Pope’s encyclical a problem for conservatives

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Pope Francis came out swinging a few weeks back with his encyclical on the environment, “On Care for Our Common Home.” It’s a beautifully written document though, with 246 numbered paragraphs, hardly a quick read. The encyclical challenges us all to be better stewards of the Earth, but it also serves another benefit: it’s bound to make conservative politicians squirm because of the conflict it presents for them, which provides entertainment for the rest of us.

We’ve already seen some politicians—men of faith, mind you—distancing themselves from the pope on this subject, and we’ll likely see more doing the same.

Pope Francis touched on every environmental issue you can think of: our disposable economy, climate change, pollution, our extravagance and waste, the extinction of species, the deforestation of the Amazon and Congo jungles, the destruction of coral reefs, diminishing sources of fresh water. You name it, his encyclical covered it. And the pope is very clear about who is causing these problems: man and our unbridled use of technology.

Francis doesn’t hold back on what he sees as a lack of political leadership and his belief that priority is “given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.”  The pope’s ultimate concern is that as resources diminish and pollution increases, the poor will suffer the most.

Francis is blunt in his criticism. The “excluded,” the poor, that is, are given little attention, because those who have the power to create change “are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population.”

The reaction from politicians?  “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” former governor Jeb Bush said on Fox. “And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issue before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

“I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I don’t consider him an expert on environmental issues,” said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee. According to U.S. News & World Report, Barton’s “comment was echoed by a number of other Republicans.” U.S. News reported that Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., did not respond to requests for comment or avoided answering questions on the subject.

Here’s the rub for Bush and Barton. They characterize the encyclical as an intrusion by Pope Francis into the worlds of politics and science, but Francis is approaching the subject from a spiritual point of view. He is telling us what we need to do as children of God.

Note to Jeb Bush: I agree with your statement, “Religion ought to be about making us better as people.”  Hello! That’s the idea behind the encyclical.

The encyclical begins with a simple statement: the Earth is “our common home” and “like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. … This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

Pope Francis tells us our “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” It is this third relationship we have abused.  Francis isn’t pretending to be a scientist. He is talking as a man of God and exhorting us to regard Earth as something that belongs to God, not man.

I’m not here to proselytize. My point is the fundamental conflict the pope is creating for conservative politicians who claim to be men of God.

Bush, who is Catholic, and Barton, who appears to have some religious background, have missed entirely what Francis is saying. And, apparently, Cruz and Paul, who talk about God in their lives—Cruz has said, “God isn’t done with America yet,” and Paul claims to have found Jesus—don’t know what to say.

None of these politicians can come out in the open and agree with the pope. Why? Their supporters likely don’t want to hear that we must address the environmental problems we have created and be more attentive to the poor. No one’s ever won an election on that platform.

The pope will be in Washington, D.C., in September, which should make for great political theater. We’ll see President Barack Obama embrace the pope for his encyclical while conservatives try to figure out how they can be men of faith yet distance themselves from what the pope says about man’s obligation to Mother Earth. This will be interesting.


Jack D’Aurora writes for


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  1. Fred  July 2, 2015

    Sorry to say but I find ALL politicians to say, “Whatever needs to be said to gain a vote.” No matter which party they might be. They all want to look their best in a conversation of just about anything. To say that conservatives disagree with Pope Francis is much too political and bias in its own right.

  2. John C. Calhoun  July 2, 2015

    Good Afternoon. As a life long and still practicing (I chuckle everytime I use that word as related to my faith) and in communion with the Holy See, I disagree that “technology” is the culprit here. Has the Church forgotten about the technology of “birth control”? Sadly, both good and bad have come about with its proliferation. But moreover I believe it is the lifting of the standards of living (arguably a very good thing) has been accomplished thru scientific and technological advancement and has trickled down to the masses, oh what to do with those now plastic Coca-Cola bottles? When you sailed our oceans no doubt you saw the piles of garbage and waste floating and dredged up from the water. As the song goes” more people, more scars upon the land.” If we cannot stem the rising population tides, then we must do as I suggested in the recent “Jeb environment blog”. We have to become better scientists. Convincing impoverished unfortunately will be more political and less religious as the Pope might hope for.

  3. Matt Schaeffer  July 2, 2015

    I eagerly await the day on which America’s “liberals” embrace the Pope’s beliefs on the sanctity of life. Hopefully, it will happen before another 50 million unborn children are killed.

    • Miriam rafferty  July 5, 2015

      I admittedly did not read only but a small portion of the document but i think it should be read in its entirety before making full judgement of its content. I look to those who are strong in our catholic faith, theologians, etc for their take on why the pope’s recent encyclical has become an eyebrow raiser not only by conservatives but by theologians, scientists, and economists. My friend is a scholar on Catholicm, attended UN meetings, is a writer for various publications, and speaks all over the country. These are some of her comments. ”

      “Please take care to note that the encyclical is binding on our faith only where he applies theology–such as the prohibition against same-sex unions. It is not binding where he speculates about possible economic policy–and he himself makes that very point in the document-that good people can disagree about how to approach solutions and policy

      It is a lovely meditation on creation, it points out that same-sex unions and abortion and population control are part of the abuse of nature. The Pope very beautifully locates man as the epitome of creation with dominion over creation as stewards. There are many solid and important points in the very Looooong document.

