The eco-encyclical: Getting past the noise around Francis

The quest for clues about the eco-encyclical continues.

Complicating this task, however, are all the filters of secular commentators and journalists who—let’s face it—don’t often seem to appreciate the nature of the Church.

And while it may seem that the pope hasn’t said much about the natural environment recently—what with the Synod on the Family using up most of the oxygen in Rome and the world's crises taking up the rest—occasional signals have come to us about Pope Francis’s thoughts on the relationship between humanity and ecology.

First, the names of those helping to draft the encyclical tell us something.

One is Peter Cardinal Turkson of Ghana, who is well known for his eco-passion and his evenhanded view of nature as a gift to be protected and also to be used for the common good. (Cardinal Turkson will be speaking next week at the Food, Faith, & the Environment forum in St. Paul, MN. I’ll be attending and blogging from the event, so stay tuned for more. But as a preview, Cardinal Turkson’s public talk is titled “Faith and the Call for a Human Ecology.”)

As for what the Holy Father has been saying, we get a glimpse into his particular take on human ecology from a recent Vatican Radio news story about his comments to a gathering of Schönstatt Apostolic Movement, which was in Rome celebrating its 100th anniversary.

As there is no official translation yet, we listen in on Vatican Radio, which reports that

Pope Francis said the institution of Christian marriage has never been attacked so much as nowadays where a temporary or throw-away culture has become widespread.


The theme of our throw-away society was also touched on again by the Pope in another reply when he said our present-day culture is one that destroys the human bonds that bind us together. And in this context, he continued, one word that is at risk of dying in our society is 'solidarity' and this is also a symptom of our inability to forge alliances. Pope Francis also warned about the Devil, stressing that he exists and that his first weapon is disunity.

It is notable that the Holy Father often uses this theme of “throw-away” and wasteful cultures. His first major comments on ecology in June 2013 similarly wove the waste of human consumption and the growing realities of broken relationships.

No doubt this will be central in his eco-encyclical.

As evidence that this theme has staying power, we’ve been hearing much recently from others on this link.

In Part 2 of his recent interview with Catholic Ecology, David Cloutier made this observation:

I think it’s unrealistic to imagine the waste of our sexual economy without looking at the waste of our larger business economy. By waste here I mean the amount of time, the amount of pain, the amount of broken relationships that our sexual economy produces—the amount of preoccupation of people from the time when they’re fifteen to the time when they’re thirty, going through thirty different relationships, all with different kinds of drama, and having endless conversations with their friends about these relationships, and then watching endless movies and listening to endless music that narrate and re-narrate these relationships—in often contradictory kinds of ways—it comes to an enormous amount of—and I don’t know how else to put it—waste.

And what I’ve just described is merely the most benign part of the waste. Of course the destructive part of the waste is abusive relations, unwanted children, abortions—all of these kinds of things that come out of a recklessness of a sexual economy. It’s reckless.

Certainly the pope would agree. But to read the headlines, stories, and online comments about the Synod on the Family, you would think that Francis was about to rewrite core Catholic precepts on the indissolubility of marriage. But those headlines, stories, and comments were (and are) rooted in wishful, fantastical understandings of the thought and the mission of Pope Francis.

As reported by the Catholic News Agency, in his comments to the Schönstatt Apostolic Movement, the Holy Father said this:

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.

He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it's an association. But it's not marriage! It's necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.

He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

My point in calling attention to all this is that the eco-encyclical will most likely sound much the same.

It is necessary that we all accept this.

There are those who are eager for the pope to champion leftist solutions to today’s ecological problems. Others dread that that may be the case.

Both would do well to remember that Pope Francis is Catholic.

Much as Benedict XVI praised the left for its eco-passion while stopping well short of endorsing its political agenda, Pope Francis understands the ideological trappings of the modern ecological movement—and he will use them to offer not a purely political but a gospel-centered view of ecology.

After all, proclaiming the gospel is the mission of the Successor of Peter. So is affirming the Church’s teaching on faith and morals. Explaining why it's vital that the Church teaches what she does is the particular passion of Francis, who, more than anything, wants the world to thrive with joy and love by fostering the necessary relationships that foster life.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.