Next year, Pope Francis will issue a rare encyclical calling on Catholics the world over to do their bit in reducing emissions, the Observer has reported.
The pontiff also plans to make a series of speeches and summit appearances in the run up to the UN’s climate conference due to take place in Paris toward the end of 2015, with a view to influencing the outcome of the meeting. The conference, which will be the 21st such annual climate conference, is widely seen as a deadline for global negotiations on climate change, and the event at which new legally binding targets will be set.
Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, has told Cafod, the Catholic development agency: “Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions.
“The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”
At the UN conference in Lima last month, Bishops from around the world gave voice to frustrations that the richest countries in the world are not doing enough to reduce emissions, which they see as a social injustice to those living in poorer regions.
Sorondo himself, who is known to be close to the Pope (they are fellow Argentinians), said “Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialisation, today we have changed the natural environment so much. If current trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”
Pope Francis is known to be sympathetic to the sentiment. Last October he addressed a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements, telling them: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”
In March, the Pope intends to visit the Philippine city of Tacloban, which was devastated by typhoon Haiyan in 2012. Following the visit, he is expected to issue a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology, urging Catholics the world over to take action on those issues. It will be sent to 5,000 Catholic Bishops and 400,000 Catholic priests, who will be expected to disseminate the contents to their parishioners.
Neil Thorns, head of advocacy at Cafod, told the Observer: “The anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”
However, the Pope’s increasingly left wing agenda is already causing a divide within the Church, and this latest encyclical is only likely to worsen it. Pope Francis himself has sent out mixed signals on a range of doctrinal issues, mostly concerning the status of divorced Catholics and gays, but his willingness to give his more left-wing bishops a platform has sown seeds of dissent.
In November, Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (that is, president of the Vatican’s supreme court) said “At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder.” Burke has lately emerged as a leader to the traditionalist wing of the church.
Meanwhile, Cristina Odone, former editor of the Catholic Herald, has said: “Francis achieved miracles with his compassionate, off-the-cuff comments that detoxified the Catholic brand. He personifies optimism — but when he tries to turn this into policy he isn’t in command of the procedures or the details. The result is confusion.”
The climate encyclical will only exacerbate the situation. Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.
“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues; that he is outside his expertise.”
And one of the factions who will denounce the paper as political will be the powerful US evangelical movement. The conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation has already declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.
A spokesman for the Alliance, Calvin Beisner has said: “The pope should back off. The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”