On October 4, Pope Francis released apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum (Praise God) as a sequel to the 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (Praise be to you, my Lord). The publication coincides with the commencement of the 2023 Synod on Synodality meetings in Rome. My professional background on the international level over the past twenty-seven years puts me in a position to raise some key questions in this historical moment of the Church. The purpose of this article is not to create more polarization in the Church but, rather, to raise issues for discussion about a complex topic.
Laudate Deum (LD) has been described by Rev. Raymond de Souza as a “personal, impassioned public-policy plea for action on the ‘climate crisis,’” drafted “in the style of a political manifesto rather than a magisterial document.” Others, such as Philip F. Lawler, claim LD is attempting “to settle a scientific debate by invoking ecclesiastical authority,” reminiscent of the Galileo affair. Lawler rightly challenges the veracity of the social sciences offered. For example, the comparative analysis between China and the United States (para. 72) lacks substance and citation. Kennedy Hall laments that Pope Francis is taking a natural rather than supernatural view of things, using apocalyptic language to describe climate change rather than the state of our souls.
Conversely, other articles praise LD. One in particular quotes various persons describing the document as an achievement, wherein Pope Francis is applauded for “his analysis of the state of multilateralism today” and his idea of a bottom-up form of multilateralism.
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LD was published on the first day of meetings held in Rome for the 2023 Synod on Synodality, a three-year process (2021-2024) which according to the Vatican website: “qualifies the life and mission of the Church, expressing her nature as the People of God journeying together and gathering in assembly, summoned by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel.” It remains an open question what LD and the Synod on Synodality mean for the Catholic Church (its divine constitution, foundation, mission, liturgy, teachings, and traditions).
One interesting aspect of LD is its use of many terms and expressions (left undefined), including: “multilateralism” (35), “multilateral agreements” (34), “old multilateralism” (37), “multilateralism from below” (31), “global-local relationship” (37), “global social issue” (3), “old diplomacy” (41), “multipolar” (42), and “democratization in the global context” (43).
The article seeks to flesh out the possible meaning of LD’s terminology in light of the Synod on Synodality by using a concrete example—namely, the policies and platforms of the World Economic Forum (WEF). WEF is a non-governmental organization, established by Klaus Schwab in 1971, which presents itself as an international body equal in status to states and the United Nations in terms of influence and prestige. It calls itself “an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation,” a forum that “engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”
The thesis is that one might conclude that LD is promoting the WEF’s top-down approach to global affairs, as including certain state leaders partnering with private industry, UN bureaucrats, and key Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), where states largely use administrative procedures in times of emergencies to implement policies decided within the UN setting. This might be what is referred to as “the new multilateralism,” a term employed in UN settings. If so, then one need not be a Covid or climate change denier to observe the trend and detect some problems.
At least one scholar has tracked the emergence of what she terms “global governance” from 1945-1996 within the United Nations system. The concept seems to deal with the creation of a political regime that enlarged the UN into a system of partnerships between states and transnational non-state actors, something largely absent from UN foundational documents. A book on the topic is forthcoming.
If this interpretation is correct, then the system set up with the 1945 Charter of the United Nations might be what LD calls “old multilateralism” or “old diplomacy,” where nation states play a pivotal role through agreements between two states (bilateralism) or agreements between two or more states (multilateralism) and self-implement in their own countries according to constitutional and legislative processes in a bottom-up approach. The “new multilateralism” (presumably the opposite of the “old multilateralism”) could mean the methodology promoted by the WEF and its partners, discussed, infra, through the concepts of multistakeholders and public-private partnerships” (PPPs). It is unclear.
Continuing this train of thought, a key mechanism to definitively changing the “old multilateralism” (presumably based on the 1945 UN Charter) to the “new multilateralism” (presumably based on WEF’s approach) is the UN’s “One World Health” initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO). It combines health, safety, and security under the jurisdiction of the WHO and renders health unrecognizable: 1) in content, when it is related to matters of climate change or food security; and 2) in jurisdiction, when it becomes an affair of the United Nations or even the state, when bio-health security risks include proposed solutions on the local level (e.g., use of gas stoves, medicines, land, farms, vehicles). It is called reversed subsidiarity, where only what cannot be determined and done at a higher level by bureaucrats or experts will be determined and done at a lower level. Professor Douglas Farrow describes the above as a “public health revolution.”
