Posted June 18, 2015
Leaked encyclical text puts climate change on humans
Joshua J. McElwee
Francis: The Environment Encyclical
Francis' landmark encyclical on ecological issues will say the "major part" of
global climate change is due to human activity and will call for radical changes
to the world's political and economic systems to address the issue, according to
a leaked version of the text.
The Vatican condemned the leak, saying it broke
earlier rules preventing the release of the text before its official launch
Thursday. Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a statement
that the text, an Italian-language version of the document, was a draft and not
the final version of the text.
Although the version of the encyclical
published by the Italian news magazine l'Espresso is unauthorized, the document
explores many themes previously linked to the encyclical, a number of them
controversial, including the loss of the planet's biodiversity and continuing
inequity between the global North and the global South.
The document also
shows a notable reorientation of the church's understanding of the human person
from a being that dominates to one that responsibly serves creation.
Tuesday, most major newspapers in the United States and Italy had published
lengthy reports or excerpts from the document. Reporting for this article is
based on an NCR translation of the document posted by l'Espresso.
encyclical is titled "Laudato Si', On the care of the common home." The title,
translated into English as either "Be praised" or "Praised be," is taken from
St. Francis of Assisi's 13th-century prayer "The Canticle of the
An initial read of the leaked document, which is 192 pages with
the index, presents an encyclical with a far-ranging scope. The document has six
chapters and ends with two prayers, including the prayer cited in the
The leaked text first points to earlier church writings on ecology and
then gives what it calls the "very consistent scientific consensus" over climate
change and other degradation of the environment before going into deeper
implications for both the church and the global international system.
addressing scientific matters, Francis first acknowledges work done in ecology
by his predecessors since St. Pope John XXIII and also quotes at length Orthodox
'Urgent invitation' to address issues
In the leaked
text, the pope writes that he is addressing his letter as "an urgent invitation
to renew the dialogue on the way in which we are constructing the future of the
planet." Before continuing into scientific matters, the pope states: "The
climate is a common good, of all and for all."
"There exists a very
consistent scientific consensus that indicates that we are in the presence of a
worrying warming of the climate system," he continues.
"Humanity is called to
take conscience of the necessity of changes in lifestyles, of production and of
consumption, to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce
it or accelerate it," he states.
"It is true that there are other factors
(those of volcanoes, of variations of orbit and the Earth's axis, the solar
cycle), but numerous scientific studies indicate that the major part of the
global warming in the last decades is due to a great concentration of greenhouse
gas ... emitted overall at the cause of human activity," the pope writes in the
Later in that section, the pope states: "Climate change is a
global problem with grave environmental, social, economic, and political
implications and constitutes one of the principle current challenges for
humanity. The heaviest impacts will probably fall in the next decades on
Francis then addresses a number of other issues of
environmental degradation, including emerging scarcity of water for some
populations of the world and a loss of biodiversity because of the extinction of
The pope first states clearly: "Access to drinkable and secure water
is an essential, fundamental and universal human right because it determines the
survival of persons."
On the issue of biodiversity, he is likewise blunt:
"Because of us, thousands of species can no longer give glory to God with their
existence, nor can they communicate to us their message."
"We do not have the
right" to do this, he writes in the leaked text.
Francis also criticizes
modern urban construction that does not take into account energy
"Many cities have grand inefficient structures that consume in
excess water and energy," he writes. "It is not suited to live on this planet
always more submersed in concrete, asphalt, glass and metal, removed from
physical contact with nature."
Global inequity, humans not as
Turning to issues of planetary inequity, the pope says that issues
of inequity can no longer be addressed at the individual level.
does not strike only individuals, but whole countries, and it obliges us to
think of an ethic of international relations," he writes in the leaked
"There is in fact a true 'ecological debt,' overall between the
North and the South, connected to commercial imbalances with consequences in the
ecological sphere, surely like the disproportionate use of natural resources
historically done by some countries," he states.
Making a cry for global
unity, he states: "We need to strengthen the awareness that we are one human
family. There are not political or social borders or barriers that can be
permitted to isolate us, and it is for this there is no space for the
globalization of indifference."
The leaked document then turns the lens
inward to church teaching, devoting a whole chapter to exploring the
Judeo-Christian understanding of how God meant for humans to use the
Francis bluntly states that the pervasive understanding that God gave
humans power of dominion or destruction over the earth "is not a correct
interpretation of the Bible."
He continues: "Even if it is true that
sometimes Christians have interpreted the Scriptures in a wrong way, today we
must refuse with force that from the fact of being created in the image of God
and given the mandate to subject the Earth that we may deduce an absolute
dominion over other creatures."
"While we can make a responsible use of
things, we are called to recognize that the other living beings have their own
worth in front of God ... because the Lord joys in his works," the pope
Call for new global processes
Later in the leaked draft, the pope
calls for new global structures and processes for determining uses of the
world's goods. He also calls for more transparency in a global decision-making
process to include a greater diversity of voices, particularly the world's
At one point, Francis asks: "What kind of world do we want to give
to those that come after us, to children that are growing up now?"
leave to the next generations too many ruins, deserts, and dirtiness," he
states. "The rhythm of consumption, of wastefulness, and of alteration of the
environment has overcome the possibilities of the planet."
The pope in the
leaked document also ties the environmental crisis to what he calls a pervasive
"technocratic paradigm" that isolates individual problems from more connected
understandings of unhealthy global trends.
In that area, the pope also
clearly speaks out against abortion and scientific experiments on human
Later, Francis states that use of fossil fuels "must be substituted
progressively and without delay."
"Reduction of greenhouse gas requires
honesty, courage, and responsibility, overall on the part of the most powerful
and most polluting nations," he continues later in the leaked text.
believers cannot not pray to God for positive developments in current
discussions, in a way that future generations will not suffer the consequences
of imprudent hesitation."
Addressing one possible solution to bringing down
greenhouse gas emissions -- the idea of marketplaces where countries or
companies could sell and buy credits to regulate their outputs of gas -- Francis
says that solution is not enough.
Such credits, he states in the leaked
draft, "can give place to a new form of speculation and might not serve to
reduce the global emission of pollution gas."
"This system looks to be a
quick and easy solution, with the appearance of a certain commitment to the
environment, that however does not imply by fact a radical change to the heights
of the circumstances," the pope writes.
Commenting later on the global
international system, Francis says it has shown "impotence to assume
responsibility" for the environmental crisis. The pope suggests local movements
"can make the difference."
"It is there in fact that can grow a greater
responsibility, a strong communitarian sense, a special capacity to care and a
more creative generosity, a profound love for our earth, like surely the thought
of that which we leave to our children and grandchildren," he states.
pope concludes the leaked text with a reflection on our earthly and heavenly
homes: "God, who calls us to generous dedication and to give all, offers us the
strength and the light which we need to go ahead."
"[God] does not abandon
us, does not leave us alone, because he is united definitively with our Earth,
and his love brings us always to find new paths," he states, ending with a
modern translation of the phrase in St. Francis's prayer: "To him be
Francis signed the document on May 24, the Catholic feast day of
At the beginning of the draft, the pope also reflects on the
choice of his papal name, saying St. Francis "shows us ... that integral ecology
requires openness towards categories that transcend the language of exact
science or biology and connects us with the human essence."
"Like it happens
when we fall in love with someone, every time that Francis looked at the sun,
the moon, the smallest animals, his reaction was to sing, sharing in the glory
of all the other creatures," the pope writes in the leaked text. "He entered
into communication with all of creation."
"His reaction was much more than an
intellectual appreciation or an economic calculus, because for him every
creature was a sister, united to him with vines of affection."
McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is
firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac .]