On June 18, 2015, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church released an encyclical, one of the most formal documents that can be published regarding Catholic doctrine. This particular release, however, was one for the history books as it is highly controversial within the church. Pope Francis released a statement discussing climate change and environmental stewardship.
Pope Francis, who took his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi to stand as symbol for peace and the poor, spent over a year preparing the document with the help of his closest advisors. Entitled Laudato Si, which translates to “Praised Be To You,” and subtitled “On Care For Our Common Home,” the encyclical encountered incredible resistance even prior to its date of publication.
Since taking office the Pope has endured criticism for his stance on climate change, both due to its scientific nature and for supporting the concept itself, a far cry from the typically conservative viewpoints the Catholic Church has long aligned itself with. This criticism continues to flow despite the fact that the Pope employs a dozen full-time astrophysicists in the Vatican’s 400-year-old observatory. The Vatican also serves as a home to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which proudly boasts 70 Nobel Prize laureates.
Still, after the encyclical’s official release, commentary on the Pope’s perceived lack of qualifications to pass judgment on the topic has escalated further, even reaching the point where he has been labeled a “Marxist” and “Communist” by ultra-conservatives.
Instead of being deterred by the remarks, the Pope has only strengthened his position by taking aim at the entities he feels bear the highest responsibility for the planet’s current predicament. This includes mainly big business, high-level politicians, and the rich and powerful, but not excluding indifferent citizens, who also deserve a part of the blame in his eyes.
He also did not hesitate in naming human population as a culprit saying, “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the major part of global warming in recent decades is due to the high concentration of greenhouse gas … emitted above all because of human activity.” In addition, the Pope demanded a change in “lifestyle, production and consumption” to the present day unsustainable lifestyles that have become so prevalent in the developed world.
Extensive disagreement has been expressed within many conservatives, including a feeling that the head of the Catholic Church should not be dealing in matters of science. However, what they are failing to see is that science is a tool to determine the current state of affairs.
Emma Green of The Atlantic writes, “Francis is embracing the idea of environmental stewardship, he’s doing so as a Catholic theologian, not a liberal activist.”
Despite the opposition that the encyclical’s release has attracted, the Pope has also found a great deal of support. A rally in Rome brought out around 5000 people to show support, including the leaders of numerous other faiths who traveled from foreign locations in representation of the concept of “Many faiths, one planet.”
In addition, the encyclical was intentionally released as a forerunner to a number of important climate summits occurring throughout the remainder of 2015, including a major climate change conference that will take place this December in Paris.
“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” Francis said. “In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.”
For those interested in learning more about the contents of the encyclical, CNN published an article shortly after the release that reveal the details of the document in greater depth. The full Italian text can also be found here.
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