WASHINGTON (CNS) — Cardinal Peter Turkson, a top adviser to Pope Francis, questioned how well President Donald Trump’s declarations of “America first” serve understanding across the broader global community.

“That’s a language that I think is not useful to speak because it makes the others say, ‘Who are we?'” Cardinal Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said in an interview with Catholic News Service May 31.

The Vatican, he said, defers to local bishops’ conferences — in this case the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — to respond if it so chooses. But he said leaders in other countries could question why the U.S. sets itself above others.


“I don’t think it makes for the atmosphere of trust,” Cardinal Turkson said.

The cardinal was at Georgetown University in Washington to attend a three-day meeting of leaders of U.S. academic centers focused on Catholic social thought. The gathering was designed to allow center directors and faculty to discuss ways to more broadly share Catholic social teaching and advance the message of Pope Francis in the universal church, said John Carr, director of the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, former Vatican observer to the U.N. agencies in Geneva who now works alongside Cardinal Turkson, also attended the meeting.

As part of his visit, the cardinal participated in a 90-minute public discussion with Carr, answering questions on the environment and climate change, the world economy, the papacy of Pope Francis and the role of laypeople in the church.

Cardinal Turkson’s comments came as news reports indicated that Trump was prepared to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate agreement signed by nearly 200 countries. Trump was to announce his decision the afternoon of June 1.

In response to a question from Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, about what he would say if he had a 15-minutes with Trump to discuss climate issues, Cardinal Turkson said he would stress that greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants that enter the atmosphere immediately become a global concern because they do not stay over one country.


“The president is used to saying ‘America first.’ That has become almost a kind of mantra,” he told the Georgetown audience. But the most important thing to recognize is that questions about climate and environment, these are global issues that need to be handled globally. There is no way that one can treat issues of the climate at the national level. That is not possible. The moment it enters the atmosphere it’s a global issue,” he said.

The cardinal also cited “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment and people’s relationship to creation. He said the document’s concluding paragraphs offer a “deeply rooted conviction in the hope that the human family can still change course” from their consumption habits and polluting ways.

Answering an question from Carr, Cardinal Turkson explained that the encyclical is not an attack on capitalism or the market economy, as some analysts have suggested, but that it questions any human-created activity that does not serve people.

“Pope Francis has one basic principle … the human person must be at the center of all human engagement,” the cardinal explained, saying if anything that occupies the center of someone’s life — work, power or anything else — it fails to serve people.

“But for him (Pope Francis), everything must serve the human person. The human person is the one thing that God created for its own sake. Everything else must serve the human person,” Cardinal Turkson said.

The cardinal said that through the pontificate of Pope Francis, “the church has experienced a really brand new breath of fresh air. The church has rediscovered its voice. The church has rediscovered its credibility.”

By living in a small apartment in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guest house, rather than the papal palace and wearing the same pectoral cross he wore during the 2013 conclave in which he was elected, Pope Francis has called people of faith to a life of simplicity and poverty, he said.


“For me, if you want, the biggest challenge will be his successor. Whether his successor will continue to live in Sanctae Marthae, or whether he will move back to the papal palace. Even if he decides to live in Sanctae Marthae, the pope has already been doing it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis continues to address reforms of the Roman Curia, as called for during meetings among cardinal before the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI. They called for transparency and a structure that is more agile and work remains to be done in that area, he said.

“An institution this old probably will not take a single pontificate to complete the reform,” Cardinal Turkson said. “In that sense you can probably talk about an unfinished agenda. The hope and expectation is that his successors will be filled by the same zeal to continue.”

Laypeople are called to live in the same way as Pope Francis, he added, imitating the charity of Christ.