CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Strange bedfellows

  • July 2, 2015

Let it never be said that the Vatican under Pope Francis is predictable. The latest case in point is a Vatican invitation extended to Canadian feminist and environmental activist Naomi Klein.

The best-selling author is being welcomed to sit alongside Cardinal Peter Turkson and other “Church leaders, decision makers, scientists,” plus a range of vested interests representing Catholic and civil organizations, at a “high-level conference” on the papal encyclical Laudato Si’.

Some reports indicated that Klein was co-chairing the conference with Cardinal Turkson. But that is incorrect. The activist will join him at a press launch of the event then give a keynote address during the conference.

Before there was Laudato Si’, Klein quite literally wrote the book on the tension that exists between the environment and the free market. Her 2014 bestseller, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, was a radical call for society to abandon its free-market ways in order to reverse climate change and save the planet. Laudato Si’ advances a kinder, gentler version of that theme, with one significant difference. Pope Francis underpinned his political and market analysis with a moral argument that traces the environmental tragedy to a deeper, spiritual crisis. His encyclical laments “a throwaway culture” that not only wastes material goods, but often discards unwanted people — the sick, the elderly, the poor and the unborn.

Additionally, Francis criticized prevailing attitudes that seek to reduce poverty by controlling birth rates in developing nations. He also wrote about the folly of believing “we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies” rather than accepting and respecting the person made by God, and he wrote about the family as “the basic cell of society.” These are essential elements of a genuine human ecology. They are all connected.

Laudato Si’ called on all people of the world to enthusiastically collaborate in a cultural and ecological reawakening in order to “help us escape the spiral of self-destruction that currently engulfs us.” On June 28, an estimated 10,000 marchers rallied at St. Peter’s Square in support of Pope Francis’ plea to save the planet. Although predominantly Christian, a crowd of all ages included visible numbers of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others who answered the Pope’s solidarity challenge.

So, in that respect, Klein’s prominent place at a Vatican conference may not be extraordinary. She is obviously eager to answer his environmental call. But when the Pope speaks of an interconnected world that links respect for the environment with a wider, spiritual calling, he is challenging people to consider their positions on a range of moral issues far beyond climate change.

That’s why Klein’s presence is bound to raise some eyebrows.

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