Through LD’s section devoted to “spiritual motivations” (61-73), divided into two sections—“In the light of faith” and “Journeying in communion and commitment”—one might query whether LD is providing the beginnings of a spiritual foundational ethic to attract believers and non-believers alike to accept the “One World Health” initiative? The terminology is similar to that used for the Synod on Synodality: Is the Church “walking together” with the international community? Such a spirituality, of course, would need to be vague. Talking about traditions, teachings, doctrine, and sacraments of the Catholic Church would be counterproductive. Indeed, these Catholic terms are not found in the document. The counterargument to this point, however, is that LD should not be read in isolation.
An unanswered question is whether we are witnessing the hollowing out of the Catholic Church’s origins, foundation, mission, and liturgy—including the proclamation of the Gospel—for purposes extraneous to the Church? Having asked that question is not to suggest that an international or “general public authority” could never be justified. Consider, for example, the discussion by Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris (paras. 130-145), who argued that certain preconditions must be met. It should be set up without force, with consent of all nations, and “operate with fairness, absolute impartiality, with dedication to the common good of all peoples” (138). For another natural law argument on the topic, consider the thought of Professor Robert George and the idea that were all the preconditions met, one would need to consider whether it would be prudent to establish such an authority.
Given the complexity of the topic, this article uses a specific case study—namely, the WEF—to raise and discuss the issues (this article asks more questions than it answers). To this end, the article is divided into three parts. Part I discusses the WEF and the new multilateralism. Part II gives an overview of how LD advances WEF’s methodology. Part III considers how LD might justify the WEF’s methodology. Part IV examines LD’s “spiritual” foundation for the new multilateralism and applies it to the UN’s “One World Health” initiative of the WHO, which is the key mechanism to transform the old multilateralism (states partnering with states), bottom-up control to the new multilateralism (states partnering with private industry, key CSOs and
UN bureaucrats) with top-down control.
WHAT IS THE WEF AND ITS NEW MULTILATERALISM?
Following two world wars, the United States and its allies, created this inter-governmental forum with the 1945 Charter of the United Nations, based on six original principal bodies. It has since ballooned into a sprawling network of subsidiary bodies, funds, programs, and semi-autonomous specialized agencies, all of which constitute the “United Nations System.” Firmly based on the “principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members [States]” (art. 2.1) and the correlative concept of national sovereignty, a fundamental principle is the non-intervention into the matters of a state “essentially within its domestic jurisdiction” (art. 2.7). Understanding that the UN was never originally intended to be a world government, states agreed to respect fundamental human rights, resolve disputes peacefully, collaborate on certain issues, and self-implement undertakings and treaty obligations according to their domestic laws.
In 1971, Klaus Schwab founded the WEF and made the case for companies to serve not only their shareholders but all stakeholders. WEF promotes what is called valued multistakeholders to work in partnership with government leaders, UN bureaucrats, multinational corporations, and select Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Important discussions are held at WEF meetings in Davos, Switzerland, and at various locations within the UN system.
The idea is that a globalized world is best managed by a coalition of “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) because problems are too big and urgent to be solved only by a weak public sector (elected government officials). In brief, the central idea is that states are no longer the dominant actors on the international level but should work alongside private stakeholders in international governance (e.g., Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Media, Big Finance). These private companies, in turn, are promoted as working beyond the interests of shareholders through the promotion of “values” and the ability to facilitate market incentives. For the purpose of this article, the expressions “multistakeholders” and “PPPs” are used as synonyms for the “new multilateralism.”
The said approach is not without problems. State officials are held accountable because they are elected by the people and, therefore, have authority and responsibility for the common good, including respect for fundamental human rights. Unelected officials of private corporations, however, have no similar responsibility and cannot be held accountable. When combined, there are conflicts of interest among the players, and this type of partnership, going beyond the bilateral or multilateral agreements between states, means that democratic governance has been weakened.
WEF uses the important tool “Transforming Our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” according to the UN-WEF Strategic Partnership Framework entered into between UN Secretary-General António Guterres and WEF Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab. The contract implements Agenda 2030 in a number of areas (e.g., financing, climate change, health).
Today, based on projects in Sri Lanka and The Netherlands, we know that policies justified under Agenda 2030 regarding climate change have caused untold human suffering under the guise of implementation through control of food production and distribution (referred to as “food security”). In Sri Lanka, growing grain without the assistance of fertilizer has led to starvation. In The Netherlands nitrogen emissions restrictions on raising cattle (due to cow belching and flatulence) have eliminated livelihoods. From the perspective of those suffering under the weight of the restrictions, this brings to mind the words of Dr. Thomas Sowell in an interview about his new book, Social Justice Fallacies: “Stupid people can create problems, but it often takes brilliant people to create a real catastrophe.”
