Encyclical’s Authority

Many in the Church have been buzzing even before its release about Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Laudato Si” (“Praised Be You”). Some have been angrily denouncing the work, stating that it is another liberal attempt to draw attention to the problem of global warming. They don’t want the pope to become another “Al Gore” or to be speaking on issues that perhaps he does not have the competency to speak.

Still others are excited and pleased, thinking that this will solidify the Church’s position on ecology and environmental issues and are so happy that Francis is the first pope to do so.

The Holy Father has the right to address the issue of the environment, because the care for the environment is a moral issue. The pope will not make the claims of a scientific authority (although he has consulted with many experts in this field and has a background in science himself). He is asking us to remember the key role of stewardship over the Earth and the goods of creation. Our Holy Father is asking us to take seriously our responsibility, one that each and every one of us has, to care for our common home.

As for why the environment rather than other important issues, let’s be realistic. As a teacher, as a preacher, the Holy Father can’t address every issue in every single encyclical. We know very well the Holy Father’s opinions on the persecution of Christians; we know the pope’s views on gender identity and human sexuality; we know Francis’ views concerning the traditional family. He’s spoken on them time and time again in homilies, Wednesday audiences, in papal speeches, and at Sunday angeluses. He can only do one thing at a time and at this time, he has chosen to address ecology.

Finally, for those who think that Francis is a radical for speaking on the environment, he is far from the first pope to do so. Blessed Paul VI spoke on the topic; St. John Paul did as well; and no pope has given more time over to the environment that our pontiff-emeritus, Benedict XVI. And, on top of that, no pope had implemented more practical, green initiatives at the Vatican than Benedict!

So, Pope Francis is not being a crazy radical; no, he is consistent with his predecessors.