Pontifical Academy of Sciences Embraces UN’s ‘Sustainable Development’ Agenda

The little-publicized declaration consists of 14 pledges to “build together effective solutions for sustainable development of Amazonia.”

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, speaks at a media conference at the Holy See Press Office on Nov. 6, 2017.
Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, speaks at a media conference at the Holy See Press Office on Nov. 6, 2017. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, governors from the Pan-Amazon region, and officials from the United Nations were among those who signed a declaration of commitment to sustainable development in the Amazon at the Vatican on Oct. 28.

The little-publicized declaration, signed at Casina Pio IV, the Academy’s headquarters, consists of 14 pledges to “build together effective solutions for sustainable development of Amazonia.” The Register requested a copy and received one from the secretary of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

The meeting was entitled the “First Summit of Amazonian Governors — Pathways and Commitments to Sustainable Development in Amazonia.”

The academy said a second intention of the meeting was to “open a debate” to find ways of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals — a U.N. initiative aimed at combating poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequality and tackling climate change by 2030.

The goals also include ensuring “universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

This advocacy for “sexual and reproductive health-care services” and for “reproductive health” — terms that in the U.N. setting have been interpreted to include provision of abortion — is not mentioned in the governors’ declaration. Instead, all the pledges are temporal in nature relating to the environment, science and socio-economics.

The first is to “emphasize the fundamental importance” of the Pan-Amazon Synod just ended and to “defend the orientations provided” in the final document published Oct. 26 — a document that has no doctrinal weight but serves as an instrument to help Pope Francis write his post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

Other pledges are a commitment to a “green economy,” building a “new model of sustainable development” based on valuing “environmental heritage, socioeconomic inclusion and respect for the culture of Amazonian peoples,” and calls for “empowerment” of local Amazonian governments, organizations and initiatives.

The declaration also promotes the expansion of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, urges greater international cooperation, and calls for “zero illegal deforestation” and for “significant resources” to be given to local initiatives. Companies are also pressured to “control their supply chains” to avoid “new forms of slavery.” The signatories also claim the world’s “climate and humanitarian crisis” calls for “rapid, integrated and urgent action.”

Signatories include the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, governors from the regions of Brazil and Peru, and representatives of two advocacy groups that co-sponsored the meeting with the pontifical academy: the Interstate Consortium for Sustainable Development of the Legal Amazon and the Amazon Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN-A).

Two U.N. officials were also present: Alexis Arthur, program officer and support for Governors’ Climate and Forest Task Force at the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), and Charles Ian McNeill, senior adviser at  Forests and Climate, U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

The declaration ends by proposing that the summit become a “permanent forum for discussion.” One of the governors suggested the next meeting take place in his state.

During the Oct. 28 meeting, the governors expressed a wish to partner with the Church and any organization that sought to preserve the Amazon, but reportedly voiced their opposition to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's position on the environment and the Amazon, in particular his support for mining and extensive agriculture in the region.

A ministerial representative of the Bolsonaro government who was present at the meeting reportedly voiced opposition to the assertion that the environment is in crisis. He was a significant addition as the governors are depending on federal funding for environmental projects.

Indeed, aside from the declaration’s lofty goals, an underlying aim of the meeting was financial, especially as some external sources have dried up. After the Vatican summit, some of the governors went to Berlin also to seek funds.

“They came to raise money,” a Vatican source told the Register, disclosing that most of the governors were from socialist parties. One of them, Flavio Dino of the northeastern state of Maranhão, is a member of Brazil’s main communist party, the PCdoB, which holds radical positions diametrically opposed to Church teaching.

One of their members, Jandira Feghali, was one of six leftist politicians invited to a Rome parallel meeting of the synod in October, despite her strongly pro-abortion views and her opposition to a bill condemning infanticide in Amazonian tribes.

Such policy differences were avoided, even when, during Monday’s meeting, Dino called upon Brazilian Bishop Sebastião Lima Duarte of Caxias, Maranhão, to make an intervention. The bishop, who took part in the synod, agreed with everything Dino had said in his address, according to the source.

“The participants didn’t say anything about theological questions or the issue of abortion, because the left, when they deal with the Church, never mention those issues, preferring instead to talk about the environment — the issue that can bring them and Pope Francis together,” he said. “The left will try to use members of the Church to advance their political agenda,” he added, mentioning that they also wanted to “use this opportunity to raise their international profile to finance their projects.”

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the relator general of the Pan-Amazon Synod, also addressed the meeting. According to sources, his intervention also dwelled only on temporal rather than supernatural matters, with environmental concerns and the rights of indigenous peoples the central focus.

Such meetings are not rare for the pontifical academy, which has held 13 conferences on environmental issues since 2013, often bringing in people with views diametrically opposed to key Church teachings but with concerns about the environment. “The Vatican these days seems more concerned with saving the world than saving souls,” said one source close to the Holy See.

The Register asked Bishop Sánchez for more details on the meeting, including whether the participants would be incorporating Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation expected at the end of the year, and how the Vatican intends to work with the U.N. on ecological questions in the future. Bishop Sánchez said he was too busy to respond.

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