I was about to say that people are eagerly anticipating Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, but maybe they are no longer needing to anticipate: According to this news report the encyclical has been leaked to an Italian newspaper.
It is interesting to think about who would leak it and why. The Vatican condemned the leak and noted that the leaked version is not the final version. Maybe there are things in the leaked draft that are not going to be in the final version, but that the leaker wants to put “out there,” so to speak, as having the apparent (although not the genuine, official) support of the pope. But this is the kind of thing about which somebody on the outside (like most of us) can only speculate.
It is also interesting to see how the news coverage leading up to the encyclical betrays–as usual–considerable misunderstanding of Catholicism by the news media. There is an article on the Breitbart website that says that the “political left is hoping for a document that ties belief in global warming to a religious obligation.” To be fair to the political left, the Breitbart article does not name any leftist who has openly expressed this hope. But even if this is a total misapprehension on Breitbart’s part, it is interesting that the Breitbart writer could make a claim like this.
Such a claim seems to show a very limited understanding of Catholicism and the nature of the pope’s teaching authority. The standard formulation holds that the Church has a teaching authority in relation to faith and morals. But global warming does not pertain to faith or morals. I don’t mean to say that there are no moral obligations in relation to global warming. If it is happening, and if it is caused by human beings, and if something can be done to stop it, then there might be a moral obligation to takes steps to stop it. But only “might,” because such an obligation would depend on the consequences of those steps.
Whether global warming is happening or not is an empirical, scientific question, which is not the sort of question over which the pope has the authority to settle. You would think that the left would appreciate this, since they have complained in other contexts of the Church trying to insert itself into science.
I am not, by the way, saying that the pope has no business speaking about global warming (as some Republican politicians have said recently). If the pope really thinks global warming is happening and is being caused by human beings, and if he really thinks it can be stopped, then he might have an obligation to issue a warning and a call to action. But this call would not be an act of teaching authority, it seems to me, but a kind of grave pastoral and political advice. Every Catholic would be bound to listen respectfully to this, but would not, I think, be bound to agree with it.
It is hard to see how belief in global warming could be linked to a “religious obligation” in the way the Breitbart article suggests.