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Economist Jeffrey Sachs Honored To Be Appointed to Papal Academy

Jeffrey D. Sachs, an economist and professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University, participates in the “Economy of Francesco” virtual meeting in this screen capture from YouTube Nov. 19, 2020. The meeting is a project of Pope Francis, who has called for a different kind of economy that better respects humanity and nature. The pope is scheduled to address the meeting Nov. 21. (CNS photo)

NEW YORK — World-renowned American economist Jeffrey Sachs said he 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 on Oct. 25.

“I am profoundly honored to become an academician of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences,” Sachs, who is in Vatican City, told The Tablet in an email following the Holy See’s announcement. 

“I believe that the Church’s social teachings, and Pope Francis’ 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,” he said.

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’ 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 of disagreement 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 establishment by Saint John Paul in 1994. At the time, the 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.” 

For that reason, the late pope had said, PASS needed to include people with different beliefs and backgrounds. Saint John Paul II continued in his 1994 remarks, “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 The Tablet on Oct. 25 that the diversity of PASS makes the group “a unique contribution to global well-being.”

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 20 years as a professor. After leaving Harvard, he led Columbia University’s Earth Institute from 2002 to 2016. 

Sachs also served as an advisor to three United Nations secretaries-general spanning 2001-2018. In 2016, he had a hand in then-presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont coming to Rome to speak at a Vatican conference.

To appoint new academicians to PASS, candidates are proposed to the group’s president. Members take a secret vote on preferences among a list of candidates for a position, yielding a proposal made to the pope.

Academicians are appointed for a term of 10 years, and the pope can reappoint them.

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. Time magazine has twice listed him among the 100 most influential world leaders.

Also included in the Holy See’s announcement, Pope Francis named Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof of Germany, currently a member of the Vatican’s Council for the Economy, to be deputy coordinator of PASS.