Jun 23, 2015
Even before the June 18, 2015 publication of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment (Laudato Si'), the media delighted in reporting voices both approving and disapproving of his speaking on the subject. No doubt the debate will continue. But, this is a good thing. In his 184-page letter, the Holy Father addressed his words to "every person on this planet," hoping to stir up discussion on an issue that touches every living creature and the world itself.
Any person with common sense realizes that we face threats to the environment from industrial and chemical pollution, water shortage, fossil fuels, fertilizers, pesticides and the destruction of the rainforests. Our misuse of technology harms the environment and others, as well. And, our consumer-centered manner of living, coupled with our throw-away culture, depletes our natural resources and deprives others of their rightful share in God's gifts, especially the poor.
In choosing to speak out forcibly on the hot button issue of the environment, the Pope stands well within the Church's tradition. Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, named "the green pope," did not shy away from this subject. In his first encyclical, Pope John Paul II warned that human beings frequently seem "to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption" (Redemptor hominis, n. 15). Pope Benedict XVI, likewise, spoke on the environment. He taught that "the book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development" (Caritas in Veritate, n. 51). We are called to be good stewards of creation. This is Catholic teaching.
Reading through the particulars of Pope Francis' encyclical, individuals will invariably find challenges to their way of thinking about climate change, the free market, the privatization of water, carbon tax-credits, the role of government and the international community to regulate the use of the world's resources, the value of technology and the effects of the digital media. For some, there may even be a vigorous opposition to the Pope's use of scientific research and conclusions. None of this detracts from the essential and necessary place that this new encyclical will have within the world community.