This week we learned that Pope Francis’ encyclical on human ecology should be released in June. Environmental groups welcomed the news warmly while skeptics told anyone who would listen that the pope is being taken for a ride by new-age tree huggers. Whatever one’s opinion on environmental issues, the encyclical has been written and is on its way. What can we expect?
Pope Francis’ view of creation should come as no surprise, especially if one has listened at all to any of his public talks, homilies, or messages. As described in the book of Genesis, the pope believe God created humans and gave us the job of being custodians of the earth. That means humans have very real duties related to the planet and there are very real links between what happens to the earth and what happens to humans.
Being a custodian of the earth means, according to Pope Francis, making sure growth happens in a responsible way that ensures there is enough for everyone. Concretely: making sure no one is kicked out of their “habitat” because of development, that there are enough crops to feed everyone, enough water for all, etc. Ignoring our duty to safeguard creation results in hunger, a lack of work and the development of a culture where everything and everyone is disposable, according to the Pope.
Why devote pastoral energy towards the environment? According to Pope Francis, if humans can accept responsibility towards creation then humans can also learn to better respect each other.
This link between what happens to the environment and what happens to humans is turning the environment into the hot button moral issue of the day, shared by many different faith groups. The environment could be the issue that provides common ground between the Church and members of other faiths, or people of no faith at all.
Like everything Pope Francis has done during his papacy, there are people who don’t like him speaking out on environmental issues. In the United States several groups have released statements against the pope’s forthcoming encyclical. One group said Pope Francis is being misled by, among others, the United Nations. Other climate change skeptics travelled to Rome and at least one infiltrated the April 28 conference on climate change hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Science.
In response to accusations that the Vatican is unwilling to hear both sides of climate change issue Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences was quoted as saying that climate change skeptics are “the same people who defend the oil industry...its the lobby of profit.”
Human ecology and the issue of how Christians should relate to the natural world is an issue that is not going anywhere soon, no matter who doesn’t like it.