On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis released his long-anticipated encyclical on the environment, entitled Laudato Si (Praised Be). This document—officially a letter to the bishops of the church—has had far-reaching effects on increasing awareness of the climate crisis worldwide. A beautifully written and accessible treatise, the encyclical lays out the nature of the environmental crisis we face, critiques the reasons for it, and describes the moral urgency with which the world community must come together to respond in order to protect all life on earth.
The main themes in the Encyclical are these:
- The intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet
- The conviction that everything in the world is connected
- The critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology
- The call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress
- The value proper to each creature
- The human meaning of ecology
- The need for forthright and honest debate
- The serious responsibility of international and local policy
- The throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle
Responses from Nebraska Faith Leaders
“Understanding Pope Francis on Climate Change,” Father Dennis Hamm, Professor Emeritus of Catholic Theological Studies, Lincoln Journal-Star, June 24, 2015.
“Pope Wisely Shows Climate Urgency,” Dr. Richard Miller, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Creighton University, Omaha World-Herald, June 25, 2015.
“Pope Francis has posed a profound question: how should someone of conscience behave toward the Earth and those less fortunate? People of every faith know that climate change is not a political issue—it is an issue about life itself. Now is the time for the people of the world to unite under Pope Francis’ call to action to protect our planet and our people.” –Rev. Kim Morrow, Executive Director, Nebraska Interfaith Power & Light
“Despite warnings from leading scientists regarding global warming dating back to the 1950s, policy debates over the last few decades have been focused on questions of scientific certainty, manufactured by a small group of scientists (most of whom were not climate scientists), and how much it would cost the United States to address global warming . There has not been any serious debate about the ethical implications involved in continuing to develop and burn fossil fuels. In this encyclical the ethical dimensions of climate change are placed in the center of the public square. The Pope argues that we have a moral responsibility to act decisively here and now (paragraph 161) and that “halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. “ (paragraph 194) He also appeals to dialog throughout all sectors of society, including between religion and science. This dialog was modeled by the Pope as he sought consultation from world-renowned climate scientists, religious leaders, and policy makers in preparing his encyclical. The documents coming out of those consultations and published by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences maintain that climate change is a ‘human-induced emergency,’ that the worst effects of climate change can be avoided through existing technology while ending the most extreme forms of poverty, and that the ‘decisive mitigation of climate change is a moral and religious imperative for all humanity especially for those in positions of power.” –Dr. Richard Miller, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Creighton University
“Climate change is the greatest moral challenge of this century, and this papal encyclical should help our leaders and all of us find the moral backbone to do what is necessary to ensure the future of humankind.” -The Ven. Betsy Blake Bennett, Archdeacon for the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska
“I encourage people of all faiths and backgrounds to consider this message connecting care for the planet with care for our brothers and sisters in light of their own faith, their own core values, and the teachings of their traditions.” –Ken Winston, Nebraska Sierra Club
“Pope Francis is building on a long tradition of Catholic social teaching, especially on the work of his immediate predecessors—John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI—but he is clear that our present emergency of human-induced climate change is something terribly new. That he and other religious leaders should sound an alarm is appropriate and necessary. They are not alarmists. The situation is in fact alarming, and the faith visions and community practices of the religions of the world provide profound resources for collaborating and responding to this emergency in hope.” – Father Dennis Hamm, S.J., Professor Emeritus in Catholic Theological Studies, Creighton University
Full Statements from Nebraska Faith Leaders
Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett, Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska
A unique task for the faith community as we become more aware of the scope of climate change and its effects is to find and articulate hope in a situation that could easily lead us to despair. Pope Francis calls on us to care for the poorest people in the world, to do the work of switching from the use of fossil fuels to the use of clean energy sources, and to simplify our lives so that we consume fewer of the earth’s resources. He calls us back to some classic virtues of humility, simplicity, and sobriety.
This message is grounded in the traditional teachings of the Church and is itself a source of hope for the future. I think it’s important to remember that this is a papal encyclical, not a political manifesto. If we look at it through a purely political lens, we will miss what it is about.
Pope Francis emphasizes that love of God, love of one another, and love of all of creation are necessarily intertwined. This resonates with the way we talk about sin in my own tradition: “seeking our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationships with God, with other people, and with all creation.”
While Pope Francis articulates the seriousness of the climate crisis, he also sees hope because humankind has the capacity to turn away from sin and destruction to ways of living that are loving and creative and life-sustaining.
Pope Francis is probably the most recognized of all the world’s Christian leaders. Having his voice added to the voices of other religious leaders at this crucial point in our history can make a big difference in our efforts to persuade the world’s leaders to make some politically difficult choices now that will allow life to thrive in the future.
