The laity have been anxiously awaiting the release of Pope Francis’ first solo encyclical Laudato Si,(2015) which was presumably about Climate Change. Community Organizers polled attendees at a DC Green Festival if they were optimistic about the upcoming bull. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) was chary about Pope Francis commenting on Climate Change. Former Senator and 2016 GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) questioned if the Holy See should use the Church’s moral authority on Climate Change as there are more pressing issues facing the world.
After La Repubblica leaked an advance copy of the Vatican document, the mainstream media was quick to report that the New World’s Holy Father unquestionably embraced man-made Climate Change and frowned upon fossil fuels. Some skeptics have quipped that Pope Francis’ pronouncement as Al Gore wearing white robe and miter. It also seemed to copy from Hillary Clinton’s speeches that humanity need to change to allow new beliefs, attitudes and lifestyles (para. 202). Yet such secular caricatures ignores the several anti abortion allusions in the encyclical
Climate Change this was only a small part of Laudato Si, encompassing only several paragraphs of the encyclical, including the unreferenced preamble. The main natural ecological section was paragraphs 165-175 which urged abandoning fossil fuels, imposing renewable energy and the urgent need to establish a true world political authority to stop pollution, manage Sustainable Development and eradicate poverty (para 175).
A leitmotif of this encyclical is the linkage between perceived environmental crisis and poverty. Laudato Si highlights the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of planet. Pope Francis postulates that there should be sustainable development in an ecological manner in tandem with a preferential option for the poor.
This Jesuit Pontiff channeled his inner Franciscan through the title of Laudato Si from the Canticle of St. Francis of Assisi which poetically alludes to Sister Earth.
Had the encyclical applied this theological take on Creation and correlated it with environmental problems like global warming and pollution it would have been understandable. However, Pope Francis included brief critiques of technology, labor, bioethics, economics, finance, ecology, GMOs, anthropology, art, architecture, transportation, infrastructure, culture, trade, polity, animal testing, human trafficking, selling endangered species pelts and man’s raison d’etre as part of an integral examination of the environment.
Laudato Si tried to treat both natural and human social degradation. *** At times, it was a strain to discern the relation some subjects had to an encyclical supposedly about the environment. Such an collection of short treatments on diffuse issues did not read like a compendium but more like a hot mess of Popey-cock. It seemed like more an encyclical on Social Justice than it did a treatment on the environment. Ironically, that may be the point–namely achieving progressive social justice through environmental concerns.
While the curia certainly helped draw up this draft, the language seemed slanted to reflect Pope Francis’ animus against Capitalism with a prejudice against profit and privatization. When listing misusing technology causing environmental degradation, leading the list was America’s use of atomic bombs, followed by communism’s exploits and then fascism (para. 104). Much to the chagrin on many Western Progressives, Pope Francis repeated condemns the culture of consumerism and technology which depletes precious resources. So Climate Change enthusiasts should be willing to sacrifice their i-Phones (para. 47), their own cars (para. 153) as well as their A/C (para. 55).
Although there are several references to differences in opinion and approach to the environment, Pope Francis’ peroration refers to Christians committed to prayer who make a mockery of environmental concerns with the pretense of being realistic or pragmatic (para. 217), This embodies progressive intolerance of dissent. One wonders if mollifying mockery about man made climate change goes both ways, as Vice President Joe Biden just jibed that: “As hard as it is to believe, many of these same people continue to deny the reality of climate change. They also deny gravity.”
This prima facia critique of Laudoto Si will not dwell in details about competing data disputing anthropogenic global warming, but the so called consensus is in dispute and scandal from the East Anglia hockey stick model show how data was manipulated for the profit of further investment in climate change studies.
This leads to how the faithful ought to eventually consider Laudato Si.
Pope Francis made clear, however, that “The Church does not claim to define the issues scientific, nor to replace politics, but invitation an honest and transparent debate”. (para. 188). So Catholics need not bow down to the beliefs in Laudato Si but prayerfully consider the message and participate in the debate. The manifold political prescriptions which the pontiff proffered were interesting and from the heart but not within his proper sphere of influence.
While Pope Francis’ asceticism is admirable, his proscription of “Less is more” (para. 222) is questionable for the masses, especially as a response to an asserted ecological crisis. It also leads to the prickly particular of who decides how much is enough. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis encouraged people to do little things, like use covers instead of turning up the heat, not because it will solve problems but for a conversion of heart (para. 212). There may be a special place in heaven for such symbolic sacrifice, but it runs counter to policy condemnation of fossil fuels and excoriating buying green credits.
This philippic against pollution, environmental and social, is certainly well intended. The unfocused nature of the encyclical makes it challenging to catachetize among the faithful, much less the world at large. It would seem that Laudato Si fuses Sustainable Development with Social Justice. By progressively engaging in political subjects outside of the Holy See’s spiritual authority, Pope Francis may have alienated good will among non-progressive faithful. Furthermore, the policy prescriptions in Laudato Si seem founded on third way intellectualism, which has few real world successes and is rife for polemic exploitation. What was proposed as an invitation for honest and transparent dialog on the environment is also presented as a rush to consensus due to exigency, which stifles the discernment of unpopular opinions to “Do something now”.
It is regrettable that Laudato Si was not more tersely cogent to challenge the faithful on natural problems. It was awkward to have a religious document from a spiritual leader proscribe public policy solutions (get rid of fossil fuels and opt for renewable energy) with a pastiche of spiritual anchors.