IS LD ADVANCING THE WEF’S NEW MULTILATERALISM?
Reading LD from the perspective of WEF, the multistakeholder (or PPPs) methodology seems beyond reproach. LD, after seemingly condemning individualistic capitalism (31-32), underlines the “irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model,” which might be interpreted as implying that lifestyles under the communist system in China are superior to those of the United States (72). Conversely, the implication might be that China and the United States should not be compared because they are so different, culturally speaking. Schwab adopts this latter approach in his book on the Covid crisis.
That the WEF might view LD as an endorsement of its own methodology might be evident in the document’s promotion of “multilateralism” (35) and the encouragement to go beyond the “old multilateralism” (37) or the “old diplomacy” (41). The term “new multilateralism” has been used within the UN setting, at least, since 2014 to mean:
a renewed commitment to international cooperation; to putting global interest above self-interest…made more inclusive—encompassing not only the emerging powers across the globe, but also the expanding networks and coalitions that are now deeply embedded in the fabric of the global economy. The new multilateralism must have the capacity to listen and respond to those new voices.
The language of “inclusion” and “listening,” in the above quote, is reminiscent of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) mandates and policies, which are arguably based on Marxist thought, designed to eradicate the idea of meritocracy and promote race and “gender” based classifications with a view to creating disunity (controversies and struggles) to effect changes in thought and structures. It is noteworthy that non-discrimination laws forbid these classifications of people. Consider, for example, how the issue of meritocracy was addressed in one employer’s corporate DEI mandate, where the DEI facilitators disregarded the concept as a myth. It is noteworthy that Florida’s Governor De Santis has decided that DEI programs are discriminatory practices and has signed a bill banning them in universities and colleges.
That LD would give a nod to the “meritocracy” issue and suggest that equality of opportunity is insufficient (32) is interesting. In the Christian tradition, we speak of Christian perfection through the imitation of Jesus Christ. Arguably, to raise the meritocracy debate and to adopt the vehicle of listening sessions on inclusion arguably shows a certain sympathy for Marxist thought or what current culture describes as “woke.” Consider, for example, the 2016 Facilitator’s Guide for Listening Sessions on Inclusion for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and compare it with the Facilitator’s Guide for the Synod on Synodality, where, like the former guide, inclusion and feelings take precedence. The Synod on Synodality seems to be also following the WEF’s endorsement of inclusion in faith communities, which are arguably expected to endorse certain lifestyles, once considered sinful.
In sum, the WEF might conclude that its new multilateralism, a top-down approach is endorsed as a permanent methodology when LD states: “the current challenge is to reconfigure and recreate [the old multilateralism], taking into account the new world situation” [key global emergencies] (37), “marked by three requirements: that it be drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all” (59). We all endured the “drastic and intense” policies (59) during the Covid emergency—including the closing of churches—while Sri Lanka and The Netherlands are currently confronting hardships justified by the climate change emergency.
WEF would likely recognize that its approach is being validated, despite paragraph 35. In that paragraph, LD clarifies that what is being promoted is not authority “concentrated in one person or in an elite” but, rather, “more effective world organizations, equipped with the power to provide for the global common good, the elimination of hunger and poverty and the sure defence of fundamental human rights.” According to Professor Piotr Mazurkiewicz et al., in contemporary totalitarian regimes, two orders exist together; for example, certain bodies and mechanisms appear for public consumption (e.g., courts, judges, lawyers in China), while the reality is something quite different (consider the plights of Catholic businessman Jimmy Lai and Cardinal Zen).
Developing this line of thought, WEF might be pleased to know that LD is promoting “a sort of ‘democratization’ in the global context” through “a new procedure for decision making and legitimizing those decisions—namely, through “conversion, consultation, arbitration, conflict resolution and supervision” (43). The term “democratization” is not defined but presumably departs from a commonly held understanding of democracy (free and fair elections).
Consider Canada, for example, when Covid policies provoked the truckers’ convoy to protest a tyrannical democratic deficit. Did Prime Minister Trudeau work together with his private partners to primarily cement his power and control? If so, he might have proved the wise statement of Pope John Paul II: “a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism” (Centesimus Annus, 46)? For an academic treatment of the political, legal, and religious issues regarding Covid policies, see here in Italian (the English translation is forthcoming).
