A while back Pope Francis provoked the ire of the right wing when he said in an encyclical that there should be economic justice. Now he has provoked angry comments from right wing politicians by writing in favor of the environment in his encyclical LAUDATO SI’.
This encyclical is quite long and complex. Its complexity comes in part from the Pope’s varied background. Here is a Jesuit theologian who has a master’s degree in chemistry. But its complexity stems mainly from the scope of its ambition. It seeks to show how our attitudes and practices with the environment interact with all other aspects of our lives. The Pope criticizes a culture of waste and rampant economic injustice.
Contrary to the opinions of his opponents, Pope Francis is quite orthodox and even conservative. His arguments in this encyclical are couched in traditional Catholic teaching. Time and again he refers to the opinions of his papal predecessors and quotes theologians. He also quotes from scripture, particularly from Genesis, with its description of the earth’s creation.
But the Pope brings new perspectives to these teachings. He comes from Latin America, where he witnessed gross economic inequality. He also saw firsthand, on his native continent, the devastation done to rainforests and streams. He speaks with insight on such matters as climate change and biodiversity. While the latter issue has generally been little heeded, it is just as urgent as other environmental challenges. Human greed and waste have caused the loss of many species.
The Pope is right in recognizing the environment as a moral issue. We have an obligation to preserve the earth, and even to restore it to healthier and more natural conditions. Pope Francis has taken a significant step in adding this recognition to Catholic moral teaching, and his background in science gives his encyclical all the more authority.