Markus A. Langer


Media Manager


Markus A. Langer


Media Manager


Interview with Cardinal Peter Turkson

Your Eminence, would you say you are pleased with the outcome of the encyclical „Laudato si’“?

We are very pleased with how „Laudato si’“ has been received. The voice of Pope Francis is being appreciated as novel and essential. The encyclical is not just about ecology, as if it had been written by eminent scientists and advocates. The novelty lies in the Holy Father’s emphasis on morality and spirituality and his insistence that those with economic and political power face up to the full human reality of their decisions. Laudato si’ is a comprehensive social encyclical that encourages and equips us to face the crying needs of the poor and the planet – NOT “two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139). It updates Catholic social teaching and uniquely links it to ecological as well as economic and political dimensions. The Vatican was careful to inform all the Bishops in the world ahead of time so they could prepare to explain it. This helped the Encyclical to be well-received in each diocese, and also by other religious bodies, by the media, by civil society and by the political or public leadership in so many countries.

Why does the encyclical of His Holiness Pope Francis matter? Why is it getting all this attention? What impact will it have?

Everyone recognizes the seriousness of the environmental and social challenges facing humankind. It’s now not enough to say that problems of poverty, injustice, social and environmental degradation must be faced “some day”. The Holy Father’s encyclical addresses these difficult interrelated issues with honesty, breadth and depth. He has the wisdom and courage to address them comprehensively, while other leaders pretend that only part of the situation requires attention, or ignore it completely. And in spite of this complexity, Pope Francis writes in a very understandable manner. That is why „Laudato si’“ deserves the close attention which it is receiving.

Is economic growth the enemy of saving the environment? Where are the conflicts between economic development and environmental protection?

Unsustainable economic growth is the enemy of caring for the environment, namely, when political choices are dominated mainly by economic interests, and when economic activities are oriented exclusively to profit. When human and environmental costs are ignored, then such economic growth becomes inimical, damaging, and unsustainable.

Why is development that only focuses on economics or politics not complete?

When politics cannot effectively guide economic policies, and when economics narrows the scope of development to short-term financial gain, then “development” loses its sense and indeed becomes destructive. Only when it “fosters the development of each man and of the whole man” in the prophetic words of Blessed Paul VI (Populorum Progressio § 14) can we properly use the word “development” because we mean a just, holistic, inclusive and sustainable process oriented towards the true common good, the good of all.

Why are even good regulations, policies, and targets in the world unlikely to prove effective without moral conversion and change of hearts?

It is far too easy to do little or nothing, or do the wrong thing, and then come up with excuses. Appropriate regulations, intelligent policies and worthwhile targets are constantly being sabotaged by forces with selfish interests. That selfishness must be overcome. Ever since humanity began to endow itself with governments, it has been clear that, without moral conversion and change of hearts – without good citizenship rooted in morality and spirituality – regulations, policies, and targets will tend to be avoided and deflected. And it is the poor, who have relatively little power, who are worst off when corruption rises and moral conversion is lacking.

How can Catholics and all people of good will contribute to a peaceful, just and dignified world?

Thanks to the Encyclical, there is a simple answer: by reading, assimilating and implementing Laudato si’. Its suggestions range from minute, easily accomplished actions that even children can perform – for instance, being careful to conserve electricity at home, or putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat – to global orientations of dialogue and of attention to the human and spiritual elements in all things. There are far-reaching yet practical requirements, too, like applying the natural cycle: “plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants”… applying this natural model to “the cycle of production and consumption” (22) by recuperating the materials rather than throwing them away. We need “to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them” (22).

How does the Church actively participate and get involved in programs and projects designed to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change? How important is it for church groups to act on environmental and development plans at a local level?

Certainly the most important level for Church groups to be involved in environmental and developmental projects is at the local level. And, thanks be to God, the involvement is enormous, in fact, too great and too varied to be easily documented. They reflect a face of the multifaceted Church: a face of solidarity, faithful over time, which lives among the people even in adversity, and, thanks to her regular secular presence, has in-depth knowledge of the local context, with all its difficulties and opportunities. One of these key players is also every single believer who, with limits and discretion but animated by the Gospel and the teachings of the Magisterium, is committed in the vast area of environment and development.

Why is social inclusion a universal goal? Is it a way to promote a culture of non-violence and peace?

The family that favours some of its members and mistreats others will not be at peace, it will not flourish. And when the worldwide human family systematically excludes and mistreats some of its members, it cannot flourish; instead, it is breeding the seeds of violence.

In your opinion, is the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris the last and best chance to reach an agreement on cutting carbon emissions? Has this summit the potential to shape a new politics of climate change?

Yes, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris is the next important chance to reach an agreement on cutting carbon emissions. The agreements will be an important step – but then again, although the Rio Summit of 1992 was “a real step forward, and prophetic for its time, its accords have been poorly implemented, due to the lack of suitable mechanisms for oversight, periodic review and penalties in cases of non-compliance.  The principles which it proclaimed still await an efficient and flexible means of practical implementation.” (167) The Church is now ready to accompany every level of decision-making, every form of governance. This is a new orientation for the Church; being “the Church in the modern world” in this way includes a needed and welcome style of moral leadership. “The work of the Church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time ‘she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.’”[1]

In September, countries will gather in New York at the UN General Assembly to agree on a new set of sustainable development goals. The expectations around the world are very high for the speech of Pope Francis to world leaders at the U.N. on September 25. Which issues are important to the Holy Father: poverty, social exclusion?

Yes, you can make a long list of the issues which are important to the Holy Father: poverty, social exclusion, human trafficking, refugees and migrants, persecution of Christians and other forms of religious intolerance, the family, youth, old people, etc. etc. But you can also make a short list of what Pope Francis always insists upon. Over and over he stresses that the human family must face all the complex and interrelated issues we are facing by means of dialogue; transparent dialogue; dialogue unspoiled by narrow self-interest or short-term greed; inclusive dialogue that meaningfully brings all the stakeholders (especially the poor, the majority) into active inter-action. With authentic dialogue and with political courage, the human family would make significant progress in facing and, with God’s help, overcoming the many huge issues which look so difficult.

[1] Laudato si’ § 79 quoting Caritas in Veritate § 51.