Cardinal Turkson Discusses Vatican Involvement in Global Economic Projects

The prefect for the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development speaks on how the Holy See collaborates with secular organizations while promoting the Gospel.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, shown wearing a mask during a news conference on July 7, 2020, says the Vatican is committed to participating in dialogue about economic matters that impact the worldwide common good.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, shown wearing a mask during a news conference on July 7, 2020, says the Vatican is committed to participating in dialogue about economic matters that impact the worldwide common good. (photo: Daniel Ibanez / CNA)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has become increasingly involved in global projects aimed at improving the state of the world, especially in the face of the continuing COVID-19 crisis, and has faced criticism for it in some cases. And one of the dicasteries at the forefront of that involvement is the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development headed by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson.

The Vatican department has been closely involved, for example, in the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, a collaborative venture instigated by wealthy and influential business leaders wishing to build a “more inclusive, sustainable and trusted economic system.” The dicastery has also had a long engagement with the annual World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, that bring together high-level political and business leaders. Cardinal Turkson contributed to its January meeting this year, held mostly online, on the theme of “The Great Resetthe WEF’s oft-debated proposal to “reset capitalism” with the aim of creating a greener, more sustainable future. 

In this Jan. 28 interview with the Register, Cardinal Turkson explains more about the Vatican’s involvement in these initiatives and events, why he believes it’s necessary for the Vatican to take part in them, and answers criticisms that it is lending the Church’s moral weight to secular and atheistic initiatives that have goals divergent from Church teaching.


Your Eminence, there has been much discussion online and elsewhere about the Vatican’s involvement in the Council for Inclusive Capitalism. Why is the Vatican collaborating with this group, and what do you hope to achieve from working with them?

The way we run the dicastery is an attempt to realize some kind of expectation and hope expressed at the Second Vatican Council. In the document Gaudium et Spes, there’s an expression of encouragement to enter into dialogue into society with all of its problems and issues. It was said then that doing so would give good witness to the Church and its consent to, its sense of solidarity with, humanity and all of that. So we’ve engaged in a series of conversations with different sectors of society, different industries and businesses — not because they’re Christian or religious, but because we thought it was a way of realizing the wish of the Second Vatican Council Fathers. 


How did this collaboration with the Council for Inclusive Capitalism come about? Did the organizers approach the Vatican, and if so, how did they obtain the Vatican’s support?

In December 2016, the Fortune/Time magazine 500 group paid a visit here to Rome to consider the issues of poverty and what they could do from a business point of view to help deal with inequalities and formulate solutions for poverty in the world. Within that group, which was led by Msgr. Hilary Franco [of the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the U.N. in New York], Lady [Lynn Forester] de Rothschild got the idea to take the Pope at his word and rise to the challenge of what the Pope had addressed to them. So she began to gather some of the businesspeople who came for this event here so they could carry on the challenge of the Holy Father. 

That group then wrote a letter to the Pope inviting him to be their moral guide. The Pope passed the letter to the secretary of state, who also asked this dicastery to play that role on behalf of the Holy Father. So the engagement of the dicastery with the group is just to carry out the wish they had, which was passed on to us as a kind of mandate, I suppose. That’s how we’ve engaged with this group, providing the moral guidance from the Holy Father. 

And so, therefore, if you ask what our hopes are, we don’t have any prescription. We are also following what Benedict XVI taught about the need for dialogue between faith and reason, all kinds of reason — political, economic, financial, business. So it’s in the line of duty, actually, that we do all of this, and our hope is that we’ve been able to find some comprehension and understanding between faith and reason and help everybody realize what they’re applying themselves to.


How much has the Catholic faith been promoted in the discussions with this group as the only authentic means of human salvation and, therefore, central to any plan to promote integral human development?

It’s not true that we have talked about salvation in any group because we recognize that it’s a multifaith group. So when we engage with these groups in conversation, it’s not to throw religion at them; and if we do that, it takes the form of the Church’s social teaching, where already faith has entered into dialogue with reason and the different natural sciences and formulated basic common principles: human dignity, the common good and all of that. … The objective is not to provoke conversion on the point of everybody, to bring anybody to their faith. If anything, it’s just about the point of our common humanity, as it were, and how we can engage the different institutions to promote that. 


But some might argue that the central point of reference should be Christ himself, Christ and his Church, that you should be preaching the Gospel with Christ at the center.

Yes, it’s expressing Christ in his Church, but it’s also expressing Christ Incarnate — the only way we know we can talk about Christ in his incarnate form, and that means Jesus became flesh, and that there’s something of us in him that enables us to touch him, to behold him and listen to him. But the fact he became man, that mustn’t cloud who he really is, because, in becoming flesh, he invites us to see beyond the Son of Man, also the Son of God, and certainly we mention this in our conversations. And when we do — simply proposing this is what has guided our thinking, our behavior — in this regard, we offer it as a witness. And it’s up to individuals to witness and pass on this compelling power and decide to emulate it, but it’s nothing that’s imposed on anyone. 


Critics of inclusive capitalism and the WEF’s “Great Reset” initiative say they are run by “worldly forces,” that is, simply communism under a different name. Do you think there is any truth to them, and what is your dicastery doing to ensure that religion, and specifically the Catholic faith, is fully promoted and defended within these initiatives?

I see where you’re coming from. Naturally, we need to be open. We need to have our eyes a bit more open to all of this because, since the pandemic began last winter, Pope Francis invited us to create a commission to follow this. His invitation was to reimagine a new future, having a society without inequalities, a society that’s more equitable, where justice prevails. That’s the vision of Pope Francis. 

