ROME — Pope Francis’ closest cardinal advisor on Tuesday blasted “movements in the United States” hostile to the pontiff’s forthcoming document on the environment, claiming the criticism is fueled by a form of capitalism protecting its own interests.
“The ideology surrounding environmental issues is too tied to a capitalism that doesn’t want to stop ruining the environment because they don’t want to give up their profits,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga.
Rodríguez is the coordinator of a group of nine cardinals that serves as Pope Francis’ informal cabinet.
He said both the church and the wider world are awaiting Francis’ ecological manifesto, known as an encyclical letter, “with hope,” especially in tandem with a U.N.-sponsored agreement on Sustainable Development Goals and a U.N. summit on climate change in Paris later this year.
Rodríguez spoke at a press conference in Rome to mark the beginning of a general assembly of Caritas Internationalis, a global federation of Catholic charitable groups.
“I have already heard criticism over the encyclical,” Rodríguez said at a news conference, referring to reaction in the United States. He called it “absurd” to reject a document that hasn’t even been published yet.
Francis’ encyclical letter, the first such document even devoted by a pope entirely to environmental themes, is expected to be released in early summer.
But already some prominent American skeptics on global warming and climate change have voiced alarm about the document.
When the Vatican recently co-hosted a environmental summit with the U.N., the Chicago-based Heartland Institute hosted a rump event in Rome featuring speakers challenging both the science of climate change and also the Vatican’s partnership with the U.N., on the grounds that some agencies of the global body also support population control.
On Monday, veteran American Catholic writer Russell Shaw published a piece for Our SundayVisitor cautioning against “kneejerk antipathy” to the encyclical.
“No papal document in years has received so much prejudicial negative comment before it’s been read,” Shaw wrote.
During the five-day Caritas gathering that opens Tuesday, leaders of Catholic charitable organizations from around the world will focus on growing inequalities as well as the impact of climate change.
Caritas’ work, Rodríguez said, is not merely to aid the victims of poverty, war and natural disasters, but to do so in a Christian spirit.
“We have to remember what Francis says: the Church isn’t an NGO, we’re the faith in action through charity. We have to pay attention to spiritual poverty too,” Rodríguez said.
“[Caritas] wants to help every baptized understand that the goods of this earth are not to be accumulated but made available through service.”
Famed Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, one of the founding fathers of the liberation theology movement in Latin America in the 1960s and 70s, urged Caritas to address “the need to provide justice for the poor.”
Liberation Theology is a movement that sought to place the Catholic Church on the side of the poor in struggles for social justice.
Gutiérrez complained that people today love to speak about living in a moment of “post-socialism”, “post-capitalism”, “post-industrialization”.
“People today love to be post,” said. “But we’re not living a post-poverty era.”
Pope Francis was scheduled to open the Caritas assembly with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday.
Beyond Rodríguez and Gutiérrez, other keynote speakers during the five-day Caritas Internationalis will be Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who helped write a draft of Francis’ environment encyclical; South African Prof. Beverley Haddad, an expert in the intersection of religion and the HIV epidemic; and famed American economist Jeffrey Sachs, a United Nations special advisor.
Rodríguez has served as president of Caritas for two four-year terms and will be replaced during this week’s general assembly. The organization’s secretary general, French layman Michel Roy, was appointed in 2011 and will remain in his post.
The candidates to the presidency are Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, and the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, Joseph Soueiph.
Several members of the organization have told Crux that Tagle, who hosted a record-breaking visit to the Philippines by Pope Francis earlier in the year, is the strongest candidate coming into the general assembly.
Since 2004, Caritas has been recognized by the Vatican as a “public juridical person” under church law. According to its rules, both the secretary general and the president require an approval from the Vatican prior to their election.
Roy said that beyond choosing a new president, confederation will use the general assembly to define the strategy for the next four years to be implemented at national and regional levels.
Roy listed key aspects of the strategy, including building a poor church for the poor; improving the response to unforeseen emergencies; and long-term strategies for emergencies one can anticipate, such as needs in the Philippines, which is hit by an average of 20 typhoons a year.