What Will The Meek Inherit?
Genevieve DiSpirito, Staff Contributor
The Catholic Church must respond to the “changing conditions of society,” the Pope said in a homily last October. Few foresaw the extent to which these “changing conditions” would include climate change in the Pope’s pontificate. Treading into territory unexplored by his predecessors, Pope Francis I declared on January 15, 2015, “Man…has slapped nature in the face.” It is deforestation, water appropriation, agro-toxins, and the loss of biodiversity—our general “culture of waste,” as the Pope calls it—that has moved the pontiff to metaphor. He says, “We have in a sense taken over nature.”
An environmentalist position is not one a pope often assumes. Nor is Catholicism considered a theology of environmentalism. In fact, many Catholics read Genesis 1:28, “…God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth,” to justify exploitation of the earth to humankind’s ends. Pope Francis, whose namesake is the “patron saint of ecology,” emphatically rejects this reading. Instead, he espouses a view of stewardship over that of dominion, urging “great respect” and “gratitude” for creation and the environment. Although John Paul II and Benedict XVI both embraced similar views on stewardship, Pope Francis surpasses them in zeal and emphasis. Environmental exploitation, he says, is “one of the greatest challenges of our time.” His words mark a revolutionary doctrinal shift.
“Although John Paul II and Benedict XVI both embraced similar views on stewardship, Pope Francis surpasses them in zeal and emphasis.”
Beyond the sphere of doctrinal discourse, the Pope’s language and, more significantly, his agenda have taken on a political character. At an October 2014 meeting addressed to Latin American and Asian landless peasants, the Pope announced, “An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.” His words weave political condemnation of economics, consumerism, and environmental exploitation all at once.
“An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.”
The Pope’s venture into partisan politics on an issue as controversial as the environment has garnered significant criticism. Notable conservatives like Rush Limbaugh have called the Pope’s stance “pure Marxism” and “leftist.” Other sects have decried his environmental politics as “un-biblical.” But the Bishop of Rome is not to be deterred.
The Pope intends to complete a papal encyclical—among the most authoritative documents in Catholicism—by summer 2015, before the November U.N. meetings on global carbon emissions. Following the failure of last year’s meetings in Lima, Peru to culminate in any kind of compromise on the stabilization of green house gases, Pope Francis hopes to incite more courageous negotiations. The Pope also plans to deliver an address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September 2015, in addition to convening a summit of the world’s religious leadership, both of which are expected to address environmental issues.
“Pope Francis hopes to incite more courageous negotiations.”
Pope Francis has brought environmentalism to the fore with unprecedented enthusiasm. As a man of science, as well as the religious leader of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics, the Pope may have the ability to infuse an environmental ethic into the global populace in new and profound ways.