With the recent announcement that the Church will celebrate a “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” each Sept. 1, Pope Francis is sending a clear message: His recent encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, is just the beginning of the Church’s concerted effort to focus on caring for creation and treating it as a central issue of social concern — one that cannot be easily ignored or dismissed by the Catholic faithful.
While Laudato Si’ builds upon decades of Catholic social teaching, the duty to care for creation that is rooted in Biblical commands, and the strong statements of his most immediate predecessors, Pope Francis provides, via his encyclical, real urgency on the need to care for creation and support an integral ecology.
The reaction to the encyclical from some in the United States has been surprisingly strong.
While some laissez-faire conservatives and libertarians have dismissed the pope’s message, and though Francis’ overall popular support appears to have declined since its release, he remains very popular in the pews.
And as Crux’s Michael J. O’Loughlin explained, environmental protection is the most visible example of the pope’s impact on the US Church.
Seeing certain bishops often associated with the conservative, pro-life wing of the Church embrace the pope’s call to act on the environment by enacting “green policies” has been very encouraging.
In fact, this is the type of unity we should always see within the Church.
There should not be separate “social justice” and “pro-life” wings of the Church — concern for the unborn is a social justice issue and care for creation is essential to protecting human life and dignity.
Church teaching is pro-life and pro-social justice; we need a unified Church that stands strong on all of these issues.
Addressing climate change and environmental degradation as part of an effort to promote the common good and integral human development is a serious, complex challenge. Dialogue is necessary. It should include Catholics and non-Catholics, politicians and citizens, scientific experts and faith leaders, and people from across the political spectrum. But dialogue must not turn into an excuse for inaction or a tactic for undermining the clarity of Church teaching on the need to care for creation.
Pope Francis, of course, supports dialogue, but he is also calling for concrete action.
Last month, Pope Francis said, “People and their movements are called to cry out, to mobilize and to demand – peacefully, but firmly – that appropriate and urgently-needed measures be taken.”
Francis is demanding action on the global and international level, at the national level (particularly by powerful, wealthy nations like the United States), in the intermediary institutions that make civil society so vibrant and important, and in each of our personal lives.
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis wrote, “Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention.”
He continued, “Global regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions, for example, when powerful companies or countries dump contaminated waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries.”
Climate change and other environmental threats are global problems; they demand an international response. The need for subsidiarity must not be used by ideologues to distort this need and ignore the duties we have as global citizens and members of the international community.
National action is also critical, and many US bishops recognize this.
Miami’s Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on domestic justice and human development, responded earlier this month to the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon pollution standards for power plants by saying, “A new national standard to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants is an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially children, the elderly, and poor and vulnerable communities, from harmful pollution and the impacts of climate change.”
Wenski and other bishops are trying to get politicians to listen to the pope.
With two Catholic, Republican candidates for the presidency from his state, Wenski is trying to persuade Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both Catholics, to respond to the pope’s challenge and embrace policies that will better protect creation.
For Democrats, what is needed is pressure to ensure that environmental concerns and their human impact will receive the focus they deserve and remain key priorities.
For Republicans, more is needed, given the prevalence of climate change denial and the intense pressure many face from business interests to oppose environmental protections.
Republicans need a revival of “Roosevelt Republicans,” who follow in the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt and recognize that true conservatives must necessarily demand the conservation of the environment and fulfill our responsibilities to future generations.
Pope Francis is not just calling for political and policy changes.
He is challenging every Christian to live the radicalism of our faith.
Back in the encyclical, Francis wrote, “Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
We can transform our personal lives by rejecting consumerism, the careless embrace of excess, and disregard for God’s creation. And we can transform our parishes, workplaces, schools, and the other communities to which we belong by encouraging others to do the same. Pope Francis is right: “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!”
Robert Christian is the editor of Millennial, a PhD candidate in politics at The Catholic University of America, and a graduate fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.