In his much-anticipated encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes that he seeks “to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” – the planet, and how to preserve it. But it isn’t what the left was expecting.
Environmentalists, members of Congress and left-leaning pundits have been eagerly anticipating the release of the encyclical, hoping that having the Pope on their side would silence climate “deniers” once and for all.
But the encyclical can only be described as pro-life.
Francis’ concern, first and foremost, is humanity; including those among us who do not have access to clean water, food or clothing. He also expressed concern for the unborn.
Pope Francis delivers his blessing at the end of a special audience he held for members of Catholic medical associations, in the Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Francis called climate change “a global problem with grave implications” that the faithful should prayerfully consider how to “mitigate.”
The Earth, he wrote, “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:”
“We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”
Here is the actual encyclical. If you read it in full, you’ll find that he proposed several truly radical ideas; including recycling paper rather than throwing it away (gasp!).
Rather than the far-left rallying cry some were expecting, the words “redistribute,” “tax” and “fine” do not appear in the encyclical. He discusses the “distribution” of wealth and natural resources, but does so as a spiritual leader expressing concern for the vulnerable rather than as a government bureaucrat seeking to remedy inequality through government action.
He critiqued consumerism rather than capitalism.
He praised technology as a blessing which can help preserve resources and save lives, but cautioned that it has the potential to harm our planet, and ourselves.
“We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change: steam engines, railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles, aeroplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine, information technology and, more recently, the digital revolution, robotics, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us,” Francis wrote.
Francis criticized “Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes” who have used technology “to kill millions of people.”
True to form, Francis condemned what he calls the “throwaway culture,” or the tendency for society to disregard God’s creation in favor of convenience or material gain.
“These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish,” Francis wrote.
The Pope’s criticism of “throwaway culture” doesn’t just pertain to the environment. He used his encyclical to advocate for the unborn.
“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion,” Francis wrote. “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?”
That’s not all. Francis also rejects the notion that reducing the human population is the only way to save the planet:
“Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”…. [Yet] to blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”
Protecting God’s creation – including the unborn, the poor and the earth itself – all constitute basic Catholic teaching and a pro-life philosophy. As Christians, we are called to be good stewards of the world God entrusted to us, and love the people in it.
But those on the left aren’t the only ones guilty of misinterpreting Francis’ encyclical. Some on the right have accused him of wading into a political arena he has no business entering because he wants to discuss climate change. Some have thrown around words like “Marxist” because he dares to remind us that there are those less fortunate, and that wastefulness does nothing to help them.
I hope that all of Francis’ readers, especially my fellow Catholics, will prayerfully consider Francis’ message in Laudato Si’, and the things we can all do to protect the unborn, the poor and the world around us.
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