Papal encyclical: it’s now obligatory for Catholics to be green

The full title of Pope Francis’s encyclical is Encyclical Letter Laudati Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for our Common Home. In the first of 246 paragraphs he quotes a beautiful canticle, from Saint Francis of Assisi:

    “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Then in paragraph two:

    This sister 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).

Pope Francis is addressing the whole of humanity, not just the faithful, about care for our total physical environment.

The encyclical has received much favourable comment for its strength in science, economics and ethics. See, for example, The Guardian and the BBC.

Pope Francis urges the rich to change their lifestyles to avert the destruction of the ecosystem.

    He criticises what he calls a “collective selfishness”, but says that there is still time to stop the damage, calling for an end to consumerism and greed.

Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of the pope, says:

    “Francis has made it not just safe to be Catholic and green; he’s made it obligatory.”


    “It captures his deep disquiet about the direction of the modern world, the way technology and the myth of progress are leading us to commodify human beings and exploit nature. This comes right out of his soul.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the document, saying climate change was a “moral issue requiring respectful dialogue with all parts of society”. Two Republican presidential candidates have rejected it. More are sure to follow.

    Cardinal Peter Turkson, the pope’s top official on social and justice issues, flatly rejected arguments by some conservative politicians in the US that the pope ought to stay out of science.

Francis, who was elected in 2013 and has put social justice and reform of the church at the heart of his papacy, said on Thursday that his text should not be read as a green manifesto, but instead as a social teaching.

The Pope will shortly travel to the US to speak before the UN and address a joint sitting of Congress.

At RealClimate Brigitte Knopf, as a non-Catholic and non-believer, finds the encyclical highly relevant. She says the Pope “has presented a pioneering political analysis with great explosive power, which will probably determine the public debate on climate change, poverty and inequality for years to come.”

She finds three aspects particularly noteworthy:

    1. it is based unequivocally on the scientific consensus that global warming is taking place and that climate change is man-made; it rejects the denial of anthropogenic warming;
    2. it unmasks the political and economic structures of power behind the climate change debate and stresses the importance of non-state actors in achieving change; and
    3. it defines the atmosphere and the environment as a common good rather than a “no man’s land”, available for anyone to pollute. This underlines that climate change is strongly related to the issues of justice and property rights.

The fair management of the global commons is one of the most important tasks of the 21st century, and can only be successful if a large number of actors across different levels of governance, ranging from global, to regional and local, link up together.

Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, emphasises individual responsibility as well as forming alliances to find common ground in his speech at the Vatican press conference to launch the encyclical. Inter alia he tells us that the consumption of the rich rather than the mass of the poor is destroying the planet.

    As has been pointed out in the Encyclical, it is not possible to address climate change and poverty consecutively, in either order. It is indispensable to confront them simultaneously, as human development is deeply intertwined with the services the Earth provides.

Schellnhuber goes on to point out in concrete detail what is happening to the planet and what we need to do.

Sophie Yeo at Carbon Brief rounds up reaction to the encyclical and its premature leaking.

See also her In-depth: the science behind the papal encyclical, which includes a history of the document, including initial moves made by Pope Benedict.

At The Conversation:

17 thoughts on “Papal encyclical: it’s now obligatory for Catholics to be green”

  1. Brian, I thought you may know this story, if not, you would like it in relation to the Encyclical’s sub-heading ” on care for our common home”. I recognize that Pope Francis is of the the Jesuit “iwi”.

    The quote is from an old Medieval History text (R H C Davis):

    “The story, as it was known to his closest companions, was simply that one day he went to the ruined church of St Damian, outside the walls of the town, and prayed before the image of Christ crucified. The image spoke to him and said, “Francis, do you not see that my house is being destroyed. Go and repair it for me.” Francis obeyed. “

    It is a story that Pope Francis would know about. It was new to me.

    In addition, I would suggest that Francis’ emphasis on the differential impact of Climate Change for the poor of the underdeveloped world will be important in the COP in Paris, perhaps equally important to the agreement between China and the US to reduce carbon emissions.

    The Australian Government will be somewhere in the Nile, with the coal pharaohs, being irrelevant and irresponsible.

  2. This will out a few of the backsliders, hypocrites and liars in the Australian parliament. Not they would care.

  3. wmmbb, thanks, I didn’t know and I like!

    Jumpy, probably, in terms of capital worth, so?

  4. zoot,
    re Pell, Who was a paid up member of the IPA, which probably means he has a few questions to answer re his support of extreme capitalism.
    Only a problem if Abbott goes to confession. What does he do if Abbott admits lying about the reality of CC for political purposes.

  5. jumpy,
    And isn’t the Coalition actively supported by some of the richest men and women in Australia?

  6. All those people who cheered when Catholics ignored past popes seem to be the ones demanding that Catholic politicians obey the latest edicts.

  7. And isn’t the Coalition actively supported by some of the richest men and women in Australia?

    Yes Paul, absolutely.
    As are the ALP ( psst.. the last PM was married to one )
    And the greens political party received the largest political donation in Australian political history, the biggest ever!

  8. Brian

    Jumpy, probably, in terms of capital worth, so?

    I haven’t seen any solar panels, in Mackay district, on any Catholic building, ( churches, schools, retirement homes, Vinnies….).
    Do they refuse donations and assistance from fossil fuel using individuals, companies, States ?

    Even without the heaven/hell blackmail they still have massive corporate grunt to help the environment.

    Or they could sell their mind boggling property portfolio and buy some environment.

  9. Jumpy, with a bit of luck the bishops and other church administrators will read, take notice, and act.

  10. Brian
    It’s all just tokenism, guilt trips and promises of paradise, nothing more.
    Pass the plate around !

    And has always been thus ( except for the mass killing bits from time to time )

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