Rumors Mill Churns on Pope’s Upcoming Letter on Ecology

Paul Hanna—Reuters
Paul Hanna—Reuters

New reports on Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on ecology, slated for release in the spring of 2015, appear to be aimed at stoking fires of division between conservatives and liberals. Though contents of the letter have yet to be released, the Guardian predicts that the Pope’s letter on human and environmental ecology “will anger deniers and US churches.”

Pope Francis is a known supporter of vigorous stewardship of the environment, but rejects the agenda of radical environmentalists for whom man is just one more “fact” of nature. He embraces a biblical view of the environment and in 2013 said that when we talk about the environment, “my thoughts go to the first pages of the Bible,” where it says that “God put men and women on the earth to till it and keep it.”

The Guardian cites progressive Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, a vestige of the old guard of Vatican bureaucracy, as saying that the Pope intends to “directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris.” Sanchez Sorondo is an Argentinian and runs a personal fiefdom within the Vatican, including the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Sanchez Sorondo compared the industrial revolution to modern climate change. “If current trends continue,” he said, “the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”

This isn’t the first time prelates have tried to put words into the Pope’s mouth. In the lead-up to the contentious bishops’ summit on marriage and the family in October, German Cardinal Walter Kasper insisted that Francis wanted to reconsider offering holy communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, but when the dust settled, it became clear that Kasper was just projecting his own desires on the pontiff. Something similar may be happening in the case of Bishop Sanchez.

The best indicator of what Francis is likely to say in his letter is what he has said up till now.

In one of his earliest speeches, the Pope said he had chosen his name after St. Francis of Assisi who “teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.”

Francis has also been an outspoken proponent of “human ecology,” urging that the human person be placed back at the center of culture and ethics. He has denounced a “culture of waste,” whereby “human life and the person are no longer seen as a primary value to be respected and safeguarded, especially if they are poor or disabled, if they are not yet useful — like the unborn child — or are no longer of any use — like the elderly person.”

Francis clearly seems to buy into the theory of human-driven global climate change. Two weeks ago, in a message to the UN Climate Change Conference being held in Lima, Pope Francis said that “there is a clear, definitive and urgent ethical imperative to act” to combat climate change.

He also said that the consequences of environmental change “which are already being dramatically felt in many states, especially in the Pacific islands, remind us of the severity of neglect and inaction. The time to find global solutions is running out.”

In its recent article, the Guardian notes that a diversity of opinion exists within Vatican circles. Australian Cardinal George Pell, a close aid of Pope Francis in charge of the Vatican’s finances, is “a climate change sceptic” who has claimed that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then “plants would love it.”

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome