Pope Francis' recent exhortation on climate change, titled Laudate Deum, reflects his growing frustration with the lack of progress in global climate action. The pope openly criticizes those he believes are responsible for the crisis and emphasizes the scientific evidence behind human-caused climate change. He also highlights the disproportionate impact of climate change on developing nations. In the document, the pope rejects the notion that technology alone can solve the crisis and expresses disappointment in the failure of international meetings to accelerate the shift away from fossil fuels. By incorporating scientific studies and the works of scholars, Francis shows a comprehensive understanding of both the science and politics of climate change, aiming to mobilize "all people of good will" to take action. The pope states, "Our responses have not been adequate while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point."
As the leader of the Catholic Church, which boasts millions of followers worldwide, Pope Francis has authority over more individuals than most heads of state. Since his papacy began in 2013, he has consistently advocated for environmental protection. Choosing the name of the patron saint of ecology and issuing an influential encyclical on the environment in 2015, the pope has made clear his commitment to the planet. However, when reading Laudate Deum, one can sense his lament and frustration with the lack of progress made since his earlier encyclical, Laudato Si'. Dorothy Fortenberry, a Catholic writer, describes Laudate Deum as a document with an underlying sense of heartbreak.
Despite the pope's focus on the climate crisis and support from Catholics in much of the Global South, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. The response to his call for action has been lukewarm, particularly in the country with the highest per capita emissions. An analysis of official writings from U.S. bishops following Laudato Si' revealed that many Catholic leaders in America are either silent, deny the severity of climate change, or hold biased views. Unfortunately, the response to Laudate Deum has been no better.
The pope's frustration expressed in Laudate Deum serves as a reminder that the climate crisis cannot be solved by an individual alone. The document emphasizes the importance of sharing and building collective power to bring about change, encouraging efforts towards a better world despite the challenging circumstances.
Pope Francis' strong views on the climate crisis should come as no surprise to those who have followed his papacy. He has presented a new direction for the Catholic Church, earning praise from followers of different faiths. While he remains open to LGBTQ unions and the ordination of women, he is a staunch critic of uncontrolled capitalism and consumerism. The pope also emphasizes the needs of the poor and the value of Indigenous perspectives. However, his positions do not conform neatly to any specific political party. For example, in Laudato Si', Francis reiterates the Catholic Church's stance against abortion, possibly as a way to appeal to conservative individuals and encourage them to take his calls for climate justice seriously.Pope Francis has made a significant and impactful move by issuing an encyclical on climate change, the highest form of teaching from the Pope that represents the Church's perspective on a specific topic. In his encyclical, Laudato Si', Francis emphasizes the responsibility of Catholics to act as responsible stewards of the planet, making the crisis of climate change a top priority for the Church. This highlights the Pope's personal investment in the matter and the importance he places on the issue.
The encyclical has a personal tone, showcasing the direct voice of the Pope and his deep connection to the issue. This is evident in his choice to name it Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi, who was renowned for his care for the environment and the poor. By aligning himself with this influential figure, Pope Francis further emphasizes his dedication to addressing climate change.
For Catholics who are already engaged in climate change efforts, the encyclical serves as a motivating reminder that the Vatican supports their work. However, there remains a gap between the Pope's official statements and their implementation in local parishes, reflecting the influence of American politics within American Catholicism.
Some individuals and groups within the Catholic Church, who align themselves with right-wing ideologies, have resisted Pope Francis' teachings on climate change and seek to undermine his authority. This resistance demonstrates the challenges that the Pope faces in implementing his agenda and highlights the political divisions within the Church.The pontiff's frustration is palpable as global emissions continue to rise, exacerbated by dismissive and unreasonable opinions held by climate change deniers within the church. However, it is crucial to recognize that these viewpoints are exceptions. Overall, Catholics in the nation are not more inclined than average Americans to perceive climate change as a pressing issue. The primary hurdle to taking action lies not in denial but in the everyday demands of life.
Providing valuable insights into Pope Francis' desired transformation is the document Laudate Deum. This seminal work underscores the potential impact of even modest actions in alleviating the suffering caused by climate change. One particular alteration worth considering is a reevaluation of hierarchies that concentrate power among a select few. The pope firmly believes that the wielders of such control form a risky small fraction of humanity. Coinciding with the Synod on Synodality, the release of Laudate Deum suggests that the assembly is thoroughly engrossed in the question of inclusivity and the distribution of power, aligning seamlessly with the pope's assertion that every facet of life is interconnected, and salvation is a collective endeavor.
While the outcome of the synod and the effect of Laudate Deum on climate action within the Catholic community and beyond remain uncertain, the pontiff relentlessly encourages the relentless pursuit of altruistic endeavors regardless of the promised outcome.