Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Bit on Pope Francis' Environmental Encyclical-- Praised Be, Popey-cock or a Hot Mess?

Pope Francis on Laudato Si Encyclical

The laity have been anxiously awaiting the release of Pope Francis’ first solo encyclical Laudato Sii,(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 Sii, 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).  When reading a rough translation from the Italian of the leaked  187 page, 245 paragraph papal document, this writer took 23 pages of typed notes. The phrase "global warming" (riscaldamento globale) only appeared twice and variations of riscaldamento only appeared 10 times in the entire encyclical.

Pundits have been quick to presume that the faithful must accede to this encyclical.  However, Laudato  Sii was not a Thomistic scholastic pronouncement like the Baltimore Catechist but akin to a Vatican II document which is meant to convince and spur dialog. Moreover, if it is not centered on faith and morals, an encyclical is at best an advisory document.

A leitmotif of this encyclical is the linkage between perceived environmental crisis and poverty. Laudato Sii 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.


Pope Francis understands the lesson from the Genesis creation story is that humanity was created in God’s image and entrusted to grow and keep the garden of the Earth. This Jesuit Pontiff channeled his inner Franciscan through the title of Laudato Sii from the Canticle of St. Francis of Assisi which poetically alludes to  Sister Earth.


At times, it was a strain to discern the relation some subjects had to an encyclical supposedly about the environment. Pope Francis understands the environment holistically, so it is not just about pollution of the natural world but also social degradation. Thus the Holy Father 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. 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. Pope Francis seemed intent on a North-South transfer of wealth as a part of environmental remediation (para. 51).  Furthermore, Pope Francis lamented that we did not use the 2008 Financial Crisis (para 189) as a time to reset the economy to a new ethical principle. Achieving progressive social justice through environmental issues.


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 Sii 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.


 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 Sii 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.  It is novel to stress a linkage between the poor and environmental degradation, but some of Pope Francis’ solutions of relying on renewable power will cause energy prices to skyrocket, directly hurting the poor.

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 Sii, 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 Sii 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 Sii 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”.

There have been other Catholic teaching documents which have broached on public policy pronouncements...


Considering that much of Laudato Sii sounds like the Holy Father is singing from the Progressives’ hymnal, this encyclical may be used to enviro-shame opponents of radical green solutions, as the left conveniently forgets about the condemnation of consumerist culture and not valuing unborn life.

It is regrettable that Laudato Sii 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.


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