What people are saying about the Pope Fancis environmental encyclical

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Pope Francis environmental encyclical

NOTE from ReadTheSpirit: Here are brief excerpts of some of the most important news commentaries we’ve found in recent days …


In a widely posted RNS analysis, Jay Michaelson writes:

The most significant feature of Pope Francis’ encyclical on environmentalism, “Laudato Si,’” is not about climate change. It is that the document represents a sea change in Catholic—indeed, Western religious—thinking on the relationship between human beings and the earth. Naturally, mainstream media has focused on the political ramifications of the encyclical.

But Francis’ analysis of environmental problems takes up only 28 out of the encyclical’s 184 pages. The overwhelming majority of “Laudato Si’” is, perhaps unsurprisingly, about theology. And while this material has been glossed over by the mainstream press, it is nothing less than a seismic shift in mainstream Christian thought about the human-nature relationship.


WSJ’s influential Overheard column says:

Who cares what an old man says about climate change? That was one reaction to the pope’s green-tinged encyclical released on Thursday. To which the obvious reply might be the world’s more than one billion Catholics. Even so, it seems unlikely his call will prompt sudden mass adoption of solar panels and electric vehicles among even the devout.

That may miss the point. Keven Book at ClearView Energy Partners, a consultancy, doesn’t foresee the call spurring radical change. Yet, he does raise the idea that rather than Pope Francis being at the vanguard of the environmental movement, his call may be a lagging indicator of climate change moving ever more into the mainstream of public debate. On that reading, it is less what the pope wrote—rather that he wrote at all. This is especially so when social media enables the almost instantaneous spread and debate of issues.


The Times’ Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein write:

Catholic theologians say the overarching theme of the encyclical is “integral ecology,” which links care for the environment with a notion already well developed in Catholic teaching: that economic development, to be morally good and just, must take into account people’s need for things like freedom, education and meaningful work.

“The basic idea is, in order to love God, you have to love your fellow human beings, and you have to love and care for the rest of creation,” said Vincent Miller, who holds a chair in Catholic theology and culture at the University of Dayton, a Catholic college in Ohio. “It gives Francis a very traditional basis to argue for the inclusion of environmental concern at the center of Christian faith.” He added: “Critics will say the church can’t teach policy, the church can’t teach politics. And Francis is saying, ‘No, these things are at the core of the church’s teaching.’ ”


Leading Catholic journalist and scholar Thomas Reese, SJ, writes:

It is true that previous popes spoke or wrote about the environment and global warming, but their message rarely got through to the public for two reasons. First, the media were much more interested in writing stories about popes and condoms than stories about popes and the environment. Second, in the last two papacies, papal statements tended to read like academic dissertations. The church has never been very good at communicating Catholic social teaching, whether it has been on justice, peace or the environment.

Francis, on the other hand, writes more like a journalist than an academic. Anyone who can read a newspaper can read this encyclical and get something out of it. In other words, the encyclical is getting so much media attention because it is on the right topic, at the right time, by the right person.


CNS’s Daniel O’Shea writes:

In a new Pew Research Center survey conducted prior to the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical focusing on the environment, U.S. Catholics were asked their views both on global warming and the pope himself. Out of the overall U.S. population, 68 percent said they believe the earth is warming, with 71 percent of U.S. Catholics sharing that belief, according to results released June 16, two days before the release of the pope’s encyclical on the environment, titled “Laudato Si’: On the Care of Our Common Home.” Global warming is an issue that is highly politicized in the United States, and the Pew survey showed that Catholics in the country are not exempt from that polarization, with respondents sharply divided along party lines on the issue.


In a news report on the failed efforts by critics to derail this encyclical, Anthony Faiola and Chris Mooney write:

It marked the latest blow for those seeking to stop the reform-minded train that has become Francis’s papacy. It is one that has reinvigorated liberal Catholics even as it has sowed the seeds of resentment and dissent inside and outside the Vatican’s ancient walls.

Yet the battle lost over climate change also suggests how hard it may be for critics to blunt the power of a man who has become something of a juggernaut in an institution where change tends to unfold over decades, even centuries. More than anything, to those who doubt the human impact of global warming, the position staked out by Francis in his papal document, known as an encyclical, means a major defeat.

“This was their Waterloo,” said Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, who has been tracking ­climate-change deniers for years. “They wanted the encyclical not to happen. And it happened.”

From an analysis by environmental scholar Mark Stoll:

What most Americans seem to have forgotten is that the link between religion and environment is not recent. The relationship between religion and environment goes back centuries, but the original moral and religious inspiration for conservation and environmentalism was forgotten during environmentalism’s heyday in the ’70s. The environment is a natural concern for a pope who took the name of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment. The encyclical’s title, Latin for “Praised be,” is taken from Saint Francis’s most popular prayer. Pope Francis has said that the saint “teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.”

EJ Dionne writes:

Pope Francis poses a challenge to those of us in the wealthy nations, and he speaks specifically about how “opinion makers, communications media and centers of power are far removed from the poor.” Ouch! He demands payment of an “ecological debt” between “north and south.” Again and again, he returns to the twin ideas that the world’s poor face the largest threat from climate change and that the world’s rich have a special obligation to deal with it. The pope who immersed himself in the most marginalized neighborhoods of Buenos Aires has not forgotten where he came from.

But if Francis is making himself the Green Pope, it’s not just because he has a social agenda. Like his namesake saint, he believes in the transformative power of simplicity and compassion. “We must,” he writes, “regain the conviction that we need one other, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” This is precisely where the personal and the political must meet.

TIME magazine

Aisha Boori writes:

When the former Jorge Bergoglio was selected as pope in 2013, he chose his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment. In his inaugural homily, Pope Francis cited his namesake as a model on how to treat the Earth. “It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live,” he said. The climate change encyclical, “Laudato Si” (or “Praise Be to You”), is a line taken from Saint Francis’ “Canticle of Creatures.”


Stephanie Kirchgaessner and John Hooper report on the encyclical for the influential, activist magazine:

The Argentinean pope will align himself with the environmental movement and its objectives. While accepting that there may be some natural causes of global warming, the pope will also state that climate change is mostly a man-made problem. … The document is not Francis’s first foray into the climate debate. The pontiff, who was elected in 2013, has previously noted his disappointment with the failure to reach a global accord on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, chiding climate negotiators for having a “lack of courage” during the last major talks held in Lima, Peru. Francis is likely to want to influence Republicans in Washington with his remarks. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill deny climate change is a man-made phenomenon and have staunchly opposed regulatory efforts by the Obama administration. The encyclical will make for awkward reading among some Catholic Republicans, including John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House. While many Republicans have praised the pope, it will not be unprecedented for them to make a public break with the pontiff on the issue of global warming.

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