Consider how this “democratization” seems to work in the case of the WEF, its partners (leading multinational corporations, key CSOs and UN bureaucrats), understanding that while the WEF-UN Strategic Partnership Agreement with the UN Secretariat does not seek to change institutions, the real power is exercised behind the scenes through a number of initiatives, including WEF’s sustainability projects, young global leaders forum, and various centers that resemble governmental ministries. They range from matters of manufacturing and supply chains, cybersecurity, energy, and materials; to financial and monetary systems, health and health care, nature and climate; to trade and geopolitics, technologies, the new economy and society, and urban transformation. They remind one of governmental ministries.
With this sort of collaboration, PPPs might function in a manner similar to that of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) one party system, where every person and entity serves the state, and intermediate communities standing between the individual and the state are targeted (e.g., family, civil society, religious communities). Companies are not entirely private but are under the control of the CCP.
Moreover, when LD invites everyone “to recognize that ‘many groups and organizations within civil society help to compensate for the shortcomings of the international community,’” the WEF might believe that this is an endorsement of its work.
WEF and its partners fund CSOs on the local, national, and regional levels to do their bidding, which means that the demand is not “rising from below,” per paragraph 38, but is being controlled from above. While the involvement of independent CSOs cannot be denied, the WEF’s CSOs are better funded and, consequently, have more influence. If this analysis is correct, then WEF’s CSOs do not represent the rule of subsidiarity in action (37) but a reversed subsidiarity, where human beings are to move beyond “their petty interests” (53) to permit WEF-UN experts to decide local matters allegedly because they are part of the universal common good due to a global emergency and a correlative need for everyone to think of themselves as global citizens in the international community. In sum, the overall approach is top-down, not bottom-up.
In sum, when multinational corporations pour millions in profits into their own CSOs, it is arguably not an expression of subsidiarity as discussed in Pacem in Terris (140), nor does it provide the beneficial effects underlined by Professor Iain T. Benson (e.g., including the promotion of religious pluralism, of limits on law and policies, and of checks and balances on the state).
IS LD ADVANCING JUSTIFICATIONS FOR THE NEW MULTILATERALISM?
Certainly, the WEF should appreciate LD’s promotion of global emergencies for advancing a new multilateralism (states, private industry, and select CSOs). LD acknowledges the usefulness of emergencies when it states: “It continues to be regrettable that global crises are being squandered when they could be the occasions to bring about beneficial changes” (36). The point mirrors that of Klaus Schwab. As co-author of “COVID-19: The Great Reset” (2020), he contends: “The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and rest our world.”
His book triggered a movement called The Great Reset. It advocates for dramatic—in the words of LD “drastic and intense” (59)—changes to how human beings live on virtually every level (e.g., economics, food, clothing, housing, travel, communication, health, education, manufacturing, farming, technology, human freedoms and rights). In the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection is the Great Reset.
WEF views the Covid crisis as having been particularly effective in this regard, due to the fear that it engendered. Schwab says: “The spread of infectious diseases has a unique ability to fuel fear, anxiety and mass hysteria…it also challenges our social cohesion and collective capacity to manage a crisis. Epidemics are by nature divisive and traumatizing.” Indeed, fear of dying from Covid, or of being vilified were one to resist Covid policies, provoked broad-based compliance and renunciation of human rights (e.g., mobility; freedom of religion, conscience, speech, and association). Again, for an academic treatment of the Covid crisis, see here in Italian.
Since Covid has run its course, the WEF has shifted to climate change, another global emergency; and along these lines, LD spends considerable time speaking about the impending doom of climate change and people’s ignorance of it and indifference to it, ever exasperated by misinformation, which, in turn, always implies the need for censorship (paras. 2, 4-6, 9-18, 55-56).
The WEF should be pleased, since this line of argument is consistent with a post to the website of the WEF (October 3, 2023, the day before the Synod on Synodality commenced). It introduces a new program for climate change enlightenment and, in so doing, makes two important points that LD expounds upon in multiple paragraphs: 1) “Failure to mitigate climate is the biggest risk facing the world over the next decade, according to research by the World Economic Forum”; and 2) “But some people simply cannot face up to the climate emergency, despite the urgency of the problem.” The posted document leaves the impression that representatives of WEF had consulted with the drafters of LD.
WEF should be relieved that LD suggests that climate change “will increasingly prejudice the lives and families of many persons (e.g., healthcare, sources of employment, access to resources, housing),” instead of WEF’s proposed solutions, many of which increase costs that will force the next generation into accepting the WEF mantra: “You will own nothing and be happy.” So incensed by this proposition and others, Jordan Peterson, who rejects the utopian vision of a sort of global Politburo that would save the planet by controlling the masses, has launched a new initiative: The Program for an Alternative Future.