Father Dennis Hamm, Professor Emeritus of Catholic Theological Studies, Creighton University
When Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenes Aires was elected bishop of Rome, his first act, the choice of the name Francis, was a tip-off regarding two themes that would characterize his ministry as pope—first, he would address our environmental crisis, and second, he would focus on the reality and the needs of the poor of this earth. For Saint Francis was famous for his appreciation of earthly creation as a manifestation of God and God’s care for all living things—something expressed famously in his poetic prayer, the Canticle of Creation. And, growing up as he did in one of Assisi’s wealthiest families, St. Francis was particularly sensitive to the poor of his town whose poverty supported his family’s extraordinary wealth.
So it comes as no surprise that Pope Francis’ first full encyclical, “Laudato Si!” should allude to St. Francis’ canticle—“Laudato si!” is from the refrain, calling brother sun and sister moon to praise God, and so “Laudato si!” not Latin or Spanish but 13th -century Italian; and it is also no surprise that this encyclical on the environment (natural systems) should talk so much about the disorder of the social systems that so endanger some three billion of the human species. Indeed Pope Francis reminds us that the poor, who have played the smallest role in inducing climate change are suffering the most from the effects of that climate change. All of us, of course, are in the same boat regarding our current climate emergency, but we in the wealthier and more powerful north and west bear the greater responsibility both in the causing of the crisis and its mitigation.
Pope Francis was careful to show that this emergency requires the collaboration of all of the human family by asking friends who are of other world religions, and even of no religion, to join him in presenting this document to the whole world.
Already, we are hearing some political figures scramble to separate themselves from the pope, saying things like, “Let the pope stick to his field of theology and morality, and we in government will practice our expertise of making public policy.” But Pope Francis is clear that the human creation of economic policy and our use of technology are always matters of implied theology (who, ultimately, owns the land?) and of moral decision making.
And so it is part of religious leadership to address those religious and moral dimensions. A budget is a moral document. Decisions about how land should be used always entail moral dimensions.
Pope Francis is building on a long tradition of Catholic social teaching, especially on the work of his immediate predecessors—John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI—but he is clear that our present emergency of human-induced climate change is something terribly new. That he and other religious leaders should sound an alarm is appropriate and necessary. They are not alarmists. The situation is in fact alarming, and the faith visions and community practices of the religions of the world provide profound resources for collaborating and responding to this emergency in hope.
Dr. Richard Miller, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Creighton University
Parenthetical quotes are paragraph numbers from the Encyclical.
“In the documents coming out of consultations with scientists, religious leaders, and policy makers, which will inform Pope Francis’s Encyclical, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has correctly maintained that climate change is a ‘human-induced emergency’, that the worst effects of climate change can be avoided through existing technology while ending the most extreme forms of poverty, and that the ‘decisive mitigation of climate change is a moral and religious imperative for all humanity’ especially for those in positions of power.”
For over 30 years, policy debates in the United States regarding global warming have focused on the level of certainty in the science and how much it would cost without any serious debate about the ethical implications involved in continuing to develop and burn fossil fuels. The Pope argues that we have a moral responsibility to act decisively here and now (161) and that “halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. ” (194)
The moral conversion to act for the poor and our children requires, according to the Encyclical, a fundamental change in our orientation and must be animated by the question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? ” (160) This question is not simply a question about what we must do, but is also a question about who we are -“It is no longer enough, then simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.” (160)
This responsibility to defend the poor and our children is a responsibility of all of us, but is most especially the responsibility of elected officials – “Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.” (157) Francis looks in consternation at politicians and financial interests who are driven by the short term possession of power while neglecting to act to halt “the spiral of self-destruction” (163) – “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” (57)
Rev. Kim Morrow, Executive Director, Nebraska Interfaith Power & Light
Pope Francis’ encyclical gives a whole new basis for the world to address the urgent crisis of climate change through a moral lens. In language that is beautiful yet challenging, as well as attentive to history, theology and scripture, he affirms the interconnection of all life as a gift from God and makes a powerful case for our political leaders to make bold changes to protect it.
Pope Francis urges us to deal with deep questions, like What is the purpose of our life in this world? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us?
We do know what we can do. But we need moral teachings to help show us what we ought to do.
Some people feel that there is some kind of conflict between faith and public engagement of issues. But the Pope knows that the only way we live out our faith is in the public square. When the very basis of life itself is threatened, the people of the world must act with moral urgency to protect it.
The Pope’s framing of the environmental crisis of climate change will have the biggest impact when pastors and priests can amplify his message from their own pulpits. We hope that religious people of all backgrounds in Nebraska will read and reflect on this document, and be inspired to protect the sacred gift of our air, land, water and people.