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New Pontifical Academy Head Promotes Idea of Children as “Change Agents”

As Vatican Radio reported on 22 June 2017, Pope Francis has named Professor Joachim von Braun as the new President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS). Professor von Braun is Ordinary Professor of Economics and Technological Change, as well as Director of the Center for Decvelopment Research at the University of Bonn, Germany. According to Vatican Radio, von Braun will “seek solutions to inequality and the destruction of the environment.” He also said that the “80 members composing the Academy are from different countries and religious backgrounds and many hold Nobel Prizes for their contribution to science.” According to a 8 July interview with, the German bishops’ website, von Braun said that not all of the PAS members are Catholics or even believers, but that they have been chosen according to their scientific expertise. Professor von Braun, who is a Protestant, had first been appointed as a member of the PAS in 2012, by Pope Benedict XVI.

In November 2015, Professor von Braun participated in a Vatican Workshop as organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences under the leadership of Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo which was dedicated to “Children and Sustainable Development: A Challenge for Education.” (Among the speakers were leading population control advocate Jeffrey Sachs and Courtney Sale Ross, the founder of a New Age school in the U.S., both of whom are continuing their collaboration with the PAS.)  Alarmed by the fact that von Braun had then spoken about “children as change agents,” I myself had undertaken some research into this matter and published my findings in April 2016 in Christian Order, a British traditional-Catholic journal. I then wrote, as follows:

Among the speakers of this Vatican Workshop, there was, again, Jeffrey Sachs, close collaborator of George Soros, who is the third largest donor to Planned Parenthood. Soros is known for his success in making money in times of currency crises, as happened in England and in Russia. In his own talk at the Vatican Conference, Jeffrey Sachs spoke on “Education and Sustainable Development Goals.”

Also present was Professor Joachim von Braun. For many years he headed the International Food Policy Research Institute; a body funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which in turn is known for its financial and ideological ties with Planned Parenthood since the founding of that pro-abortion organization. At the Vatican Workshop he [von Braun] spoke on the topic: “Children as Agents of Change for Sustainable Development.” Von Braun told me in an e-mail that he will only be able to finish his written manuscript in February (2016); the exact content of his talk is therefore still unknown at the time of writing [2016]. Thus, I asked him whether he could sum up the thesis of his talk and describe how he sees children as “change agents.” He responded:

“Looking at your further statements below, you seem to completely misunderstand the term ‘agency’ as used in scientific literature. Children should know about nature, technologies, rights, and sustainable development. This does not just relate to environment, but more broadly to health and wellbeing. Children need to be helped/educated to act responsibly in their families, and communities.”

I also wanted to know how he would respond to the possible reproach that he makes use of the children for his own intentions, and thereby indirectly undermines the parents and their authority by teaching children that they have to teach their own parents. The question from me also mentioned the analogy of the Hitler Youth Movement, which used the children for its own wider purposes, in order to re-educate the parents, to control them, and even to spy upon them. Von Braun answered:

“This strange thought of yours has never been raised to me before [sic]. It includes an insinuation about the intentions of my research work, to which I object. Children need to be respected. Of course they must be protected from oppressors.”

I pointed out that these cumulative concerns also arise due to the fact that it was the Catholic Church which organized this PAS Workshop, and that the Church teaches in the Fourth Commandment that children are to obey their parents, not the other way around. Additionally, the Catholic Church never bypassed the authority of the parents in order to approach children for the spreading of the Faith. Rather, the Church first sought the conversion of the adults themselves. Von Braun corrected me with regard to the Fourth Commandment, writing:

May I remind you what the 4th commandment states: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Honor is not the same as “gehorchen” [obey], but it means to respect. Christianity very importantly emphasizes protecting, respecting, and recognizing children’s spiritual role (Matthew 19:13-14, 18:2-5). Important is also Mark 9:35-37, where Jesus equates [sic] the child with his twelve followers.” [emphasis added]

As can be seen from my e-mail exchange with Professor von Braun, he has obviously a limited understanding of the Fourth Commandment and seems to put children on the same level as adults, in this case the twelve Apostles. This same attitude can now be found in his published talk from that November 2015 Vatican workshop.

