Will Pope's Much-Anticipated Encyclical Be A Clarion Call On Climate Change? | KUOW News and Information

Will Pope's Much-Anticipated Encyclical Be A Clarion Call On Climate Change?

Jun 16, 2015
Originally published on June 18, 2015 11:30 am

In April this year, on Earth Day, Pope Francis urged everyone to see the world through the eyes of God, as a garden to cultivate.

"May the way people treat the Earth not be guided by greed, manipulation, and exploitation, but rather may it preserve the divine harmony between creatures and creation, also in the service of future generations," he said.

On Thursday, the Vatican will release the pontiff's hotly anticipated encyclical on the environment and poverty. The rollout of the teaching document has been timed to have maximum impact ahead of the U.N. climate change conference in December aimed at slowing global warming — and has angered climate change skeptics.

Past popes have also spoken about man's duty to protect the environment. Pope Benedict XVI was known as the "Green Pope" for installing solar panels at the Vatican.

Francis has made it clear that he believes climate change is mostly man-made.

"It's man," he said earlier this year, "who has slapped nature in the face."

Safeguard creation, Francis warned — because if we destroy it, it will destroy us.

Statements like these are generating controversy in some quarters. For example, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum — who is Catholic — believes the pope should focus on problems that Santorum says are more pressing than climate change.

"The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we're really good at, which is theology and morality," Santorum said.

As a young man, the future pope studied chemistry and worked as a chemist before entering seminary, so he may have more scientific training than most of his critics.

"It's nice — for once the Catholic Church is on the side of science," says the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter.

The encyclical won't be just about economics and politics, he says, but will focus on a moral issue that could affect many millions of lives.

"This is a call to respond, to help people, to protect people from the disasters that can come from climate change," Reese says. "The pope sees it as one of the most important challenges that we face as humanity."

As the first Latin American pope, Francis warns against what he calls the myth of trickle-down economics and the "throw-away culture" whose primary victims are the poor. As a result, some conservatives have labeled the leading voice of the global south a "closet Marxist."

But Mary Evelyn Tucker, professor of religion and ecology at Yale University, says the pope focuses on inequities in incomes and distribution of resources in societies across the world. She believes the papal document will stress not just sustainability, but development centered on human beings and on justice.

"Not development that allows the poor to sink and the rich to rise," she says, "so this is a new integration called eco-justice."

The title of the document is Laudato Sii, or "Praised Be," a refrain from the "Canticle of the Creatures" written in the 13th century by St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment — and the man from whom the pope took his name.

The pope's encyclical, says Reese of the National Catholic Reporter, will help rid environmentalists of their image as tree-huggers and Gaia worshippers and bring the movement into the mainstream.

He's also convinced it will have a far-reaching impact, encouraging Catholics to make major changes in what they consume and how they live their daily lives, and inspiring leaders of other religions to pick up the challenge.

"Religion is one of the few things that can motivate people to self-sacrifice — to give up their own self-interest for something else," Reese says. "This is going to be extremely important because people are not going to change their lifestyles to save the polar bears."

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Pope Francis is expected to release a letter called an encyclical Thursday expressing his views on the environment and poverty. The Vatican says a draft leaked yesterday is not final. But in it, the Pope stresses the role humans have played in the warming of the planet. Here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: On this year's Earth Day, Pope Frances urged everyone to see the world through the eyes of God - a garden to cultivate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) May the way people treat the earth not be guided by greed, manipulation and exploitation. But rather may it preserve the divine harmony between creatures and creation, also in the service of future generations.

POGGIOLI: Past popes also spoke about man's duty to protect the environment. Benedict the XVI was known as the green pope for installing solar panels at the Vatican. Francis has made it clear that he believes climate change is mostly man-made. It's man, he says, who has slapped nature in the face. Safeguard creation, warns Francis, because if we destroy it, it will destroy us. Such statements anger climate change skeptics. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, believes the pope should focus on what he says are more pressing problems than climate change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES CAND RICK SANTORUM: The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science. And I think that we probably are better off leaving...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right.

SANTORUM: ...Science to the scientists and focusing on what we're really good at, which is theology and morality.

POGGIOLI: As a young man, the future pope studied and worked as a chemist before entering seminary, so he may have more scientific training than most of his critics.

FATHER THOMAS REESE: It's nice for once the Catholic Church is on the side of science.

POGGIOLI: Father Thomas Reese, senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter says the encyclical won't be just about economics and politics, but will focus on a moral issue that could affect many millions of lives.

REESE: This is a call to respond, to help people, to protect people from the disaster that can come from climate change. The pope sees this as one of the most important challenges that we face as humanity.

POGGIOLI: As the first Latin-American pope, Francis warns against what he calls the myth of trickle-down economics and the throwaway culture, whose primary victims are the poor. This has prompted some conservatives to label the leading voice of the global South a closet Marxist. But Mary Evelyn Tucker, professor of religion and ecology at Yale, says the pope focuses on inequities in incomes and distribution of resources in societies across the world. She believes the papal document will stress not just sustainability, but development centered on human beings and on justice.

MARY EVELYN TUCKER: Not development that allows the poor to sink and the rich to rise. So this is a new integration called eco-justice.

POGGIOLI: The pope's encyclical, Father Reese says, will help rid environmentalists of their image as treehuggers and Gaia worshippers and bring the movement into the mainstream. He's also convinced it will have a far-reaching impact, encouraging Catholics to make major changes in what they consume and how they live their daily lives and that it will inspire leaders of other religions to pick up the challenge.

REESE: Religion is one of the few things that can motivate people to self-sacrifice, to give up their own self-interest for something else. I mean, that's what religion has been about for centuries. And this is going to be extremely important because people are not going to change their lifestyles to save the polar bears.

POGGIOLI: The title of the document is "Laudato Si" - "Praise Be" - a refrain from "The Canticle Of The Creatures," written in the 13th century by St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment and the man from whom the pope took his name. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.