At last, Pope Francis, the “Good Guy Pope” has done something I’ve been wishing he’d do since he started his papacy: he’s written an encyclical on something that matters. You can read the full story in an article here, but to sum it up, in a few days Pope Francis will be releasing an encyclical on climate change and poverty. For those of you who don’t know, an encyclical is
“a letter, usually treating some aspect of Catholic doctrine, sent by the Pope and addressed either to the Catholic bishops of a particular area or, more normally, to the bishops of the world; however, the form of the address can vary widely, and often designates a wider audience.”
Encyclicals are official. They’re serious. The statements contained in them are considered to be in line with Catholic doctrine. In this particular encyclical, Pope Francis will be officially acknowledging that climate change is a real thing; furthermore, he’ll be encouraging the 1.2 billion people in this world who are Catholic to do something about it. He will also be bringing up the issue of poverty. Yeah. That’s right. He’ll be talking about not one, but TWO serious issues.
It seems these two issues are completely unrelated at first glance, but I think the pope may be on to something. As one archbishop explains in the article I linked to earlier,
“It [the encyclical] will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health”
If I read between the lines correctly, that sounds an awful lot like the pope is pointing a finger at consumerism and saying, “Hey! Look, we know you like your ipads, but could you not consume at the expense of everyone else’s well-being!” It’s about time, too. We know that unchecked capitalism leads to inequality, but as the pope will be pointing out, the consumerism that comes with it also eats away at the environment. Since the Earth is the only place we currently have that’s habitable, we kind of need to make it last. For the first time in a long time, I actually agree with a Catholic on something.
Of-course, there are naysayers. In the recent past, the response made by Catholics whenever Pope Francis did something “liberal” was to act like he wasn’t speaking for God. And technically, as I’ve pointed out previously, they’re theologically right to say it wasn’t an official statement and “didn’t count” when the pope said “Who am I to judge?” in his oft-quoted interview referring to gay people. But the “Good Guy Pope” is finally leaving no room for those excuses for his behavior. He means business. He’s giving it to the world in writing.
This is also the pope who turned down the opportunity to live in the papal apartments in the Vatican. When he says he cares about inequality and poverty, I genuinely believe him. I don’t think he’d include climate change in the same encyclical if he didn’t take that seriously too. People who deny climate change (I’m looking at you, US Republicans) are going to be upset about this. In fact, they’re already voicing their dissent–but they’re going to have to suck it up. This is their religion now.
This, my readers, is that rarely-visible good side of religion. While Pope Francis has been somewhat wishy-washy on other issues (gay marriage and divorce for example), he’s taken a strong stance that poverty is a major problem, and emphasized the importance of addressing it over other issues Catholics seem to focus their attention on these days (like abortion and gay marriage).
This could not come at a better time, or to a more needy group of people. Unfortunately, politics are often infused into the religious practice of deeply religious Catholics. Political opinions are even preached from the pulpit. For years, I’ve seen my parents vote based on Catholic teachings. To this day, they typically make their voting choices mostly based on whether or not a candidate supports abortion. They are vehemently pro-life and anti marriage equality, both of which are issues the church has been very vocal about. Yet they have always been wishy-washy on climate change, a serious issue about which the church has previously said little. It’s as if, without the OK of a priest, they couldn’t make a decision one way or another. They always recycled, and recently even got solar panels installed on the roof, but they simultaneously voiced skepticism about global warming on and off for years. Since the Pope’s encyclical has been announced, my parents and I finally agree about something. They’ve magically decided that climate change is a thing. While I do wish my parents had come to this conclusion on their own, I can’t applaud the pope enough for this. There are too many people like my parents who needed the church to tell them what to think, and who are now going to finally take this issue seriously. Way to go, Francis!
As always, feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.