The general line of argument is that children, once informed about how to preserve nature, can help their parents and other adults to grow in that understanding, too, so that humanity may enhance the protection of the environment. While this approach in itself is highly problematic – for the very aspect of making children the purposive teachers of adults – a deeper look at the goals of these “Sustainable Development” discussions leads to the intentional change of social and cultural attitudes as well, as can be seen in the workshop’s explicit support of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which promote the idea of contraception (or birth prevention) and “birth control.” (See here a promotion of this same idea on the website of International Planned Parenthood Federation.) The 2015 workshop explicitly spoke about our adequately recognizing that issues such as “violence, marginalization and exclusion should be considered as sustainability failures.” [emphasis added] Expressions such as marginalization and exclusion often are applied to those groups of people who do not live, nor desire to live, according to the traditional moral law. (See here and here websites that promote this approach, commenting on the SDGs: “What matters now is how this text gets interpreted and applied going forward.” [emphasis added]) It can be shown, thus, that the SDGs imply the promotion of a whole interconnected set of social and cultural changes.

Let us consider now von Braun’s own words at that 2015 workshop. He says:

Never before has the world had so many children. Children need protection, must have access to quality education to reach their potential, but children can also play critical roles as agents of change in their families and communities. […] Can children play a direct role even throughout childhood to address sustainability in its four dimensions, that is, socially, environmentally, economically and culturally? […] Children’s potential of making use of their right to participation can be constrained by several factors such as exclusion and inequality. […] This could mean that children become educators not only for their peers but also for adults. [emphasis added]

In this context, von Braun makes explicit reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which themselves point to children as “change agents”:

For the first time in the history of UN development goals, the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make explicit reference to children’s agency:

“What we are announcing today – an Agenda for global action for the next fifteen years—is a charter for people and planet in the twenty-first century. Children and young women and men are critical agents of change [emphasis added] and will find in the new Goals a platform to channel their infinite [sic] capacities for activism into the creation of a better world” (United Nations 2015, § 51).

It is here – in this context of expressions which resound Socialist ideas – that von Braun himself explicitly uses the highly loaded ideological words “gender inequality” and “children’s rights”:

The actual SDGs and their respective targets appropriately emphasize child health, education, gender inequality, and children’s rights—they do not comprise a concrete goal or target related to children’s agency. [emphasis added]

Von Braun makes again – as in his earlier personal e-mail to me – the claim that Jesus Christ Himself used children as “change agents”:

Different world religions and schools of ethics differ in their perspective on the role of children. Christianity emphasizes protecting, respecting, and recognizing children’s spiritual role (Matthew 19:13–14, 18:2–5). A quite remarkable statement can be found in Mark 9:35–37, where Jesus equates [sic] a child with his twelve followers, that is, with his agents of change.

Von Braun seems to propose that children’s malnourishment should be addressed especially so that they could better play their role as “change agents”:

There are, however, some basic preconditions that have to be met so that children’s agency can unfold (see bottom right of Fig. 2.2). Given that globally one in three children under the age of five are [sic – is] malnourished, improving children’s consumption of micronutrients, preventing and treating infections, and fighting stunting in general are basic preconditions for children’s agency that must be addressed.

In order to help with Sustainable Development, von Braun indicates that a re-definition of childhood might be needed:

Throughout history the perception and role of children have been subject to change. It may, again, be time to redefine [sic] childhood and the role of children both in today’s society and for future generations. This does not necessarily mean breaking with long-standing religious and philosophical traditions of the meaning of “childhood”. However, with new and emerging technology and inter-connectedness among children, they themselves may be about to redefine their childhoods.

In light of all these troubling statements and developments surrounding this Vatican Workshop, as well as von Braun’s own statements, I reached out, in 2016, to Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of St. Mary of Astana, Kazakhstan; and I requested from him a general comment about my findings, which he promptly and kindly provided:

I have read your report on the seminar of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of last November 2015. One can realize here with shock the extent to which the declared enemies of the Catholic Faith are given scope for their activities at such an event in the Vatican. One has to protest against it. With the help of these speakers whose publications clearly oppose the Faith, the Faith itself and the natural moral law are being mocked in a subtle way. God does not allow His Being to be mocked. At some point, He will intervene and one has to have compassion with those persons who are responsible for such a conference because they will one day answer for this before the Judgment Seat of God. People who at such a conference sell the Holy Faith so cheaply — also when they are priests or bishops — may not forget this warning of Holy Scripture: “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” (Hebrews 10:31). We have to wish it for those so-called Catholics, priests and bishops, and say: “Convert from your hearts to Our Lord, while  there is time left!”

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