— The Erimtan Angle —

‘Christopher J. Hale, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. joins Thom. Pope Francis has released a groundbreaking new document urging the world to take action against climate change. Could this mark a turning point in the fight to save the planet? (19 June 2015)’.

The Pope (aka Jorge Mario Bergoglio) has managed to grab quite some headlines since he got elected to his office on 13 March 2013 . . . In some ways, Pope Francis has really taken the Holy See into hitherto uncharted waters, one could argue. As for example reported last May by the New York Daily News: “Pope Francis has nicely set the record straight on his thoughts about Israel and the Palestinians. There was doubt because, while meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Pope was said to have called Abbas an ‘angel of peace’. Subsequent translations suggested that Francis had actually told Abbas, ‘May you be an angel of peace’. Then the Vatican indicated that the Pope had termed Abbas ‘a bit of an angel of peace’. Now, a Portuguese-Israeli journalist has reported that, in a written statement, Francis remembered telling Abbas that one day he might become a peace angel. Still more powerfully, the Pope is reported to have written that ‘anyone who does not recognize the Jewish people and the State of Israel — and their right to exist — is guilty of anti-Semitism'”.[1]  On step forward, five steps back . . . On other issues, he seems more forthright though, such as this month when Matthew Tharrett wrote that “Pope Francis ruined the celebratory vibe of Rome’s annual gay pride march over the weekend by spewing anti-gay rhetoric from inside The Vatican’s walls while LGBT revelers poured into the city around him. LGBT parents are incapable of raising children properly, he told an audience of around 25,000 Catholics at Sunday service on June 14, just one day after Rome’s pride march initiated a weekend of LGBT festivities”.[2]  Oh well, mustn’t grumble . . . turns out the Pope is not gay-friendly after all.

On climate change, on the other hand, the Pope has really broken new ground, as indicated by Thom Hartmann and his Catholic guest in the above clip. The Encyclical Letter is called Laudato Si’ and opens in the following pious yet firm way: “‘LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore’ – ‘Praise be to you, my Lord’. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs’ . . . This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she ‘groans in travail’ (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters”.[3]  Going down the historical road, the Pope’s missive continues that “[m]ore than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire ‘Catholic world’ and indeed ‘to all men and women of good will’. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home . . . In 1971, eight years after Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as ‘a tragic consequence’ of unchecked human activity: ‘Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation’. He spoke in similar terms to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations about the potential for an ‘ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilization’, and stressed ‘the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity’, inasmuch as ‘the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man’ . . . Saint John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue. In his first Encyclical he warned that human beings frequently seem ‘to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption’. Subsequently, he would call for a global ecological conversion. At the same time, he noted that little effort had been made to ‘safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology’. The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in ‘lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies’. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and ‘take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system’. Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is . . . My predecessor Benedict XVI likewise proposed ‘eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment’. He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since ‘the book of nature is one and indivisible’, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that ‘the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence’. Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that ‘man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature’. With paternal concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed ‘where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves'”.[4]

In this way, Francis presents care for the environment as a well-established Catholic tradition and places himself in a strong line of papal defenders of “our common home”, the sub-lunar reality that is planet earth. The Pope’s letter continues that “[t]hese statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions. Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion”.[5]  And yes, Istanbul’s very Orthodox Patriarch is a very well known activist in the field of environmental protection. The Patriarch even traveled to the Arctic to prove his personal credentials in this respect. The author and theologian Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, who also serves as the advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues, posits that “[n]o other church leader has been so recognized for his leadership and initiatives in confronting the theological, ethical and practical imperative of environmental issues in our time as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. He has long placed the environment at the head of his church’s agenda, earning him numerous awards and the title ‘Green Patriarch'”.[6]  As a result, we can but wonder whether the present pope also aims at such accolades . . . the Green Patriarch and the Green Pope cooperating to save the world from the evil that is anthropogenic climate change or a particularly crafty demon that has been at work for a couple of centuries now.

In fact, the now-retired Benedict was already nick-named the Green Pope at one time . . . in July 2012, Sabrina Arena Ferrisi wrote that “the Vatican announced in 2007 that the Paul VI audience hall was to be covered in solar panels, [and consequently] environmentalists around the world took notice. Eighteen months later, the building was topped with 2,400 photovoltaic panels, generating sufficient electricity to supply the building’s heating, cooling and lighting needs year-round. Throughout his seven-year pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has promoted the idea of sustainability and resource conservation. In addition to the solar panels, Vatican City has planted a 37-acre forest in Hungary and installed a solar cooling system in one of its cafeterias, making it the worlds’ first carbon-neutral state”, adding that Pope Benedict XVI did “find some common ground with environmentalists on stewardship of the earth. While most liberals label him ‘ultra-conservative’, Benedict’s teaching on the environment has many on both ends of the political spectrum nodding in agreement . . . [at that time n]o other pope in history ha[d] written or spoken as much about the earth as Benedict XVI, which has led some in the media to dub him ‘The Green Pope’. He has spoken about the environment at World Youth Day and with dignitaries at the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome”.[7]

As a result, Pope Francis hasn’t really broken new ground as much as revived a tradition of papal concern with environmental issues. And issuing an Encyclical Letter is arguably the best a pope can do on any issue . . . Francis addresses a whole host of matters in his missive: from “POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE”, “THE ISSUE OF WATER”, and the “LOSS OF BIODIVERSITY”, to the “DECLINE IN THE QUALITY OF HUMAN LIFE AND THE BREAKDOWN OF SOCIETY” as well as “GLOBAL INEQUALITY”. But then, he starts assuming a more accusatory tone: “Modern anthropocentrism has paradoxically ended up prizing technical thought over reality, since ‘the technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos similarly as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can be thrown with complete indifference’. The intrinsic dignity of the world is thus compromised. When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves: ‘Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but, man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed'”.[8]  The Pope then homes in on the real culprit, which is “[m]odernity [that] has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism which today, under another guise, continues to stand in the way of shared understanding and of any effort to strengthen social bonds”.[9]  And he argues that it “cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things”.[10]  After all, Pope Francis is another pope, or another one of God’s shepherds of souls and another one of his representatives on earth: the “Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways. The world was created by the three Persons acting as a single divine principle, but each one of them performed this common work in accordance with his own personal property. Consequently, ‘when we contemplate with wonder the universe in all its grandeur and beauty, we must praise the whole Trinity’ . . . For Christians, believing in one God who is trinitarian communion suggests that the Trinity has left its mark on all creation”.[11]

[1] “Frankness from Pope Francis on Israel and the Palestinians” New York Daily News (29 May 2015). http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/editorial-frankness-pope-francis-israel-article-1.2240679.

[2] Matthew Tharrett, “Pope Francis Celebrates Gay Pride By Declaring Gay People Are Incapable Of Raising Children” NewNowNext (17 June 2015). http://www.newnownext.com/pope-francis-celebrates-gay-pride-by-declaring-gay-people-are-incapable-of-raising-children/06/2015/.

[3] “ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME” Vatican (24 May 2015). http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html.

[4] “ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS”.

[5]  “ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS”.

[6] John Chryssavgis, “The Green Patriarch” Ecumenical Patriarchate. https://www.patriarchate.org/the-green-patriarch.

[7] Sabrina Arena Ferrisi, “Is Benedict the ‘Green Pope’?” Legatus Magazine (03 July 2012). http://legatus.org/is-benedict-the-green-pope/.

[8] “ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS”.

[9] “ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS”.

[10] “ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS”.

[11] “ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS”.

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