Catholic Relief Services President on Pope's Encyclical: Francis Is Pointing Out Where We Went Wrong, Offering Solutions

In Interview, Former Head of Notre Dame’s Business School Responds to How Business, Politics, All People ‘Must Not Park Human Values at the Door’

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The CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services says that with Laudato Si’, Pope Francis is addressing the most pressing issue of our time.

In an interview with ZENIT today following the release of Pope Francis’ 184-page encyclical on ecology ‘Laudato Si’: on the Care for Our Common Home,’ Dr. Carolyn Woo, former dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, spoke on the importance on the encyclical and hoped-for impact of the widely-anticipated document — especially for those ‘on the fence’ — and explained why the timing of it is significant.

The document addresses the contentious subject of climate change in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Dr. Woo, who spoke at today’s press conference in the New Synod Hall in the Vatican, said how Francis’ encyclical recognizes business as a noble profession, but warns against those people or systems which «park human values at the door,» rather than accept the invitation to use their power to do good. She also mentioned overwhelming statistics that show how real and how manmade the ecological crisis is.

Along with Dr. Woo, the speakers at the press conference were Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamo, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church; Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; and Valeria Marana, a teacher in the outlying areas of Rome.

Woo represented the economic, financial, business and commercial sectors, whose responses to the major environmental challenges — as Cardinal Turkson stated — are «so crucial.»

While acknowledging the Pope’s criticism of abuses in the market, Dr. Woo also shared with ZENIT how the encyclical calls for business to renounce being a «necessary evil» and become instead a «necessary good.»

Catholic Relief Services, part of Caritas Internationalis, is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.


ZENIT: Why is the timing of the release of this encyclical on ecology and the ecological crisis important?

Dr. Carolyn Woo: For a number of reasons. There are a number of important upcoming meetings: the UN in September, G7 and G8, the Paris conference. I think the Pope wants to influence the thinking of these big bodies. So, that is a very important timing consideration. In addition, I think in these past few years, with the types of disasters we have seen–and now we have, unfortunately, more evidence of the melting of the polar ice– people are beginning to see and ask these questions. And also because we don’t have a lot of time to do nothing. For all of these reasons, its timing is very important.

ZENIT: For the US and the world, what impact do you expect Laudato Si’ to have?

Dr. Carolyn Woo: It will have impact in a number of ways. The first thing is that there are a lot of people on the fence. They are good people, but they don’t know whether this is really true—this whole ‘climate crisis’—and is it really manmade, or is it one of these natural ‘blips’ that just happened. Thus, they are on the fence. I think this encyclical with the Pope’s credibility will help both Catholics and non-Catholics to really say a lot. It is the credibility of the Pope. So that’s number one.

The second thing is that [there are] people who are already addressing this and drawing attention to this issue. The Pope’s message actually increases the urgency.

The third thing is that there will be people who disagree. They are not actually, necessarily disagreeing with his [Pope Francis’] points. They are just asking why he should be dealing with the environment. Is he really using science? The pontifical academies have convened many of these workshops and conferences. For these people who disagree, it raises the heat against it. But that’s good. It offers debate. From that, people can decide: Do I believe there is a real crisis? Or do I not believe it? So, I think those people who have very strong objections, will still have very strong objections. But this actually just further raises the debate.

ZENIT: To those who dismiss it or wish to discredit it, what grounds would you offer as to why this is valid?

Dr. Carolyn Woo: I think we should remember that in the end, we are not debating the Pope. The Pope is just a messenger. And if they ignore the real situation, there are consequences. So choose to be part of the solution and know that this is not the Pope’s ‘idea’ of a climate crisis. The Pope is really articulating what he sees in the way of devastation and destruction and the impact on people’s lives. You know, a lot of people pride themselves in the use of scientific evidence. And, the majority, over 97% of evidence, suggests that this type of crisis is real and is driven by manmade actions.

ZENIT: Now turning to the business aspect. You said that business is not only an economic undertaking, but a human enterprise that must be by and for the people. How are businesses invited to properly achieve their goals, while still being responsible toward the society and planet? Why is it important for businesses to recognize their responsibilities?

Dr. Carolyn Woo: Yes, I think it is a diminishment when people who lead in business think that human values need to be parked at the door…to not think of all that which allows ingenuity to be exercised and implemented. To think that ingenuity is only used for short term profits, in the end creates harm to all humanity. I don’t think people want to do that, to leave part of themselves [‘parked’]– especially those most profound aspects of their responsibilities–to other people…. To just park these values at the door. So it’s important to remember: We are not just economic actors, those who go to work and collect a paycheck …, and that the vocation of doing the right thing is not just after work, but during work.

ZENIT: Some may see what Pope Francis is saying as being critical of business or markets. However, is he just criticizing bad business practices and offering recommendations so they operate in the proper manner? You mentioned earlier that businesses are seen as a ‘necessary evil,’ but instead are being invited to be a ‘necessary good.’ Would you say the Holy Father has extended this invitation?

Dr. Carolyn Woo: Absolutely. Pope Francis keeps making this invitation not just for businesses, but also government, for us—as consumers, to think differently and to act differently.  He calls for conversion and this conversion is for all of us, starting from just, really consciousness, which is learning; conscience, which is rethinking our part and our responsibility; conviction, which is now that we want to do something; and conduct. It applies to all sectors. He is pointing out where we did go wrong and he’s offering opportunities. He is giving an invitation to be part of the solution.

ZENIT: Any other thoughts?

Dr. Carolyn Woo: This encyclical is powerful, not just because it is coming from the Vatican. It is the most pressing issue of our time. It reflects people’s concerns. It may come from the Vatican but if it is a topic of no concern to anyone, I don’t think we would have seen the huge number of people who were gathered. This is an issue of huge concern. Thank you so much.


On the NET: 

Catholic Relief Services:

Encyclical Text:

Dr. Woo’s Intervention at today’s press conference:

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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