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Pope's G20 hospital pass to Abbott

  • 14 November 2014

The news that Pope Francis has written a letter to Tony Abbott makes one pause. In the terms now used to describe the exchanges between leaders, was the letter a shirtfront, a head-butt, a big hug, or a yellow card?

The letter, of course, was none of these things. It was written to Abbott as chair of the G20 Summit and was directed through him to the national representatives taking part. It is usual for Popes to write such letters: a recent example was one to the Secretary of the UN about the situation in Northern Iraq. They set out the views of the Vatican on significant issues.

This letter begins by summarising uncontroversially the G20 Agenda. Any distinctive papal emphases may lie in the adjectives. The meeting aims not only at providing employment, but ‘dignified and stable employment for all’.  It demands a ‘fair and adequate’ system of taxation. The focus is not on narrowly economic goals but on the good of human beings.

The letter then emphasises that ‘many lives are at stake behind these political and technical discussions’. People suffer from malnutrition, from rising unemployment, especially among the young, from increasing social exclusion leading to crime and terrorism, and from continued assaults on the natural environment.

The Pope hopes that the meeting will lead to consensus, and that its results will be be measured, not only by global indices but also by ‘real improvement in the living conditions of poorer families and the reduction of all forms of unacceptable inequality’.

This focus on the human implications of the G20 deliberations leads Pope Francis to urge a broader definition of the responsibilities of the nations involved. These are set in framework of the UN Development Agenda ‘which ought to include the vital issues of decent work for all and climate change’.

The letter also sets the Summit in the context of military conflicts, and of calls for the G20 to help forge an agreement, under the United Nations, to halt aggression in the Middle East. It should also work to eliminate the causes of terrorism which include ‘poverty, underdevelopment and exclusion’, and to meet the needs of victims of the conflicts, especially of refugees.

This leads the Pope to consider the need of the international community, and so of the G20 nations, ‘to protect individuals and peoples from extreme attacks on human rights and a total disregard for