In an interview with Don Fier published on December 26, 2019 in The Wanderer, Cardinal Raymond Burke raised the spectre of a “one-world government” when speaking about the idea of global “ecological conversion”—a concept that has become a central theme of the Francis pontificate, but which was also promoted by Pope John Paul II. Burke states:
. . . “ecological conversion” is being used as an argument for a one-world government. This is a masonic idea, an idea of completely secularized people who no longer recognize that the governance of the world is in the hands of God, Who entrusts it to individual governments, nations, and groupings of people according to nature itself. The idea of a one-world government is fundamentally the same phenomenon that was displayed by the builders of the Tower of Babel who presumed to exercise the power of God on earth to unite heaven with earth, which is simply incorrect.
Later in the interview, Fier asks Cardinal Burke what he thinks of an upcoming May 14 meeting at the Vatican on the theme “Reinventing the Global Educational Alliance,” commenting that “it sounds like an event to promote a one-world government.” Burke responds, “It is. All of these things are connected.”
In this interview, Cardinal Burke is echoing a November 2019 statement by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who said the following:
The Synod on the Amazon is also part of a much larger and hidden design. It is nothing but an element, albeit a disruptive one, of a vast project, developed under the aegis of the United Nations and supported by the great financial and Masonic powers.
Given that for the last few years we have been living through a populist political revolt against “globalism” and a smaller traditionalist-populist revolt within the Church, many of us will find this sort of rhetoric familiar. But we should take a step back and consider how strange, how alien, this kind of rhetoric should sound coming from someone like Cardinal Burke. The fear of an oppressive one-world government—or what since the early 1990s has been popularly termed the New World Order—is not, typically, a Catholic preoccupation.
Admittedly, some ultra-conservative Catholics have honed in on the idea in the past, seeing world government as either the goal of the Judeo-Masonic “money power” (Fr. Denis Fahey) or modern “neopaganism” (Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira). Corrêa de Oliveira, the founder of Tradition, Family, and Property, saw global solidarity and ecumenism as equivalent to the construction of the Tower of Babel, and as a betrayal of the Church’s role in the cosmic battle against Satan. He explains in a 1980 talk:
The suppression of this struggle through an ecumenical reconciliation between the Virgin and the serpent, between the race of the Virgin and the race of the serpent, leading to an era in which the utopian cessation of this clash may bring about a merger of all rights and interests, a melding of all languages under a World Government, an era of abundance and care-freeness—there you have the great utopia of which the masses must beware.
Behold the return, or rather the regression, to the proud Tower of Babel which neopaganism strives by all means to reconstruct. Behold the banner all woven of illusions and lies with which the demagogues of all eras try to draw the rebellious masses.
I don’t know if Burke was intentionally echoing either Corrêa de Oliveira or Viganò, however, especially since fears of a world government, including the Tower of Babel imagery and accusations of Masonic involvement, are part of a much larger, and largely non-Catholic, discourse.
In the United States, the idea of the New World Order is found more often within the evangelical movement (as Mark Shea notes in a recent blog post), which borrowed it from secular conspiracy theory. One of the primary channels through which this idea entered the mainstream was televangelist Pat Robertson, in his bestselling 1991 book, The New World Order.
Robertson was writing at the end of an era of cold war anti-communism. For decades, communism had functioned as an enemy against which fundamentalist and ultra-conservative Christians could position and define themselves. When European communism began to crumble, a new enemy was required in order to prop up the Manichean political and spiritual divide. George H.W. Bush, with his call for a “new world order” in his famous September 11, 1990 speech addressing the aggressive actions of Saddam Hussein, and the subsequent 34-nation coalition supporting military action against Iraq, provided such an enemy. This enemy was not Hussein, however: it was the threat of a looming United Nations police-state, as foreshadowed by this new coalition. Worries about communist influence in religion, government, and education were replaced by worries about “globalist” influence. Describing the “secular establishment” in America, Robertson writes,
In times past their cause was most clearly identified in the language of communism, socialism, humanism, and anarchy. Today the language of the new world order offers a whole new vocabulary and an even more sinister agenda for reshaping our world for its ends. It is universalist, globalist, and spiritual in nature. And since it brings with it, in its very language, the specter of Apocalypse, it may well be the most threatening vision of reality ever conceived. (164)
Robertson, as well, positions the Tower of Babel as the predecessor to the New World Order:
The significance of the Persian Gulf War transcends Kuwait; it even transcends the concept of a new world order enunciated by George Bush. The Gulf War is significant because the action of the United Nations to authorize military action against Iraq was the first time since Babel that all of the nations of the earth acted in concert with one another. I find it fascinating to consider that this union took place against the very place where the nations had been divided, the successor nation to ancient Babel. (252)
Before Robertson, New World Order conspiracy theories tended to be confined to the fringes, including the work of notorious conspiracy theorists like Nesta Webster and Eustace Mullins—both of whom Robertson cites in his bibliography. After Robertson, it became a common theme among some American protestant fundamentalists as part of their analysis of ‘end-time prophecy,’ and only occasionally drifted into Catholic circles.
