. The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness.

After receiving the Good News told to her by the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, in her Magnificat, prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her. The Virgin of Nazareth, betrothed to Joseph, thus becomes the perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful. In the prophetic tradition, mercy is strictly related – even on the etymological level – to the maternal womb (rahamim) and to a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness (hesed) shown within marriage and family relationships.

2. God’s covenant with humanity: a history of mercy

The mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people Israel. God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth. Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride. These domestic images – as in the case of Hosea (cf. Hos 1-2) – show to what extent God wishes to bind himself to his people.

This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son. In Christ, the Father pours forth his boundless mercy even to making him “mercy incarnate” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). As a man, Jesus of Nazareth is a true son of Israel; he embodies that perfect hearing required of every Jew by the Shema, which today too is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Dt 6:4-5). As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.

This is the very heart of the apostolic kerygma, in which divine mercy holds a central and fundamental place. It is “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (Evangelii Gaudium, 36), that first proclamation which “we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (ibid., 164). Mercy “expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe” (Misericordiae Vultus, 21), thus restoring his relationship with him. In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.

3. The works of mercy

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy” (ibid., 15). For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us” (ibid.). It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep (cf. Lk 16:20-21). Lazarus, the poor man, is a figure of Christ, who through the poor pleads for our conversion. As such, he represents the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see. Such blindness is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence, which reflects in a sinister way the diabolical “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5) which is the root of all sin. This illusion can likewise take social and political forms, as shown by the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century, and, in our own day, by the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited. This illusion can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of money, which leads to lack of concern for the fate of the poor on the part of wealthier individuals and societies; they close their doors, refusing even to see the poor.

For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need. By taking this path, the “proud”, the “powerful” and the “wealthy” spoken of in the Magnificat can also be embraced and undeservedly loved by the crucified Lord who died and rose for them. This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches. Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell. The pointed words of Abraham apply to them and to all of us: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Lk 16:29). Such attentive listening will best prepare us to celebrate the final victory over sin and death of the Bridegroom, now risen, who desires to purify his Betrothed in expectation of his coming.

Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion! We ask this through the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, who, encountering the greatness of God’s mercy freely bestowed upon her, was the first to acknowledge her lowliness (cf. Lk 1:48) and to call herself the Lord’s humble servant (cf. Lk 1:38).

Posted in Uncategorized

When institutions collude, the rot spreads. Lessons from ‘Spotlight’

Spotlight[Aaron Taylor] In a scene near the beginning of Spotlight – the highly-praised movie about The Boston Globe’s exposure of clerical sex abuse that comes out in UK cinemas next week – the new editor Marty Baron is invited to visit Cardinal Bernard Law. It was the then Archbishop of Boston’s complicity in concealing abuse that would be uncovered by the Globe’s reporters.

“This city flourishes when its great institutions work together,” declares the cardinal, inviting the city’s great newspaper to collaborate with its most important religious institution.

“I’m of the opinion that for a paper to best perform its function, it really needs to stand alone,” replies Baron, gently but firmly.

There is a lesson at the heart of this multi-Academy Award nominated film. Great institutions flourish when they are accountable; when they put themselves before the people they serve, the rot sets in.

The Boston Church in the 1970s-80s looks a lot like a medieval papal court, or the Church in the early years of the Franco government in Spain: a proud, “great institution”, with power and status, the centre of a network of interwoven, self-protecting interests — political and religious, civic and cultural.

Spotlight  — see previous CV Comment here — is the story of the unravelling of this nexus that co-operates to keep the truth under wraps.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one,” says Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer played by Stanley Tucci who doggedly pursues justice for abuse victims.

Mark Ruffalo

Even lawyers and judges collude in keeping details of priestly abuse cases off the public record. Until Baron arrives so, too, has the newspaper. In one dramatic scene, a reporter on the investigative team is revealed to have “buried” a story about abusive priests years before.

