June 26, 2015


Pope Francis’ new encyclical

It shouldn’t be, but it seems inevitable that Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Laudato Si’, “On Care for Our Common Home” will often be either praised or criticized depending upon one’s political leanings, instead of being taken for what it is—a teaching document.

Therefore, we begin this editorial with advice from Princeton University law professor Robert P. George, a Catholic, who has been called America’s “most influential conservative Christian thinker.”

Before the encyclical was released, George called on Catholics to “please receive the papal encyclical in a spirit of willingness to listen and to be taught by the Holy Father. Do not approach it by simply looking for what one agrees with or disagrees with on matters of climate science or anything else.”

He also noted, “Our first priority should be to open ourselves to learning what is to be learned from the Holy Father’s reflections on the physical and moral ecology in the context of the Church’s witness to, and proclamation of, the Gospel. We are about to hear the voice of Peter. Our first and most important task is to listen attentively and with open-hearted willingness to be taught.”

It’s unfortunate that climate change has become such a political issue. Although most scientists assert that it is happening, there are still some deniers. And while most people will accept the fact that the climate is changing, many assert that there is nothing that humans can do about it. Pope Francis disagrees.

He says in his second paragraph that St. Francis of Assisi’s Sister Earth “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (#2).

But even if it could be shown that humans aren’t responsible for climate change, surely we can all agree that we have a responsibility to care for our environment.

We wish that everyone would read this important encyclical, a link to which is available online at www.CriterionOnline,com. Even if you do not read it in its entirety, look over our articles about the encyclical in this week’s issue of The Criterion to understand what the pope is teaching.

And it’s not only this pope. He quotes popes St. John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI to show that the care of our environment has long been a priority of the Catholic Church’s magisterium.

Pope Francis draws on the results of the best scientific research to describe the present ecological crisis. Then he considers principles from our Judaeo-Christian tradition concerning our commitment to the environment. He tries to get to the roots of the present situation, its deepest causes. He proposes dialogue and action that involve each one of us as individuals, and he offers inspired guidelines for human development.

He uses strong language at times, such as when he says, “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (#21).

He obviously knows that the encyclical will be viewed by many people through political eyes, so at one point he tells liberals that a person can’t claim to respect nature while supporting abortion, and he tells conservatives that a person can’t claim to be pro-life without a commitment to reversing damage to the environment.

With all that Pope Francis has said about improving the lives of the poor, it’s no surprise that he does so again in this encyclical. He writes about global inequality, and the fact that environmental degradation affects the most vulnerable people on the planet. “The rich and the poor have equal dignity,” he writes (#94).

“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” he asks in the encyclical (#160).

In the next paragraph he says, “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world” (#161)

We hope and pray that the world will read and come to understand this important encyclical from the perspective of the Gospel—and not politics—from which it was written.

—John F. Fink

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