Pro-life anxiety over Pope Francis’ looming ecological manifesto.
Vatican officials confirmed this week that Pope Francis’ much-anticipated encyclical letter on the environment is finished and ready for translation, and should be released in June. An “encyclical” is the most developed form of papal teaching, and this will be the very first such document ever devoted entirely to the environment.
To set the table, the Vatican co-hosted a summit on climate change in Rome this week along with the United Nations, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the headliner. The Heartland Institute, a leading American forum for climate change and global warming skeptics, organized a rump event in Rome, but those voices were pointedly not invited inside the Vatican and UN conference.
The near-universal expectation is that Francis’s encyclical will lend the moral authority of the Catholic Church to calls for stronger environmental protection, including limits on greenhouse gas emissions as part of the anti-climate change push.
Francis has already tipped his hand about the document’s contents in multiple ways.
He’s said he wanted the document out by mid-2015 so it would influence a UN climate change summit set for Paris in December. The pontiff said he hopes the nations gathered at the event will make “courageous” choices – clearly implying that he doesn’t believe efforts to date have been especially courageous.
In January, he went on record saying he believes climate change is largely man-made, going so far as to fault humanity for “slapping around” the natural world. Francis is also fond of saying, whenever talk turns to the environment, that “God always forgives, man sometimes forgives, but nature never forgives.”
Although it’s not out yet, the encyclical is already generating significant criticism. Some is coming from secular skeptics on global warming and climate change, but presumably more worrying for the pope is blowback from within the Church.
One such voice was heard this week in a piece by Riccardo Cascioli for La nuova Bussola Quotidiana, a widely read Italian Catholic web site. Cascioli’s concluding line is, “The road the church is heading down is precisely this: To quietly approve population control while talking about something else.”
The heart of Cascioli’s case is not just that the United Nations is, in some ways, an odd partner for the Catholic Church, since some UN agencies over the years have engaged in titanic battles with the Church over issues such as whether condoms should be part of anti-AIDS efforts in the developing world.
It’s also that environmentalism and population control are intrinsically linked – at least in their present forms, he believes, you simply can’t have one without the other.
For those not familiar with Cascioli’s work, he’s a former Vatican Radio employee who co-authored a two-volume work titled Lies of the Environmentalists in 2004 and 2006. Among other things, the book argued that radical eco-activists deny the unique spiritual status of human beings in a way incompatible with Christian orthodoxy.
To date, Cascioli’s main concern has been with secular environmentalism. Now, however, he believes those forces are infiltrating the Church at its highest level.
“Up to this point, the Holy See has always represented the final and inviolable obstacle in defense of human dignity against a globalist ideology,” he wrote this week. With the pope’s new encyclical, he said, the moment may be at hand when “the Catholic Church is swept into the ecological chorus … sustaining its official doctrine on the climate.”
The logical consequence, Cascioli believes, will be for the Catholic Church to lower its guard against abortion, contraception, and other population control measures, because the “ecological chorus” is convinced the main threat to sustainable development and environmental harmony is human over-population.
“It’s the usual story,” he writes. “To eliminate poverty, all you have to do is to physically eliminate the poor.”
In opposition to that, Cascioli cites traditional Catholic doctrine that “every human life is sacred and cannot be sacrificed for any motive,” adding his own coda: “Not even to save the planet.” He doesn’t believe you have to control population growth in order to clean up the environment.
Cascioli’s core point is that you can’t buy only part of the secular environmental agenda. If Catholicism officially embraces the crusade against climate change, he warns, the momentum will carry the Church to places it will regret going.
Whatever one makes of Cascioli’s point, it would be a mistake to conclude he’s the only one who feels this way. He speaks for a powerful constituency in the Church, including Catholics most committed to pro-life causes. As a result, the aftermath of the pope’s forthcoming encyclical won’t play out only in forums where environmental matters are explicitly on the agenda. It will be felt in plenty of other arenas too, perhaps including the pontiff’s trip to the United States in September and the Synod of Bishops on the family in October.