WEF should be encouraged by LD’s use of climate change to show the ineffectiveness of the current multilateral system (states partnering with states) through a presentation of a long string of conferences (44-52) deemed to have failed for lack of binding results. Also helpful to the WEF is LD’s condemnation of nation states for placing their “national interests above the global common good” (52), thereby implying that there is a fixed notion of the “global common good.” Lastly, also of benefit to the WEF is a long section (53-60) devoted to the climate conference to be held in Dubai December 7-8, 2023 (COP28). It acts like a type of momentum builder and dovetails nicely with WEF’s briefing sessions on “Building Momentum for COP28.”
Another crisis theme is that regarding the combined power of technology and economic resources that have “an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world, “with nothing that ensures wisdom in application or use (23). Certainly, there are promises and real dangers pertaining to artificial intelligence, and some scientists are suggesting that it be shut down. WEF is suggesting the need for regulations, while LD promotes the “development in human responsibility, values and conscience” (24). It laments that “superficial mechanisms” (query: the current UN system where states play a predominate role?) “illustrates the missing reality of ethics, culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint” (24) in a way that would stop threats to the survival of all beings and the planet (28).
IS LD ADVANCING A SPIRITUAL FOUNDATION FOR THE NEW MULTILATERALISM?
It is unclear whether WEF expects the Holy See (pope) to provide the necessary foundation for the “development in human responsibility, values and conscience” and related spirituality for the new multilateralism. If such a spiritual foundation were to be created for the purposes of unifying people around the new multilateralism, the basic principles or beliefs would need to be few and ambiguous. In other words, talking about sexual morality, truth, dogma, traditions, and the sacraments would likely frustrate that goal.
LD refers to all creatures, to the Father, and to the tenderness of Jesus (1), who stopped to “contemplate the beauty sown by the Father,” and “invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things” (65). Also mentioned is the “mystical meaning” of life and how “the world sings of an infinite Love” (65). It all sounds a bit nebulous and reminiscent of the thought of Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin who, according to Henri De Lubac, S.J., truly believed in a Universe of “interpersonal relationships” (p. 152), a Universe “‘charged with love in its evolution’…embraced in one glance with all of its evolutionary preparations recapitulated and transfigured in it—Universe of souls united or destined to be united with God in Christ” (p. 156). The counterargument, once again, is that LD should not be read in isolation.
Nevertheless, the emphasis is on the bonds which unite all creatures (large and small) with the environment (42), understanding that human beings are the cause of “climate change” (11) and should not be considered as autonomous beings (68). WEF should be elated with these conclusions and the mantras such as “Everything is connected” or “No one is saved alone” (19), especially the latter, since the Catholic Church has traditionally spoken about “being saved” in a theological context, involving the Person of Christ.
The importance of the said spiritual foundation cannot be underestimated. It aligns with the UN’s “One World Health” initiative, which assumes the connection between the planet, persons, and pets, something that is partly justified on the basis that viruses can spread from animals to humans. The argument is mentioned in paragraph 19 in relation to Covid; but in the United States, the theory has largely been debunked as relating to the same. Many understand the origin of Covid to have been the result of a lab leak in Wuhan, China, something covered up by Dr. Fauci and his partners. (See United States Senator Rand Paul’s book Deception: The Great Covid Cover-up.)
In brief, the WHO would be granted the power to decide what constitutes a matter of global concern and the appropriate measures to be taken. It would do so according to a surveillance system “used in disease control and climate to fight infectious diseases,” namely through a digital passport system called the Global Digital Health Certification Network. The initiative would be developed through the International Health Regulations rather than a treaty, of course, because treaties only involve UN member states, not private actors. According to Article 21 of the WHO Constitution, the World Health Assembly can adopt regulations that are legally binding on states unless they expressly reject them (“opt out”).
Having read LD through the lens of the WEF, one might conclude that LD promotes the new multilateralism using emergencies, especially the climate crisis, for the purpose of provoking a more permanent change in multilateral relations. Furthermore, one might conclude that LD’s treatment of “spiritual motivations” is the beginning of a foundation for the One World Health initiative, the key UN mechanism for the said transformation. More discussion is needed.
That LD was published the first day of the Synod raises the question of whether listening sessions using the artifice of “inclusion” at the Synod on Synodality is serving the Church or the WEF and its partners? If these sessions are serving the Church, then the additional query is whether participants are moved by the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth, the Paraclete—leading the Church toward, in the words of Pope John Paul II, “constant progress in understanding revealed truth” (p. 24). Certainly, the revealed truth can never be separated from Christ, and the Magisterium can never be separated from Christ and the Holy Spirit.
[Image Credit: Zenit]