On Thursday, Pope Francis will release an encyclical called Laudatio Si (Praised Be).
A Breitbart article claims that the political Left is hoping Pope Francis will make it a religious obligation for Catholics to support the Left’s climate legislation. I’m inclined to think the author is correct about the Left’s hope; however, the Left is (as usual) wrong about the nature of the Pope’s authority on this issue.
The Church has teaching authority only in relation to Faith and Morals.
- Global warming is a scientific issue.
- Climate legislation is a political issue.
Pope Francis has a right, perhaps even a pastoral responsibility, to express his thoughts on the subject. But as I see it, the only way he would have authority to teach on the morality of climate legislation would be if ALL FOUR of the following things were true:
A) IF global warming was definitely happening,
B) IF global warming were definitely going to be harmful to humanity;
C) IF there was something we could do to slow or stop it;
D) IF the “something we could do” were not a greater evil than the climate change itself.
My personal opinions are:
A) Our climate is warming. We’ve been in a Little Ice Age for a long time, so this would be a normal part of the centuries-long pattern.
B) Global warming will be beneficial to humanity. The Medieval Warm Period was significantly warmer than now and it was a time when food production and human welfare was high.
C) The warming is almost entirely natural; whatever we may contribute by fossil fuel use is miniscule.
D) The benefits of responsible use of fossil fuels far outweigh the drawbacks. By responsible use, I mean not dumping poisons into our air and water. Carbon dioxide and other natural greenhouse gasses are not poisons.
Carson Holloway at Catholic Vote writes, “I am not, by the way, saying that the pope has no business speaking about global warming (as some Republican politicians have said recently). If the pope really thinks global warming is happening and is being caused by human beings, and if he really thinks it can be stopped, then he might have an obligation to issue a warning and a call to action. But this call would not be an act of teaching authority, it seems to me, but a kind of grave pastoral and political advice. Every Catholic would be bound to listen respectfully to this, but would not, I think, be bound to agree with it.”
Brian Burch at Catholic Vote writes, “Perhaps most likely to be missed by the media and agenda-driven pundits is the key to Francis’ understanding of the environment. Because man is made in the image of God, we are called to be co-creators. Human persons and creation are not opposed to each other. Francis has called us ‘to be attentive to every person, to counter the culture of waste and disposable [mentality], to promote a culture of solidarity’.”
Burch then quotes Professor Robert George: “Please receive the forthcoming papal encyclical in a spirit of willingness to listen and to be taught by the Holy Father. Do not approach it by simply looking for what one agrees with or disagrees with on matters of climate science or anything else.
“The gift of the papal magisterium to us, the faithful, is just that: a gift–a charism. We are to receive it as such. We can, and no doubt each of us will, appreciate the fact that different teachings or aspects of the teaching contained in the document will be proposed at different levels of authority. That is virtually always true of teaching instruments of this sort.
“But there will be plenty of time to sort all that out. It should NOT be our first priority. Our first priority should be to open ourselves to learning what is to be learned from the Holy Father’s reflections on the physical and moral ecology in the context of the Church’s witness to, and proclamation of, the Gospel. We are about to hear the voice of Peter. Our first and most important task is to listen attentively and with open-hearted willingness to be taught.”
Well said. In short, faithful Catholics should read the encyclical and pray about its meaning, but nobody should presume to spin it in support of a particular political agenda.