This is a society in which many are dimly aware that something is dreadfully wrong, but look the other way.

The trigger for the Globe’s decision to investigate the Boston archdiocese was a court case involving defrocked priest John Geoghan, thought to have abused more than 130 children over 30 years during which he was moved from parish to parish by bishops who knew, at least, that there were complaints — and in many cases had heard directly about the alleged abuse.

Geoghan was eventually sent to prison for indecent assault and battery, where a fellow inmate strangled him to death.

It is difficult now to imagine how sexual exploitation of minors in such numbers could go on for so long without becoming known, just as it is difficult to imagine how Jimmy Savile – also abusing on an industrial scale during the same era in the BBC – could have been allowed to do so. In both cases, a culture of deference, and an aversion to tarnishing the reputation of individuals and the institution itself, hid the horror and let it go on.


Spotlight ends with the phone lines at the Globe overwhelmed with victims coming forward to tell their stories the morning after the first of its exposés –  on January 6, 2002. The Globe would go on to publish hundreds of articles on the abuse scandal in Boston over the course of that year: the stories were seldom off the front page.

But what Spotlight does not recount is what happened afterwards.

Media pressure forced the Church to confront the problem, and to render justice to abuse victims (or be held accountable to public opinion when it does not).

The media kept up the pressure on the Church to face the truth “honestly and with transparency,” said Fr. Robert Oliver, the former Promoter of Justice for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and a priest of Boston. “Those who continued to put before us that we need to confront this problem did a service.”

Earlier this month the Archdiocese of Seattle, of its own volition, made public a list of 77 clergy deemed to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. “In early 2014 we brought in a private consultant, a former FBI agent who does this kind of work; she came in with an associate and was given full access to our files,” explained Archdiocesan spokesman Greg Magnoni. This commendable transparency would have been unthinkable 14 years ago, when the Boston Archdiocese fought tooth-and-nail to prevent the Globe knowing about even one abuser.

Admittedly, the Church’s confrontation with the truth has been far from total. Too many dioceses, for example, play legal hardball with victims in a bid to avoid paying damages, some even stooping as low as countersuing the families of abuse survivors. And, as the case of Robert Finn (the former bishop of Kansas City who received a criminal conviction for failing to report child abuse) shows, some still ignore the problem (a tribunal established by Pope Francis – see CV Comment here – aims to deal with recalcitrant bishops).

But where safeguarding procedures have been implemented and followed, they have made the Church a much safer place for children and vulnerable adults even than 14 years ago. In many places, the Church has been significantly ahead of other institutions in putting in place reforms. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors aims to help extend those reforms across the global Church.


Spotlight artfully depicts the immense personal cost that telling the truth can have. All of the reporters on the investigative team grew up as Catholics in Boston, and the film shows how their work strains relationships with people they have known all their lives, who disapprove of (as they see it) airing the Church’s dirty linen in public.

Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo

Soberingly for Catholic viewers, the film shows how putting the Church’s public image before the truth ultimately ends up destroying the thing the Church exists to foster – the Christian faith.

“Even though I was a lapsed Catholic, I still considered myself a Catholic and thought that possibly, some day, I would go back to being a practicing Catholic,” says Michael Rezendes, the real-life Globe reporter played in Spotlight by Mark Ruffalo. “But after this experience, I found it impossible to do that – or even think about doing that… What we discovered was just too shattering.”

As the sordid history of the abuse scandals in Boston and elsewhere reminds us, truth telling can be painful and costly, but it is necessary. The cost of not telling the truth is in the long run much greater, and it is a cost too often borne by the most vulnerable members of our churches and communities.

[Spotlight is released in the UK on January 29. CV Comment is grateful to eOne, the film’s distributor, for review tickets. Aaron Taylor is a former resident of Boston and is CV’s admin assistant.]

