Strange Allies: The Pope and Environmentalists

European Union 2014 - European Parliament

Pope Francis, Environmentalist – Phot by European Union 2014 – European Parliament

As you probably have heard. Pope Francis, who took his name from Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecologists, issued a Papal Encyclical, a kind of formal letter to Roman Catholics, in which he said the Earth

now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Over the course of about 184 pages, the Pope calls on all humankind, and especially Christians, to be or become environmentalists.

Personally, speaking only for himself and not for any environmental organizations of which WC may be a member, WC is pleased that Roman Catholicism, two millennia along, has recognized we are wrecking the planet. It’s true that the Papal Encyclical reads a lot differently than a scientific paper. Because, of course, it’s not a scientific paper. It’s a religious paper. But WC accepts as an ally pretty much anyone of good conscience who shows willing.

It must have been a shock for Presidential Wannabes Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush to suddenly discover they had become environmentalists, that anthropogenic climate change was real and that unrestrained capitalism was wrecking the only planet we have. But by the doctrines of papal infallibility and papal primacy, that’s what happened. Governor Bushpromptly sinned and castigated Pope Francis for involving himself in political matters. WC invites the former governor of Florida to explain why abortion isn’t a “political matter,” and how the Pope can be infallible about abortions and, apparently, dead wrong about climate change.

Not that Americans haven’t been . . . selective . . . about the Catholic dogma they choose to follow. Perhaps as many as 98% of sexually active Catholic American women use some form of birth control banned by the Catholic Church. Infallibility and primacy will get you only so far in that crowd.

But the reaction of conservative pundits was far stronger than ignoring the bits they don’t like. Rush Limbaugh bloviated, “The Pope is a Marxist. I stand by those words. He is a wolf in pope’s clothing, he is an eco-wolf in pope’s clothing. He is a stealth Marxist in religious garb.” So much for infallibility and primacy, eh?

But you know, it isn’t the right wing windbags who matter. It’s the millions of Catholics, and their reaction. And if they take the encyclical to heart, and follow Pope Francis’s directions, then the teabaggers and science-deniers are going to matter a lot less. We might even change Congress.

So WC welcomes Pope Francis to the conservation movement.