The Vatican released Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, on 18th June. It is, in general, scientifically ill-informed, economically illiterate, intellectually incoherent, and morally obtuse. It is also theologically suspect, and large parts of it are leftist drivel, albeit couched in the vocabulary of Catholic social teaching.
It has been reported that Vatican officials in the global warming debate want to make sure they do not put the Roman Catholic Church on the wrong side of science, as in the condemnation of Galileo in 1633 for believing that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Laudato Si’ fails to get the science right (see paragrahps 2026), and although the Vatican can no longer prosecute heretics, Francis has no hesitation condemning those who oppose the alleged global warming consensus (see, for example, paragraph 54).
The encyclical is a diatribe against modern industrial civilization. In this, it should be compared to the 1864 encyclical of Pius IX, Quanta cura, and its attached Syllabus of Errors, which constitute a much more impressive diatribe against modern intellectual culture. Francis believes the industrialized economies are wrecking God’s creation by digging far too much stuff (coal, oil, natural gas) up. The current level of resource consumption is exhausting and polluting the Earth.
On the other hand, he thinks that the wealthy industrialized countries are doing far too little to help the poor in the unindustrialized Third World. Paragraphs 48-52 discuss the ills caused by global inequality. But Francis does not emphasize the need for the rich to share their wealth with the poor. That is because Francis’s thinking on these issues, as he makes clear in paragraphs 10-12, is based on the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). It isn’t until paragraph 82 that the Pope mentions the name of Jesus.
Saint Francis took a vow of poverty, tried to live as simply as Jesus had lived, and founded the first orders of mendicant friars. This is the Pope’s starting point, but he fails to notice that his namesake had wealthy parents who didn’t require his care when they became old and sick, didn’t have children who needed to be fed, clothed, and educated, and relied for his sustenance on alms from wealthy people in a wealthy society.
Thus the Pope wants to address inequality and at the same time save the world from global warming by reducing the wealth of the wealthy countries through de-industrializing, overcoming the “technological paradigm,” and giving up our consumer “throwaway” culture. In other words, we can save the world by leveling down.
The influence of Liberation Theology on the Pope’s thinking is obvious. Liberation Theology was strongest in Latin America, and its heyday was from the 1950s to the 1980s. Gustavo Gutierrez, one of its leading exponents, claimed that Saint Francis of Assisi should be the patron saint of Liberation Theology. Recently, a former general in Romania’s secret police during the Communist era said that the Soviet KGB created, directed, and funded the Liberation Theology movement.
Although Pope Francis thinks we must consume much less in order to save the global environment, he states emphatically that population control is not part of the solution. This seems like a glaring intellectual inconsistency, but Francis also makes clear that his ideal is a pastoral society of peasants who live in harmony with the land and don’t disturb “mother earth.” Thus, world population can continue to increase as long as we are all poor. In paragraph 114, Francis protests: “Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but….” To borrow a line, the Pope doth protest too much, methinks.