There’s a lot of fuss being made in some conservative quarters about Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical about “man-made climate change.” Let’s stipulate at the outset that “climate change” is a lot of hooey that conceptually survives not the slightest bit of rational scrutiny and that the “global warming” industry is mostly a scam to enrich a few Leftists and bring down the West economically while helping Madre Gaia not one whit. So what?
Pope Francis will call for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality in a letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on Thursday. In an unprecedented encyclical on the subject of the environment, the pontiff is expected to argue that humanity’s exploitation of the planet’s resources has crossed the Earth’s natural boundaries, and that the world faces ruin without a revolution in hearts and minds. The much-anticipated message, which will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops, will be published online in five languages on Thursday and is expected to be the most radical statement yet from the outspoken pontiff. However, it is certain to anger sections of Republican opinion in America by endorsing the warnings of climate scientists and admonishing rich elites, say cardinals and scientists who have advised the Vatican.
Here’s my advice: ignore it. Yes, it plays into the nutty fears in some precincts that the pope is a crypto-Latin-American Marxist liberation theologist (he’s actually just another Italian, who happens to have been born in Argentina, a demographically European country) who hates capitalism and is suspiciously nice to Muslims. News flash: the pope is Catholic. Which is to say he is concerned with the spirit, not the flesh; with the betterment of all mankind, not just Catholics; that he takes Church teaching seriously and that — surprise! — the first Jesuit pope follows consciously in the footsteps of his namesake and fellow Italian, St. Francis of Assisi. The quintessential rich kid who gave it all away and lived a life of extreme simplicity among God’s creatures is, in fact, the patron saint of the environment:
Slowly companions came to Francis, people who wanted to follow his life of sleeping in the open, begging for garbage to eat…and loving God. With companions, Francis knew he now had to have some kind of direction to this life so he opened the Bible in three places. He read the command to the rich young man to sell all his good and give to the poor, the order to the apostles to take nothing on their journey, and the demand to take up the cross daily. “Here is our rule,” Francis said — as simple, and as seemingly impossible, as that. He was going to do what no one thought possible any more — live by the Gospel. Francis took these commands so literally that he made one brother run after the thief who stole his hood and offer him his robe!
Almost from the beginning of his papacy, there has been a lot of nonsense written about Pope Francis. On the Left, there has been much wishful thinking about how the former Cardinal Bergoglio is really a man of progressive sympathies, while on the Right, there is a deep suspicion that the first Jesuit pope is basically a “liberation theologian” who is not a particular fan of capitalism and may in fact be a sneak commie symp. Much of what the pope is said to have said turns out to be either a mistranslation or completely imaginary, the result of having reporters either ignorant of Catholicism or openly hostile to it reporting or commenting on the pope and the Church. So who is he? To quote the old joke, “Is the Pope Catholic?” You bet he is. To look at him any other way is simply wrong.
The Argentinian pontiff is expected to repeat calls for a change in attitudes to poverty and nature. “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it,” he told a meeting of social movements last year. “I think a question that we are not asking ourselves is: isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature? Safeguard creation because, if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Never forget this.”
The encyclical will go much further than strictly environmental concerns, say Vatican insiders. “Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that the environment is not only an economic or political issue, but is an anthropological and ethical matter,” said another of the pope’s advisers, Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Peru. “It will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health,” Barreto Jimeno told the Catholic News Service.
None of this should come as the least bit of a surprise if you understand what St. Francis preached and stood for. But that hasn’t stopped American conservatives from getting their knickers in a twist about it:
Francis’s radicalism is attracting resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate skeptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives, and Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate. Earlier this year Stephen Moore, a Catholic economist, called the pope a “complete disaster”, saying he was part of “a radical green movement that is at its core anti-Christian, anti-people and anti-progress”.
Moore was backed this month by scientists and engineers from the powerful evangelical Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, who have written an open letter to Francis. “Today many prominent voices call humanity a scourge on our planet, saying that man is the problem, not the solution. Such attitudes too often contaminate their assessment of man’s effects on nature,” it says.
But the encyclical will be well received in developing countries, where most Catholics live. “Francis has always put the poor at the centre of everything he has said. The developing countries will hear their voice in the encyclical,” said Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at the Catholic development agency, Cafod. “I expect it to challenge the way we think. The message that we cannot just treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation will be a message that many will not want to hear.”
The pope is “aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society,” said Carmelite Father Eduardo Agosta Scarel, a climate scientist who teaches at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires.
If you don’t like the pope’s message, pay no attention to it. After all, how many divisions does the pope have? He is articulating a moral position that may be at current odds with mainstream conservative thought — so what? Catholics are no more required to observe the teachings of an encyclical — a pastoral letter from the Bishop of Rome to other bishops — than non-Catholics; only when the pope is speaking ex cathera (from the chair of St. Peter) do his words have infallible doctrinal authority.
In other words, as a wise man once said: render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. And they marveled at him.