Posted in abuse, church governance

Pope restores an older tradition: Easter feet-washing to include women

Pope-Francis-Holy-Thursday-foot-washing[Austen Ivereigh] Pope Francis has changed the rubrics of the Roman Missal to make clear that the traditional foot-washing ritual by priests at the start of Easter can include women and girls, not just men and boys.

The Church around the world has long assumed in practice that when priests at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper wash the feet of people taken from the congregation, that they can be male or female. In the United States, for example, the bishops’ conference made clear back in 1987 that the Latin phrase viri selecti in the Roman Missal meant either men or women. This has been the norm in practice in parishes across the western world — including in Buenos Aires, where the then Cardinal Bergoglio always used to perform the foot-washing ritual away from the cathedral, in prisons, hospitals and the like.

But Pope Francis was intensely criticized in some quarters at his first Easter celebration in 2013 when he washed the feet of inmates not at the Last Supper Mass in the papal basilica, but at a youth prison in Rome. Among those whose feet he washed and kissed were women — and in one case, a Muslim. In each of the past three years, Pope Francis has included at least one woman in his Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual, and sometimes non-Catholics.

The move infuriated traditionalists, who argued that the ritual should be confined to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and that because the Mass instituted the priesthood the ritual should be confined to men.

Yet Francis has been restoring what once was tradition. The custom in the seventeenth century, for example, was for bishops to wash, dry and kiss the feet of 13 poor people after having dressed them and fed them. Nor is there any obligation for the foot-washing to be part of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

In recent decades, however, popes have usually washed the feet of 12 retired priests at the liturgy — although occasionally laymen have been chosen — at the Last Supper Mass in the basilica.

When Pope Francis performed the ritual outside the Mass and included women, critics argued that viri in the 1955 rubrics meant men, and that the Pope should either obey the rubrics or change them.

In a December 2014 letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, Pope Francis ordered that “from now on the pastors of the Church should be able to choose the participants in the rite from all the members of the People of God.” This was because, he explained, Jesus’s act in the Upper Room on the night before his Crucifixion symbolised his “limitless love for all.”

In a decree dated 6 January and published today (PDF here) the Congregation for Divine Worship says that “pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God,” and that they “may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople.”

It is not clear why the Congregation took over a year to act on the Pope’s order.

The rite  — known as the Mandatum, because Jesus ordered his disciples to imitate him — has undergone many changes in the Church’s history. Changes made in 1970 further simplified the rite and omitted the requirement that the number participating be 12.

Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, told journalists that the pope wished “this dimension of the gesture of Christ’s love for all” to be the focus rather than just a portrayal of the biblical scene during the Last Supper. In his commentary on the change (PDF here), Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, notes:

The current change foresees that individuals may be chosen from amongst all the members of the people of God. The significance does not now relate so much to the exterior imitation of what Jesus has done, rather as to the meaning of what he has accomplished which has a universal importance, namely the giving of himself «to the end» for the salvation of the human race, his charity which embraces all people and which makes all people brothers and sisters by following his example. In fact, the exemplum that he has given to us so that we might do as he has done goes beyond the physical washing of the feet of others to embrace everything that such a gesture expresses in service of the tangible love of our neighbour. All the antiphons proposed in the Missale during the washing of feet recall and illustrate the meaning of this gesture both for those who carry it out and for those who receive it as well as for those who look on and interiorise it through the chant.


Posted in Pope Francis

Pope to Davos: don’t let the poor pay the price of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’

Pope Francis holds a child as he leads the weekly audience in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Justice and Peace Council, yesterday afternoon read a letter from Pope Francis addressed to the president of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The theme of the meeting is “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, a reference to the massive technological breakthrough the world is currently experiencing. According to the WEF website, the ‘Fourth’ Industrial Revolution follows on from the first three: steam-power, electric power, and digital. The new, coming revolution “is one characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

In his message the Pope reminds the world’s business and political leaders that while technological progress has brought about unprecedented possibilities for development, its power needs to be harnessed to the common good. The danger is that technology is racing ahead of moral awareness, and that — as he documents in Laudato Si’ — producing the illusion and desire for unbounded wealth and economic growth.

