11 June 2024
11 Jun 2024

Pope Francis’ concerns about the need for ethics in a transforming world

Pope Francis' concerns about the world in transformation are also the challenges of the general chapter

by  Michel Simo Temgo, SCJ

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This article looks at Pope Francis’ concerns about the problems facing our changing world. The changes are taking place in three main areas: the neoliberal economy, our common home, and the digital age. This trilogy is at the heart of his pontificate, and he proposes ethical guidelines for each of them.

Note: The article comes from the congregation’s continental theological commissions in preparation for the XXV General Chapter.

In the questionnaires we received from the Organizing Committee of the 2024 General Chapter, there is a clear description of the fact that the General Chapter is being held in a changing world, marked by “war, consumerism and other phenomena that urge us to rethink our identity as Dehonians” (Extracts from the questionnaire part II on Identity). The concern to proclaim the Good News in a changing world was also at the heart of the Theological Seminar on the Inclusive Economy held in Madrid in May 2023.

In fact, the Dehonians’ awareness of ministering in a changing world is in line with the Church’s long-standing social teaching, which constantly emphasizes reading the “Signs of the Times”.[1] Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been very faithful to this conciliar spirit. He envisions a world in transformation, guided by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. He has consistently emphasized three major changes in our world: the ongoing “neoliberal” economy, concern for our common home, and the life of our faith in the digital age. This trilogy of the market economy, climate change and the care of creation, and the life of faith in the digital age will form the backbone of this article.

Pope Francis’ critique of neoliberal economy and need for ethical guidelines.

A) Pope Francis ‘critique of neo-liberal economy

If there is one thing that strikes me about Pope Francis’ critique of the economy of exclusion, it is the honesty of his language in describing the place of human beings in such economy. For him, people are seen as consumer goods to be used and then discarded: “The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcasts, the “leftovers” (EG 53). In Evangelii Gaudium (EG), considered the road map of his pontificate, Pope Francis clearly expresses his criticism of the current economy in a series of “nos” to the imperialism of capitalism, which leaves the most vulnerable in its wake: “No to the economy of exclusion” (EG 53-54), “No to the new idolatry of money” (EG 55-56), “No to a financial system that dominates rather than serves” (EG 57-58), “No to the inequality that breeds violence” (EG 59-60). The main reason why Pope Francis is outraged by the neoliberal economy is that it tramples on human dignity.

Pope Francis is critical of the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy because of its lack of truly human purpose. The free-market economy leads to a view of the human person as a single need: consumption. There’s also corruption and tax evasion to save oneself, a thirst for power that knows no bounds, and an exaggerated appetite for profit that doesn’t care about the environment. The quest for increasing profit is put forward by a deified market, which becomes the only rule. This type of economy rejects all ethics and even God. Ethics lead to God, and when the market economy is absolutized, “God can only be perceived as uncontrollable, unmanageable and even dangerous, since He calls man to realise his full potential and to free himself from all forms of enslavement” (EG 57).

B) Need for ethical guidelines in Economy: The Economy of Care

Pope Francis’ ideal business is one that serves the community because it is a path to holiness.  This is why he believes that solidarity must be strengthened. Francis himself is clear that “the Church ‘cannot and must not remain on the side-line in the fight for justice’ and the most suitable tool on the subject is found in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.” (EG 183-84). That is why he created a youth movement called “Economy of Francesco” to find an alternative to the current economy. He expresses the need to “re-animate” the economy, “one that is inclusive and not exclusive, humane and not dehumanizing, one that cares for the environment and does not despoil it.”[2] In his video message on the 21st November 2020, Pope Francis emphasised again the urgent need for a different economic narrative[3], a need of the new lifestyle supported by the culture of encounter. Francis also invites these young people to put into practice the approach of integral human development, which means promoting the development of each person and of the whole person. Today we need an economic that allows hope to flourish and wounds to be healed, what Pope Francis calls an “economy of care”, an economy of inclusion.  In his video message on the second global event on the economy on October 2, 2021, Pope Francis proposes an economy that is sustainable and based on solidarity, respecting our interconnectedness with Mother Earth: “The mission of the economy includes the values of fraternity, solidarity and care for our Earth.”[4]  At the Third Global Meeting on the Economy of Francesco, the Holy Father renewed his call for an inclusive and caring economy for all[5]

Climate change and care of our Common Home

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has made climate change and safeguarding of our “Common Home” one of his top priorities. In 2015, he published the Encyclical Laudato Si’ (LS) on Care for our Common Home where he voiced the problems that affect our Common Home and describes the implications of the global climate change on the most vulnerable in the world. Eight years late in 2023, the Holy Father in his Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum shared his heartfelt concerns about the care for our Common Home.

A) Pope Francis ‘description of the crisis of our Common Home

In the first chapter of his encyclical on our Common Home, Pope Francis gives an alarming description of what is happening to our Common Home in five main points: Pollution and climate change; the issue of Water; the loss of biodiversity; the decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society; and global inequality. Some of these themes will be developed in this article.

Concerning pollution and climate change, Pope Francis states: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.” (LS 25). He makes this very clear that “Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.” (LS 25).

Each year in Ireland, the Bishops’ Conference, through its charity Trocaire, launches a Lenten appeal in parishes to help people in need, especially in economically disadvantaged countries. This year the focus is on Malawi, a poor country in East Africa where climate change has left the population destitute. Families in this country are experiencing the extremes of drought and flooding. This can be extended to Tchad, country in Central Africa where our dehonian confreres minister. Pope Francis also mentions the loss of biodiversity that comes with climate change: “It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. (…) many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful.” (LS 34).

