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NEW YORK – World renowned American economist Jeffrey Sachs vows to do his “utmost to contribute” to the “path breaking work” of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS) after his appointment to the academy was announced by the Holy See on Oct. 25.
“I am profoundly honored to become an academician of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences,” Sachs, who is in the Vatican, told Crux in an email. “I believe that the Church’s social teachings, and Pope Francis’s great encyclicals Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti, are great gifts to humanity as we grapple with the global challenges of poverty, exclusion, environmental crisis, and geopolitical stresses.”
Sachs, 66, is a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and the president of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He isn’t Catholic, though he has strong ties to the Vatican. Sachs has advised the Vatican on economic matters for three decades, including Saint John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus annus, and Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. He frequents Vatican events as a speaker and participant, most notably the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region.
There has long been controversy, however, surrounding Sachs’ close association with the church because of areas he disagrees with church teaching. His support for contraception, abortion and population control, for example, are well documented.
PASS has welcomed academics of non-Catholic traditions since its inception by John Paul in 1994. At the time, the late pontiff said the academy was created “with the aim of promoting the study and progress of the social, economic, political and juridical sciences, and of thus offering the Church elements which she can use in the study and development of her social doctrine” and for that reason needed to include people with different beliefs and backgrounds.
“This is why your Academy is open to experts in different fields who desire to serve the truth,” John Paul said in 1994. “Our intention is to gather all the grains of truth present in the various intellectual and empirical approaches, in the image of St. Thomas Aquinas who remains an example for philosophical and theological reflection.”
Sachs told Crux on Oct. 25 that the diversity of PASS members is one of its strengths.
“By gathering scholars across many disciplines and faiths, together with remarkable Church leaders and theologians, the PASS is a unique contribution to global wellbeing,” Sachs said.
Sachs is widely associated with the term “shock therapy,” which was his plan for navigating the post-Soviet transition of eastern European countries to market economics.
He was born on Nov. 5, 1954, in Detroit, Michigan. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University, where he spent over twenty years as a professor. After leaving Harvard University he led Columbia University’s Earth Institute from 2002-2016. Sachs also served as an advisor to three United Nations secretaries-general from 2001-2018, and in 2016 had a hand in then-presidential candidate senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont coming to Rome to speak at a Vatican conference as Sanders’s foreign policy advisor.
To appoint new Academicians to PASS, candidates are proposed to the academy’s president by at least two members, according to its statutes. A list of candidates is compiled for each vacancy. Then, the assembly takes a secret vote indicating the order of preference “in which the candidates are proposed to the Supreme Pontiff.”
The academy is made up of at least 20 and no more than 40 Ordinary Academicians and of Honorary Academicians. Academicians are appointed for a term of ten years and can be reappointed by the Supreme Pontiff after consulting the president and council of the academy, the statutes state, adding that Ordinary Academicians “quit their task” at age 80. They can then be appointed Honorary Pontifical Academicians by the Holy Father.
Sachs is the author of multiple books including three New York Times bestsellers. His latest, The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology, and Institutions, was released in 2020. He was the co-recipient of the 2015 Blue Planet Prize, the leading prize for environmental leadership, and has twice been named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential world leaders.
Also included in the Holy See’s announcement was Pope Francis’s appointment of German professor Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof, who is a member of the Council for the Economy, as deputy coordinator of PASS.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg