At 4 AM Eastern Time, or noon in Rome, Pope Francis officially released his newest encyclical titled Laudato Si — Praise Be: On the Care for our Common Home.
First — here is a link to the document itself: http://w2.vatican.va/content/
In case the Vatican website is down (as it was earlier), here is another link to the document:http://www.osservatoreromano.
We continue to digest the document as we write, and thus cannot possibly comment on all that it contains. It’s long — 184 pages. As the media is already reporting, it covers a broad set of issues including many controversial conclusions and proposals on climate change, global warming, fossil fuels and the need for new international political bodies to act.
But it also contains a much larger diagnosis of our world, our relationship with each other, and most importantly our relationship with our Creator and His creation.
In sum, the planet we live on is a gift of our Creator God who desires that we live in communion with him and in solidarity with each other. All that we have is from God and will be returned to him at the end of our life or the end of the world. Because of sin, all of us are tempted and at times behave selfishly and abuse the gifts of the Creator. This includes the resources of our natural world, but also our brothers and sisters, including the poor and vulnerable.
The Holy Father argues that our world today is beset by reckless consumption, materialism, profits, greed, selfishness, efficiency and a cult of technological progress. Because of this, the ecological balance (both human and environmental) is out of whack. And this imbalance poses significant risks to people and our planet.
So what is Pope Francis proposing must be done?
This is where things get interesting.
First, the answer is not merely politics. Politics is important. But something bigger than politics is needed.
He writes: “There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm (111).”
Laws and governments are important, but they alone cannot bring about the changes the Holy Father urges. The Pope does endorse a greater role for international political bodies and globalized regulation. On this there will be contentious debate on how this ought to be accomplished. Nevertheless, something more fundamental is required.
“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that lighthearted superficiality has done us no good (229).”
But what about the fossil fuels and climate change stuff?
There is no way to avoid the fact that some of the content in the encyclical will make many people uncomfortable. For example, the Pope has generally concluded that human activity is the cause of so-called global warming and irregular climate change. He calls for a phasing out of fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources. He faults the excesses of capitalism and industrial nations (presumably including our own) for the exploitation of resources across the globe.
On these subjects we find ourselves cautiously reflective. We do not believe the Holy Father to be teaching falsehoods. But we do believe that some of the science he cites is being manipulated by partisans, financial interests, and power-seeking groups and agencies intent on changing much more than the environment.
As for the science, the Pope writes:
“Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good (188).”
Honest and open debate is exactly what the “climate change” debate needs the most.
We are also understandably more defensive of what free markets have contributed to the world in the way of nutrition, medicines, goods, services, poverty reduction…even ‘green’ technologies and products themselves. In fairness, the Holy Father is not dismissive of the goods that capitalism has produced. But we worry that some of what he writes will be misinterpreted and abused. The choice is not between unlimited capitalism or socialism as some would presume.
Is the Holy Father saying that abortion and carbon emissions are the same?
Many pro-lifers in our country have been baffled by environmentalists who profess to care so much about rivers, lakes and endangered species yet turn a blind eye to the exploitation of humans, especially the unborn.
Pope Francis calls out this contradiction. “It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. (91)”
He even takes it a step further saying:
“Since everything is related, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away (120).”
Our Holy Father is right. When we look at other human beings as disposable, how can we expect ourselves to treat the rest of creation properly? But that doesn’t mean that throwing trash out of your car window is equivalent to killing an innocent child. It’s not even close.
Instead, the Pope makes clear that human beings are the answer, not the problem. He dismisses the common environmental prejudice that the earth is threatened by too many humans.
“To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues (50).”
In the end, the Pope is calling on every person across the globe to consider a change in attitude toward all of creation. This must happen in the heart, in the family, and in our communities.
While most will inevitably focus on the role of government, including international action urged by Pope Francis, the fact remains that governments don’t change hearts. And governments, particularly international governmental entities far removed from individual people are just as susceptible, if not more susceptible, to the lure of power, greed, sin and corruption that Pope Francis decries. Thus the solutions the pope proposes must be carefully considered lest they fall prey to the very evils he seeks to combat.
The care and protection of the entirety of God’s creation is a responsibility for all of us.
We pray today for the wisdom to discern the will of God on this topic and in everything we accomplish together.
There is much more that can and should be said about this document. It’s barely a few hours old. You can keep up the ongoing discussion of this encyclical and more via Facebook, email, on our blog, or as a subscriber to The Loop, our daily email newsletter.