Pope Francis addressed the United Nations General Assembly on September 25th. He started out by praising the UN, which is observing its seventieth anniversary this year. He gave credit to the UN for such achievements he described as the “codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour.” He said such achievements “are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness.”
After his introductory paragraphs of praise for the UN, Pope Francis then proceeded to challenge the world leaders and diplomats in attendance in the packed chamber. He called upon them to move beyond the "selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity,” which, the pope warned, “leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.”
“Our world demands of all government leaders a will,” Pope Francis lectured his audience, “which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime.”
The pope did not refer in his speech specifically to the Christian and Yazidi victims of genocide, slavery and sexual exploitation in the Middle East and parts of Africa at the hands of Islamist jihadists. He had a chance to confront evil and call out its specific perpetrators who are committing horrific crimes in the name of their religion. Instead, he chose to use much of his speech to call attention to more general environmental and social justice issues, which are his recurrent themes.
The pope linked “the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded,” saying both have been “made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships.”
Interrupted several times by applause, including from a group of youths representing each of the 193 UN member states sitting in the fourth floor balcony of the General Assembly hall, the pope declared that “Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment.” He attacked what he called the “culture of waste” in which the poorest among us “are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment.”
There is a "right of the environment" as part of created nature that mankind has no authority to abuse, the pontiff said. Because we ourselves are a part of nature which we share with the environment in which we live, human beings “can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.”
While his speech to a joint session of Congress the day before was relatively reserved and had even acknowledged the constructive role that business can play in helping to create wealth for the common good, the pope’s UN speech was more of a progressive style attack on the established international economic order. The pope warned, for example, that international financial institutions must ensure that developing countries “are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.” No doubt that, in addition to Greece, he had his own country of Argentina in mind, which has been reeling under the weight of sovereign debt.
Along the way, the pope waded into the issue of nuclear arms proliferation and called for a world free of nuclear weapons. Without specifically referencing the Iran nuclear deal by name, he nevertheless made it quite clear what he was praising:
“The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy.”
For obvious reasons, the pope avoided this touchy issue in his speech to Congress. Yet the pope chose at the UN to characterize the nuclear deal with Iran’s Islamic theocracy, which continues to persecute Christians, as proof of “the potential of political good will and of law.” Instead, Pope Francis should have looked directly at Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who sat listening to his speech in the General Assembly, and demand that Iran immediately release from prison Pastor Saeed Abedini and others being detained for their religious beliefs.
The pope was addressing the UN on the same day as the General Assembly adopted by consensus 17 broad “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). These goals, along with 169 subsidiary targets, have as their central objective the eradication of poverty over the next fifteen years. The idea behind the SDGs is that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with a plan that addresses a range of social and economic needs in a more integrated fashion than previous initiatives. The goals include inclusive and equitable quality education, ensuring healthy lives, gender equality, productive employment and decent jobs for all, action to combat climate change and its impacts, inclusive economic growth and reduction of economic inequality within and between nations, infrastructure development, affordable and reliable energy for all, sustainable consumption and production patterns, protection of oceans and biodiversity. In other words, we have the UN’s dream list for a more inclusive, egalitarian world in which free market economics give way to a utopian vision of “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development” funded by massive redistribution of wealth.
Pope Francis is all in with this program. But he wants more than just words, declarations and lists of goals, targets and statistical indicators of progress. He wants concrete action that recognizes we are dealing with “real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.” Governments must ensure they have at least the minimum material means to live, which he said are “lodging, labour, and land” as well as education and adequate food and drinking water. The right to labor, the pope explained, means “properly remunerated employment.” To the list of such material needs that must be fulfilled, Pope Francis added that governments must ensure “spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom.”
Pope Francis made a couple of references in his speech that could be interpreted as reflecting more traditional Catholic teachings on social issues. He mentioned the rights of the unborn. And, in an indirect swipe at gay marriage, he pointed to the “moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman.”
However, Pope Francis chose to emphasize in his UN speech, as he has done on other occasions, the progressive side of Catholic teaching. He speaks in broad strokes of the individual dignity of all human beings and our obligations towards each other and the environment, which he claims all religions recognize as moral truths. Here, unfortunately, the pope is engaging in wishful thinking. The Muslim doctrine of Islamic supremacy and jihad represents everything that Pope Francis says he is against. It constitutes an ideology that is exclusionary, destructive and dehumanizing of every individual whom does not subscribe to its “divine” sharia law.
It is getting tiresome to hear the rationalization from President Obama, and even Pope Francis himself, that all religions have their share of extremists and ideologues. No other religious doctrine today is anywhere near as dangerous as Islamic ideology, preached by so many imams around the world, taught by so many Islamic scholars and practiced by so many adherents. Christians and other religious minorities are suffering genocide, rape, enslavement and persecution in the Middle East and parts of Africa directly as a result of Islamic jihad. They cannot afford to worry about the effects of climate change. They are in a daily battle for their lives. Pope Francis should have spoken more directly to them and assured them that they will not be forgotten or lost among the UN’s catalogue of Sustainable Development Goals.