Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis
On Care for Our Common Home.
For Book Clubs. 2015.
Already criticized by Church conservatives, including Australia’s Cardinal Pell, as too extreme, the encyclical makes its reference to a cantical of Saint Francis of Assisi, for whom this Pope has named himself, and who referred to ‘our sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.’ This encyclical proceeds to a list of the injuries which humankind has inflicted on her, familiar now to scientists and concerned lay folk all over the world.
The first one third carries this list, the middle third much Catholic catechism, and the last a repetition of argument and justification, with unobjectionable platitude, ending with prayer. So the substance is in the leading chapters, and here are some surprises.
Chapter One begins with recognition of the speed of change in modern societies, called “rapidification” since ‘the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution.’ So Pope Francis seems to have moved on from his predecessor Benedict XVI in his ‘The Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’ in defence of Creation Doctrine.
Dealing with the increasing plight of international refugees: ‘Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.’ A civil society, a civilization, is a society in which members will subserviate their own interests to the common good. I would have liked him to proceed to a criticism of societies in which this is less and less required, Western at the insistence of press barons, oil magnates and the brothers Koch, and in Eastern societies at the insistence of Mesopotamian religions.
Religions present us with the problem of sacredness, beliefs which must never be varied. Here it appears in Francis’s prologue, the ‘tragic consequence’ of ‘unchecked human activity,’ ‘the effective explosion of industrial civilization’ flowing from ‘ the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth.’ Nowhere here, nowhere, does he mention human overpopulation, until we reach the section ‘Global Inequality’ where, ‘Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.’ And ‘it must none the less be recognised that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.’ No, Pope Francis, the problem requires both efforts. Genesis 1:28 ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’ is sacred, scriptures admit of no variations, in Christianity and in Islam. Global population one billion in 1800 CE seven billion now.
Pope Francis is an Argentinian. He has a keen focus on central America. In 1990 I was in Panama to cover the first anniversary of the US invasion. I fell in with foreign expatriates some of which were in the business of logging the Amazon. One was a Jew, the four others Spanish speaking Catholics. I imagine Francis hopes his Encyclical will influence the Catholics. Believers and atheists together, well might we pray.