      The troublesome parts are where the Pope clearly does not understand economics, he is overly critical of capitalism, hints that it robs the poor, wants people to turn. Off their air conditioners and drive less…silly stuff like More windmills– all of which is policy not theology. Many faithful, well respected theologians and experts are yanking their hair over this one. As an example, windmills have not proven to be a cost effective means of providing large volume of energy. Sounds great, but does not perform as well as fossil fuel. The poor of the world need electricity and won’t get it if we try to use wind to power the world.

      On his misunderstanding of a free market economy, the pope seems unaware that free markets have lifted more nations and more people out of poverty than any other system ever in history. Many point out that as an Argentinian, his only close up look at capitalism was under Peron, that is, a corrupt capitalism, by which he seems to be judging all free markets.

      But the biggest issue is that he wants an international ” enforcement agreement” to insure environmental policies are followed. What??? He thinks the U.N. Might become Eco- cops? Apparently. This is what has so many people moaning and groaning. China and India will never comply with any such “enforcement.”

      As bad, he invited and honored as an advisor an atheist proponent of population control to help him, stand beside him, when the encyclical was presented. What a terrible image that made.

      You can read what. Fr. Siricio of the Acton. Institute wrote about the encyclical…it will explain more than I have. But essentially, where he addresses theology, it is good, where he strays into areas of proposed policy, many think it was worse than muddled, they think it dangerous. The left will use it to beat up conservative politicians, but the Left ought zip up, because it comes against them for abortion, euthanasia and same-sex unions.”

      She also gave me a link to a very thoughtful article

      Happy Independence Day to all!!

      •  July 6, 2015

        Hmmm, this is interesting. I don’t think the encyclical refers at all to same-sex unions, and the word abortion is used only once and not in the sense to which your friend refers. True, the encyclical is not binding on the faithful, but who’s suggesting it is.

        I find it curious how people, including apparently devout Catholics, want to parse the pope’s words and criticize the encyclical because of the pope’s lack of experience in certain fields. True, he’s no economist, and no one ever accused him of being a expert on market forces, and I doubt the pope has any idea about how to turn a profit. But these disciplines are not the focus of the encyclical, and their absence is not grounds to criticize it.

        The pope is focusing on the big picture: man has forgotten that the Earth is ours to preserve, not destroy, and that in our pursuit of financial gain, we have left behind a large sector of the world’s population. Picking at his words has the ring of being defensive.

        Ironically, I said in my original post that I wasn’t trying to proselytize, and I think that’s exactly what I am doing. Darn! I’m getting off target by doing so.

        At the same time, I’m learning something. I wrote the post for the purpose of illustrating how the encyclical will cause problems for conservative politicians. I now see that the encyclical is bothersome for people who consider themselves to be theologians.

  4. Miriam rafferty  July 17, 2015

    Jack, I am not sure why it was important to question the existence of abortion and same sex union in the encyclical but anyway here are some citations that have been referenced. I think it is important to understand fully the encyclical.
    Laudato Si on abortion is very clear:

    “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? ‘If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away,’”

    “At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health.’ ..

    It seems that some of the same folks that promote government regulation to protect the environment are the same folks that are pro choice and endorse abortion as a form of population control in poor countries.

    Here are some quotes from Laudato Si that warn against misuse of the body:

    ( see section 155 of the encyclical)

    “The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.” ( MJ note: thinking we have “absolute power over our own bodies” such as pretending to be male when I am female, or any transgender attempt is thus rejecting of body as the gift as God gave it to us. )

    “Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.’” (121)

    ( MJ’s note: ACCEPT our body, not transgender it or pretend it can be a wife or a husband to the same sex. This is borne out by the footnote 121 noted in section 155. The footnote is link to the Pope’s catechesis on April 15, 2015 which refutes gender theory.

    This reference above the pope clearly defines God’s heterosexual design as part of Laudato Si.

    Because the pope is so influential, many analyze and criticize because unlike the typical encyclical, the pope speaks beyond catholic doctrine or theology and tries to give solutions on how to handle the evils of the misuse of our environment using public policy.

    This is not the only encyclical that has caused groups to criticize. Human Vitae, the catholic teaching against artificial birth control and Evangelium Vitae, which speaks about banning abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty, caused controversy. This had liberals, some christians and Catholics too squirming in their seats.

    I would like to embrace the Pope’s focus of taking care of not only the Earth but his concern for God’s creation of human life as well.


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