Francis vs Santorum

A report from Foreign Policy notes the reaction to Laudato Si’ the latest encyclical from Pope Francis, “Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s landmark encyclical on ecological justice, may or may not be the most highly anticipated papal document of all time. But it’s certainly the only one to have inspired a Hollywood-style trailer. Styled as the teaser for a summer blockbuster, the video, released by the Brazilian climate action group Observatório do Clima exactly a week before encyclical, features a kickboxing ninja warrior pope who takes on coal and oil magnates with the help of Jesus, his ringside trainer. “In this epic battle of climate crisis,” intones the voice-over, “we can’t let him fight alone.” And indeed, the encyclical — a teaching letter to the world’s 1.4 billion Catholics — on the theme of the environment and the poor makes the pope arguably the highest-profile actor in a global effort to combat ecological devastation. The encyclical is embargoed until June 18, but a draft leaked by an Italian publication on Monday didn’t pull any punches. In the encyclical, Francis does not hedge his conclusion that climate change is real and man-made, and he throws in a critique of capitalism’s exploitation of nature for good measure”.

Thankfully the author provides some accurate context, “despite all the hoopla that has accompanied the encyclical’s release, the environment is not a new area of interest for the Roman Catholic Church. In the aftermath of the energy crisis, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released an influential 1981 document that called on Americans to accept “an appropriate share of responsibility for the welfare of creation.” Pope John Paul II added his voice in 1990, referring to concern over greenhouse gases as a moral issue. Benedict XVI was dubbed the “Green Pope” for his efforts to raise international awareness of environmental destruction. Both are quoted frequently throughout the text of this latest document. At the same time, neither of Francis’s immediate predecessors explicitly mentioned climate change. And as with so many aspects of his papacy, it’s the urgency and priority that Francis has given this issue that stands apart. The timing — releasing the encyclical in the lead-up to his fall address to the U.N. General Assembly and the Paris climate summit in November — is an unusually savvy move by the Vatican, which is not in the habit of scheduling encyclicals around outside events”.

Naturally the fact that the encyclical was published at all drew ire from conservative elements, “Almost as soon as the topic of the encyclical was announced more than a year ago, critics sought to undercut its importance, arguing that papal infallibility does not extend to matters of science. Stephen Moore, an American Catholic economist, warned in a January op-ed that Francis was part of a “radical green movement that is at its core anti-Christian, anti-human being and anti-progress.” Princeton Professor Robert George piled on, writing in the Catholic journal First Things that, “Pope Francis does not know whether, or to what extent, the climate changes (in various directions) of the past several decades are anthropogenic — and God is not going to tell him.”

Of course both Moore and George are wrong. The Church’s teaching in this area is sound, linking the environment, God and man all together. As ever the Church’s holistic view is either unknowningly, or worse knowningly distorted for partisan ideological ends.

The writer goes on to mention that “The way this pope talks about the relationship between human life and creation reflects the Latin world’s more urgent preoccupation with the consequences of environmental change. This encyclical, despite the fervour it has incited in its critics, will be broadly welcomed in the developing countries that represent the future of Catholicism — many of which have been hit hard in recent years by flooding and other natural disasters that have accompanied more extreme weather patterns. These countries are the least equipped to endure crop damage and shortages that can result from drought or floods, and they are dangerously exposed to the risks of rising sea levels”.

He continues “Even in the United States, Hispanic Catholics are far more likely than white Catholics to be distressed about the climate. A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 73 percent of Hispanic Catholics are somewhat or very concerned about climate change, while only 41 percent of white Catholics feel the same way. Hispanic Catholics are also far more likely to believe that humans are at fault, and they are more than twice as likely as white Catholics to predict that they will be personally harmed a great deal by climate change”.

Needless to say the piece adds, “It’s no secret that these are not the priorities at the top of many conservative Catholic lists. Like many political conservatives, particularly in the United States, conservative Catholics have resisted the idea that climate change is man-made. And heading into a GOP primary battle that features several Republican Catholics — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum among them — they would prefer not to have climate change edging out sexual ethics as the most visible “Catholic” issue. (Just this week, Bush responded to the encyclical’s imminent release by opining that religion should stay out of politics. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush said.)”

Of course what Governor Bush should be told is that all of these elements are interlinked. One cannot be disregarded over others. So abortion is just as important as care for the poor and the environment.

Interestingly he notes “Nor are the U.S. bishops completely on board with the direction in which Francis is leading the global church. At their annual meeting last week, the bishops considered a list of proposed future priorities: family and marriage, religious freedom, evangelism, and abortion and euthanasia. There was no mention in their document of the poor, no mention of the environment. The disconnect between this pope and the West that is highlighted by the new encyclical could be a preview of the church’s immediate future. No one knows how long Francis’s papacy will last — he has indicated a desire to follow Benedict’s lead and resign after several years, and he is a 78-year-old with only one lung. But in a stunningly short amount of time, Francis has set up a challenge from the global south to those who have ruled the church since its inception. He may not be a kickboxing ninja, but Francis is taking the fight directly to those who benefit from the status quo”.



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