B) Pope Francis’s ethical guidelines to save our Common Home: New lifestyle, culture of care, ecological conversion

Pope Francis often speaks of the “culture of care” as a central theme in his teachings and messages. Let’s take a closer look at his advocacy of a culture of care for creation. The Pope has been a strong advocate of environmental responsibility and care for the planet. His emphasis on ecological conversion reflects a call for individuals and societies to undergo a transformative change in their attitudes, behaviours, and values towards the environment. Pope Francis emphasizes the moral responsibility to care for the earth and its resources. He speaks of our moral responsibility. We must be aware that we have one common home, and we must preserve it. He calls for a change of lifestyle and an ecological conversion. Pope Francis promotes the concept of integral ecology, which recognizes the interconnectedness of social, economic, and environmental issues. He argues that an integrated approach is necessary for addressing the complex challenges facing the planet, such as climate change, pollution, and loss of biodiversity (LS 156).

Pope Francis and the Digital Age

A) Pope Francis ‘concerns for the digital age

One of the highlights of Pope Francis’ pontificate was the organization in 2019 by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development of the conference on: “The Common Good in the Digital Age”. The expression “digital age” that is also called the “digital revolution”, “digital galaxy”[6]  could be understood by referring also to the concept of “artificial intelligence”.

In his message to the participants of this conference, Pope Francis points to two major problems created by the digital age: the first is the use of robots in the workplace, and the second is the manipulation of data and information. The use of robots in the workplace is of great concern to all humanity, because “robots could become a purely hyper-efficient tool, used only to increase profits and returns, and could deprive thousands of people of work, putting their dignity at risk.”[7]

There are also risks associated with the use of artificial intelligence in relation to the spread of false information, or fake news.: “It is possible, as never before, to circulate tendentious opinions and false data that could poison public debates and even manipulate the opinions of millions of people, to the point of endangering the very institutions that guarantee peaceful civil coexistence.”[8] The Holy Father also highlights other changes at a personal level, which make it difficult to recognise and appreciate differences; the majority, who do not have access to artificial intelligence, become consumers; there is inequality as knowledge is concentrated in the hands of a few.

Pope Francis has also raised serious ethical questions about the world’s arms industry. For him, the autonomous weapon could also fall into the wrong hands, where it could be used for terrorist attacks or interventions aimed at destabilising the institutions of legitimate systems of government.

B) Pope Francis’s ethics for the digital age

Aware of the challenges outlined above, Pope Francis calls for an ethic to guide the digital age. He notes the development of a new discipline called the ethics of algorithms or “algoethics”[9] . The Church’s social doctrine has a major role to play in this process, emphasising the importance of human dignity, justice, subsidiarity, and solidarity. The Holy Father calls for a renewed reflection on rights and duties in this area of the digital age, because the scale and acceleration of these developments have given rise to unforeseen problems and situations that challenge our individual and collective ethics[10].

It is the human person who must be at the centre of the development of the digital age: “The concept of human dignity requires us to recognize and respect the fact that a person’s fundamental value cannot be measured by data alone”[11].  In 2014, in his 48th message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis called for a culture of encounter in the digital era: “It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters.”[12]


Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has always been the spokesman for the Church’s Social Teaching, seeking to put into practice the vision of the Second Vatican Council. He has never ceased to remind us that his interpretation of reality is made through the lens of a pastor who describes reality as it is. His writings are marked by three constant themes: his open criticism of neo-liberal economics, which takes no account of human dignity and seeks instead to maximise profit at all costs; his call to care for our common home, the environment; and, above all, his concern for the development of the digital age, which requires ethical guidance. This trilogy has been the focus of this article, as part of the Dehonians’ contribution to interpreting the “signs of the times” in order to live out their vocation in a changing world. This work also follows the theological reflection of the Dehonians who gathered in Madrid in May 2023 to reflect on how to live their vocation in a changing world by working for a more inclusive economy. A search that will continue with the XXV General Chapter in 2024, which has the same concerns: to live our vocation in a changing world, striving to fulfil the great priestly prayer of Jesus in the Gospel of John, that they may be one (Jn 17, 23).

[1] See the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes. Also read the articles of Brian Pedraza on “Signs of the Times: Origin and Meaning in Church Life Journal: A Journal of the McGrath Institute for Church Life, Online.

[2] Pope Francis, Idem.

[3] See Pope Francis, Video Message, 21 November 2020.

[4] Pope Francis, Video Conference, Assisi, 2 October 2021.

[5] Pope Francis, Assisi, Saturday, 24 September 2022.

[6] Pope Francis, Meeting with the Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Friday, 28 February 2020.

[7] Pope Francis, Address of his Holiness Pope Francis To The Participants In The Seminar “The Common Good In The Digital Age”, Friday, 27 September 2019.

[8] Id.

[9] Pope Francis, Address to the participants of the Congress on the Dignity of the Child in the Digital World, 14 November 2019. Also see the work of Luciano Anbrosini, Algoethics and algocracy: An existentive problem online:


[10] Pope Francis, Address to the Pontifical Academy for Life, 2020.

[11] Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the “Minerva Dialogues” on Monday, 27 March 2023. Also see the recent document of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of faith on human dignity, Dignitas Infinita published on April 08, 2024.

[12] Pope Francis, XLVIII World Communications Day, 2014 – Communications at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter.

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