e defining moment for Francis
Pope Francis doesn’t want anyone who reads his new encyclical to be left unchanged. He has chosen to pour the immense moral authority he has accrued since his election in 2013 into this passionate, provocative and, at times, even angry appeal to “every person living on this planet”. Laudato Si’ is written in the prophetic mode: firmly denouncing mankind’s deviation from God’s plan and calling for a change of heart. This way of speaking, rooted in the Bible, is increasingly unfamiliar in the Anglosphere. That may partly explain why commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have described the encyclical as excessively bleak.
Laudato Si’ is not just a slightly apocalyptic vision of humanity locked in a “spiral of self-destruction”. It is also a detailed reflection on our response to environmental destruction that offers forthright opinions on everything from urban planning to air-conditioning. The encyclical is so vast that it not only presents its vision – an interior and exterior conversion to what it calls “integral ecology” – but also accurately anticipates and answers criticisms. Francis predicts that he will be accused of “irrationally attempting to stand in the way of human progress and development”. But he insists that the “bold cultural revolution” he is proposing will, in the long run, offer a broader and more humane route to progress.
If we do not recognise the Pope’s description of the world as “an immense pile of filth” where we ourselves live, we should remember that Francis is writing largely from the perspective of
The Pope wants readers ‘to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’
the poverty-stricken: the child picking rubbish for a living in Manila or running around the crowded slums of Kibera. He wants readers “to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. While Francis accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is mainly man-made, he makes it clear that he doesn’t side with those who appear to regard human enterprise as an evil. “Business is a noble vocation,” he says,
“directed to producing wealth and improving our world.”
Francis knows his encyclical will have political reverberations. Indeed, that is one of the reasons he wrote it. While he speaks with a certain disdain of the global political class, he hopes to cajole world leaders into forging a new environmental agreement at the UN climate change summit in Paris at the end of the year.
Yet Laudato Si’ should not be judged a success or failure simply on the basis of what happens in Paris. Francis himself says the encyclical has another, much wider goal. “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics,” he writes. “But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.” It is in this spirit that we publish five strongly contrasting responses to Laudato Si’ in this issue. While nothing can replace actually reading the encyclical, we hope the articles will help readers work out where they stand on a document that will forever define the pontificate of Francis and perhaps also leave a profound mark on our troubled century.
A compliment to Catholic women
Amid the unprecedented reaction to Laudato Si’ – perhaps the most widely discussed encyclical since Humanae Vitae – another piece of news generated by Pope Francis has received little publicity. This week the Holy Father rejected the proposal, heavily promoted by reform-minded Catholics, that women should be appointed to head the dicasteries at the Vatican – the powerful equivalent of government departments.
The Pope was speaking informally on Sunday to priests and religious of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Turin. He told them that he was often asked if he agreed that women should have stronger leadership roles in the Church. He said that his response to this was: “Oh, certainly. But do you think nominating the head of a dicastery will be a strong decision? Everyone believes that this would be a strong decision – but it is functionalism.”
The reaction to Pope Francis’s statement from certain quarters was interesting. An influential liberal Catholic magazine that reacted ecstatically to Laudato Si’ dismissed his remarks as “rambling”. That was its way of signalling that the Pope had not said what they wanted to hear.
In fact, there is nothing rambling about his thoughts on this matter. The
Pope believes that the service of men and women in the Church is of equal value to God. He has also suggested that Catholic women share in the work of the Blessed Virgin in spreading the Gospel of her Son – than which no higher compliment can be paid.
Francis is not opposed in principle to giving women non-ordained positions of authority – but he thinks that simply appointing a female prefect of a congregation or department would be an exercise in secular gesture politics. Unsurprisingly, he has upset those who favour such exercises. This is not something that should worry Catholics – men or women.
CATHOLIC HERALD, JUNE 26 2015 3