Some can say that’s also a reset for the future. I know that since we started [the commission], we shared a lot of information with Davos, the U.N., about our approach, and it’s very likely that the language begins now to be closer. I know for some [the Pope’s vision is] a little bit socialistic or whatever, but if we go back to the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles and how they lived, or even look at the Book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 5) and the jubilee celebration, which said there would be no poor in your midst, this has been the biblical vision from the beginning. 

In the Acts, Chapters 2 to 4, there’s the vision of the early Church where they have everything together, an economy of communion, living together, sharing everything in common. 


An argument critical of these initiatives is that they seem to be placing a lot of power into a very small group of people, who are then forcing a certain worldview on others. 

This type of thing has been with us for a long time. If you visit certain sites on the internet, this [theory] used to be attributed to the “Illuminati” [who suggested] self-appointed wise people seek to control society with whatever points of view, and now the same thing is happening with a few people with big money who seek to impose their ideas.

The challenge to us is to talk about development and faith. The office is presented intentionally as faith and development, so not just development, but how faith guides development. So whenever we go out and speak about our faith to others, we try to show that we’re not coming to impose our faith, but that our approach is guided by faith. 


What do you say to the criticism that the Council for Inclusive Capitalism is actually neither inclusive nor about capitalism, as it’s run by a small group of wealthy and influential people largely from the political left? 

Even before the group came to us, last year when we went to Davos, we went there to propose “stakeholder capitalism” — a move from shareholder capitalism and an invitation to those involved in business to pass on a sense of business ownership to everyone, from individual shareholders to the last sweeper of a factory, that they also own the business a little bit. So we’re pushing and expanding this sense of ownership and stakeholder capitalism. Inclusive capitalism has this challenge, too. In some of the meetings we joined with them in Washington, D.C., the question was put straight to them: How can you make capitalism inclusive? Do you do that by simply selling some of your profits? 

If that’s the case, it’s like a trickle-down effect, right? You do whatever you do and then sprinkle some small thing on people. We said that’s not enough. That’s not what inclusive capitalism is. So we gave an image of people sitting around a table and someone arrives. You can decide to sit more tightly so the new arrival has room to sit around the table. So that’s what we should be aiming at, sitting tightly to make room for other people. 


Are you concerned the Great Reset initiative has an atheistic, utopian vision, that these visions have been tried before, throughout history, and ended in disaster? 

Yes, it can be utopian; but, for us, it would not be utopian if it is rooted in God. When the future is rooted in God, or in grace, it cannot be a utopian dialogue. 

When the future is rooted completely in the human person, who is by nature finite, he cannot secure a future which is infinite, so that’s where the conflict begins. So the difference, then, between us and where we engage in this discourse is that I would talk about changing the future and improving life based on the fact that when we open ourselves to the grace of God, we’re able to transcend, to go beyond ourselves. So our discourse is rooted in the grace of God, with which we can improve and transform nature. That’s a radical difference between our and their approach. When others engage in the same venture without opening up to transcendence, the presence of God, then it’s a human person involved in a cycle and seeking to find something that’s beyond his own finite nature. That’s when it becomes utopian.


One of the themes associated with the Great Reset, though not necessarily the initiative itself, is a vision of the future where there’s no property — nobody owns anything — and, it says, all will be well. The prediction was made in an article by a Danish member of the European Parliament on the WEF’s website. What is your view of this? 

There has always been this battle and challenge in history; St. Ambrose, for example, and St. John Chrysostom, said rich people have wealth so they can serve the poor ones, and so the poor will have a way of appreciating them for their help. Human history and civilization teach us a lesson. We didn’t have 10 Thomas Edisons; we had one who discovered how to light the world, and this has become universal property now. We didn’t have 10 Einsteins; we had one Einstein. So it takes one to indicate the way, and whatever way he indicates, it becomes a common property. When this benefit to humanity happens, we won’t have capitalism seeking to be inclusive. So these inventors teach us a lot, and what they invent becomes a universal good. 


Are you concerned about a utopian dream being proposed, and therefore repeating history where such visions have always ended in disaster?

Certainly I do. Davos is talking about resetting the future, but without Pope Francis and without his religion. Pope Francis is talking about resetting the future rooted in the Scriptures, rooted in the grace of God, rooted in Christ — to reset the future with new virtues, new models and all of that. Davos is talking about resetting the future with human wisdom and economics and whatever they’re capable of dreaming about and doing. Others will do the same thing. So we have a multiplicity of people talking about resetting the future. The one thing that is common to all of them is that they see the present system as flawed. The pandemic has exposed a lot of this. 


The book The Great Reset by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret makes no mention of religion or God. How can the Vatican add that component? 

[Papal biographer] Austen Ivereigh also did the book interview Let Us Dream with Pope Francis. In that case, Pope Francis is almost responding to the same issues, but from the point of view of a man of faith. So the starting points are different, but when you pick up that book you know you’re dealing with someone who has faith and with the other you’re not dealing with someone who has faith. So you recognize the two. We engage from our point of view, but we’re witnessing to what works and what can be achieved — but not to impose it. 


How involved is the Vatican in these Davos meetings, and will you be going to Singapore in May for the main World Economic Forum annual meeting?

We have limited our participation to the January event. For the past three years we’ve tried to do something of our own. We’ve identified Catholics and begun with Mass. We’re a small but growing number, close to 35 people who attended last year. Today we’re doing Mass livestream, about 1pm, and tomorrow I will join a panel discussion on the theme of reset. I’m not sure if we’ll be going to Singapore. We won’t follow Davos around the world, but limit it to Switzerland. 


When is the next meeting of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism? 

Last December, they wanted to come back, but it became an online, virtual event. There’s no date for a future meeting. We have to make sure they have the correct narrative of not saying Pope Francis is this or that, or Pope Francis is “our” that. We just want to say, “No, this is a dicastery of the Holy Father and providing guidance,” and so we want to try to have the formulation for the narrative straight.