But what does the Church think about “world government”? While it is clear that the UN, the IMF, and similar international institutions are not ideal in every respect from a Catholic perspective, the Church has always sought to encourage such institutions as part of the development of an international political authority that would help to overcome nationalism and foster peace and universal brotherhood.
This idea can be found in Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical, Pacem, Dei munus pulcherrimum (1920), from shortly after the end of the Great War:
Things being thus restored, the order required by justice and charity re-established and the nations reconciled, it is much to be desired, Venerable Brethren, that all States, putting aside mutual suspicion, should unite in one league, or rather a sort of family of peoples, calculated both to maintain their own independence and safeguard the order of human society. (17)
We can look also to Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in terris (1963):
Today the universal common good presents us with problems which are world-wide in their dimensions; problems, therefore, which cannot be solved except by a public authority with power, organization and means co-extensive with these problems, and with a world-wide sphere of activity. Consequently the moral order itself demands the establishment of some such general form of public authority. (137)
Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Populorum progressio (1967) uses the term “new world order” specifically. After appealing to Catholics, other Christians, and non-Christians to pursue a path of harmonious political and economic progress, Pope Paul VI extends his appeal to “all men of good will”:
Finally, We look to all men of good will, reminding them that civil progress and economic development are the only road to peace. Delegates to international organizations, public officials, gentlemen of the press, teachers and educators—all of you must realize that you have your part to play in the construction of a new world order. We ask God to enlighten and strengthen you all, so that you may persuade all men to turn their attention to these grave questions and prompt nations to work toward their solution. (83)
More recently, on January 1, 2004, Pope John Paul II delivered a message that, while overshadowed by the failure of the UN to prevent the American invasion of Iraq, nevertheless demands adherence to international law. Describing the Church’s unceasing efforts to teach the world that “peace is possible,” he remarks:
In this task of teaching peace, there is a particularly urgent need to lead individuals and peoples to respect the international order and to respect the commitments assumed by the Authorities which legitimately represent them. Peace and international law are closely linked to each another: law favours peace.
Despite his concerns about the lethargy and bureaucratic inefficiency of the UN, he also states what might be considered the Church’s longstanding position in regard to this institution:
It is therefore Our earnest wish that the United Nations Organization may be able progressively to adapt its structure and methods of operation to the magnitude and nobility of its tasks. May the day be not long delayed when every human being can find in this organization an effective safeguard of his personal rights; those rights, that is, which derive directly from his dignity as a human person, and which are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable.
Pope Benedict XVI picked up on this thread in the wake of the financial crisis that started in 2008, calling in Caritas in veritate (2009) for a reform of the UN and of international financial institutions and the creation of a “true world political authority” (67). In light of this call, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published a document outlining such a vision in greater detail, titled “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority.” That document offers a very different interpretation of the significance of the Tower of Babel image, which I will quote at length here:
In a world on its way to rapid globalization, orientation towards a world Authority becomes the only horizon compatible with the new realities of our time and the needs of humankind. However, it should not be forgotten that this development, given wounded human nature, will not come about without anguish and suffering.
Through the account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), the Bible warns us how the “diversity” of peoples can turn into a vehicle for selfishness and an instrument of division. In humanity there is a real risk that peoples will end up not understanding each other and that cultural differences will lead to irremediable oppositions. The image of the Tower of Babel also warns us that we must avoid a “unity” that is only apparent, where selfishness and divisions endure because the foundations of the society are not stable. In both cases, Babel is the image of what peoples and individuals can become when they do not recognize their intrinsic, transcendent dignity and brotherhood.
The spirit of Babel is the antithesis of the Spirit of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12), of God’s design for the whole of humanity: that is, unity in truth. Only a spirit of concord that rises above divisions and conflicts will allow humanity to be authentically one family and to conceive of a new world with the creation of a world public Authority at the service of the common good.
There is no good reason to see events like the upcoming “Reinventing the Global Educational Alliance” meeting as anything but the continuation of a longstanding Catholic mission to promote global solidarity and co-operation—to fight against the “spirit of Babel.” Such initiatives are never perfect, and usually require some compromises on all sides, but to abandon them because one imagines the forces of Freemasonry lurking behind them is symptomatic of a paranoid worldview that contradicts the mission of the Church. As John Paul II said, “peace is possible.” A just system of international law is possible. A new world order that is in harmony with the Church is possible, too.
Print Works Cited:
Robertson, Pat. The New World Order. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991.
United Nations Headquarters, Geneva, by John Samuel. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.
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D.W. Lafferty, PhD, is a Catholic husband, dad, and independent scholar from Ontario, Canada. He works in higher education and has published articles on the literature of Wyndham Lewis, the conspiracy theory of Douglas Reed, and the life and legacy of Engelbert Dollfuss. Online, he tweets as @rightscholar.