Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn sees where faith communities have much to contribute to the environmental movement. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Francis takes fresh approach to dialogue

  • June 28, 2015

OTTAWA - In Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, some informed readers see Pope Francis seeking a dialogue with the whole world while giving new insight into the relationship of human beings to creation.

While the message about man’s place in creation is welcomed, some are critical of Pope Francis’ attitude towards markets, technology and even fossil fuels.

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) was primarily directed at Christians, but now he wants to dialogue with the whole world in Laudato Si’, said Marist Father Yvan Mathieu, a biblical scholar and dean of the faculty of theology at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University.

It is not the first time a pope has tried to have a dialogue with the world, but the way he has done it is new, Mathieu said.

“This is not a man locked up in the Vatican reflecting on his own,” he said. “He is humble enough to consult and be informed by others.”

Mathieu finds the tone interesting.

“He is really pointing at very serious problems,” yet even in front of those problems he is speaking to “people of good will who have tried to find solutions.”

The tone is not condemning, even as he states things very clearly, Mathieu said. He shows the problem, invites dialogue and proposes some guidelines to help.

Joe Gunn, executive director of the social justice think tank Citizens for Public Justice, notes that environmentalists have moved away from the position held in the 1970s and ’80s that population control is the solution to the environmental crisis. Pope Francis firmly comes out against both population control and abortion.

“I’ve seen a real change, where the environmental movement is now wanting to work with churches,” Gunn said. “They’ve seen it’s not just about protecting wetlands, or using alternative technologies, but what we’re really talking about are pretty massive changes in how we operate on the planet.”

Faith communities have much to contribute to the environmental movement with their stress on the common good, and sharing and caring for others.

“I think environmental leaders will feel they have a friend in the leadership in the Vatican,” Gunn said. “When he talks about the spiritual roots of environmental problems, I think quite a few of us are getting to the point where we appreciate that. It crosses ideological boundaries.”

Gunn believes the encyclical will accellerate the debate on climate change and the ecology. The Pope has issued a challenge to community networks, including the Catholic community, to work with politicians to shape a policy response.

“He really wants action.”

Mathieu teaches Genesis I, which includes the creation narrative. The Christian view of dominion over creation has often been condemned as “the source of all evil, as if you can pollute as much as you can.” What God means when He gives human beings dominion is that they are meant to “protect and care for the order God has created,” he said. “We are called upon to be God’s partner in protecting creation against chaos.”

This is exactly what Pope Francis is saying in Laudato Si’.

“The creation narrative presents order and disorder,” he said. “The human being is called to protect that order and to see to it that disorder doesn’t come back. This encyclical is really putting us in front of our common responsibility.”

The sections on abortion and the treatment of human embryos show how “everything is interrelated,” Mathieu. It’s also an example of honest dialogue and how respecting the other “does not mean you have to become lukewarm and not say what you believe.”

Ray Pennings, executive vice president of Cardus, said the encyclical brings “2,000 years of Christian thought to a contemporary issue that is very political.”

“I think it’s telling that the Pope talks about the harmony of God, creation and mankind and the disharmony, the creation that’s broken,” Pennings said.

He finds reaction to the debate even more interesting.

“People want to pigeonhole it into their side of the debate. I think actually the document is discomfiting to all parties in that regard,” Pennings said. “On the one hand those who have been resistant to international agreements and to recognizing the seriousness of dealing urgently with some of the environmental challenges, quite clearly the encyclical takes this issue as an important moral and spiritual responsibility.

“For those who want to focus exclusively on climate change as if that can be dealt with without some of the moral considerations, the encyclical highlights how your view of family and your view of life are tied integrally into your view of creation.”

Pennings said that even though the Pope is talking about the scientific consensus on climate change, he also admits the Church is not an authority in every area. The Church speaks to the foundational principles and the framework, but leaves the expertise to develop scientific and political solutions to those best qualified to carry them out, he said.

“It’s ironic those who are usually most likely to criticize the mixing of church and state are the first to take the Pope’s words (on climate change) and apply them as a political solution.”

Mark Cameron, a former policy and research director to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, does not dispute the Pope’s stand on climate change, though he said many conservative Catholics dispute that science is settled on the matter, or they think this policy area is outside of the Pope’s expertise. Cameron’s criticism lies in other aspects of the encyclical.

“I detect a lot of hostility towards both free markets and technology in general, and thought that was shortsighted,” Cameron said. “Even if one accepts that climate change is a genuine threat, you would need the full participation of markets and the full application of technology to deal with the threat.

“The wisdom of market solutions has been proven over and over again. If there’s a problem with markets not adequately dealing with environmental problems, then the solution is to have them priced within the market system.”

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