4th-industrial-revolution1The message calls especially for leaders to attend to the risks to the poor of mass unemployment produced by robotics, and calls for the new power to be harnessed “to build inclusive societies based on respect for human dignity, tolerance, compassion and mercy.”

The message follows:

To Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive President of the World Economic Forum

Before all else, I would like to thank you for your gracious invitation to address the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters at the end of January on the theme: “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. I offer you my cordial good wishes for the fruitfulness of this meeting, which seeks to encourage continuing social and environmental responsibility through a constructive dialogue on the part of government, business and civic leaders, as well as distinguished representatives of the political, financial and cultural sectors.

The dawn of the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” has been accompanied by a growing sense of the inevitability of a drastic reduction in the number of jobs. The latest studies conducted by the International Labour Organization indicate that unemployment presently affects hundreds of millions of people. The financialization and technologization of national and global economies have produced far-reaching changes in the field of labour. Diminished opportunities for useful and dignified employment, combined with a reduction in social security, are causing a disturbing rise in inequality and poverty in different countries. Clearly there is a need to create new models of doing business which, while promoting the development of advanced technologies, are also capable of using them to create dignified work for all, to uphold and consolidate social rights, and to protect the environment. Man must guide technological development, without letting himself be dominated by it!

To all of you I appeal once more: “Do not forget the poor!” This is the primary challenge before you as leaders in the business world. “Those who have the means to enjoy a decent life, rather than being concerned with privileges, must seek to help those poorer than themselves to attain dignified living conditions, particularly through the development of their human, cultural, economic and social potential” (Address to Civic and Business Leaders and the Diplomatic Corps, Bangui, 29 November 2015).

We must never allow the culture of prosperity to deaden us, to make us incapable of “feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and sensing the need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own” (Evangelii Gaudium, 54).

Weeping for other people’s pain does not only mean sharing in their sufferings, but also and above all realizing that our own actions are a cause of injustice and inequality. “Let us open our eyes, then, and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!” (Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, 15).

Once we realize this, we become more fully human, since responsibility for our brothers and sisters is an essential part of our common humanity. Do not be afraid to open your minds and hearts to the poor. In this way, you will give free rein to your economic and technical talents, and discover the happiness of a full life, which consumerism of itself cannot provide.

In the face of profound and epochal changes, world leaders are challenged to ensure that the coming “fourth industrial revolution”, the result of robotics and scientific and technological innovations, does not lead to the destruction of the human person – to be replaced by a soulless machine – or to the transformation of our planet into an empty garden for the enjoyment of a chosen few.

On the contrary, the present moment offers a precious opportunity to guide and govern the processes now under way, and to build inclusive societies based on respect for human dignity, tolerance, compassion and mercy. I urge you, then, to take up anew your conversation on how to build the future of the planet, “our common home”, and I ask you to make a united effort to pursue a sustainable and integral development.

As I have often said, and now willingly reiterate, business is “a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world”, especially “if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). As such, it has a responsibility to help overcome the complex crisis of society and the environment, and to fight poverty. This will make it possible to improve the precarious living conditions of millions of people and bridge the social gap which gives rise to numerous injustices and erodes fundamental values of society, including equality, justice and solidarity.

In this way, through the preferred means of dialogue, the World Economic Forum can become a platform for the defence and protection of creation and for the achievement of a progress which is “healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (Laudato Si’, 112), with due regard also for environmental goals and the need to maximize efforts to eradicate poverty as set forth in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Mr President, with renewed good wishes for the success of the forthcoming meeting in Davos, I invoke upon you and upon all taking part in the Forum, together with your families, God’s abundant blessings.

From the Vatican, 30 December 2015

Posted in Pope Francis, Pope Francis address