just 'cause he
don't think he
Well Pope Francis’ long expected encyclical on a Christian response to the impact of climate change on the environment is due to be released on Thursday and it is already causing a stir. Italian journalist, Sandro Magister, an outspoken critic of Pope Francis and blogger for the Italian daily L’Espresso wrote the introduction for a bootlegged copy—or alleged copy—his editors had managed to purloin and was promptly and indefinitely deprived of his credentials by the Vatican Press Office. But this is not simply a matter of a newspaper getting a scoop. Magister has become one of the rallying forces in the anti-Francis movement and has close ties to some of the curial prelates who find Francis’ reforms very threatening to their lives of comfortable graft. The Katholik Krazies are rallying around Magister in this latest kerfuffle as this encyclical is a particularly neuralgic point for them. While previous Popes, including Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, have spoken up to raise the issue of environmental responsibility (and Benedict was given the moniker “The Green Pope” in acknowledgement for his environmental concerns), with Francis a real danger to the industrialized establishment has arisen as Francis is not one to pull any punches. Previous magisterial pronouncements have been limited to somewhat abstract moral principles. Francis is not a theologian (he was trained as a chemist) but has a science background and tends to bring abstractions right down to the very concrete realities. This makes nervous those semi-gnostics who like to divide creation into the material and the spiritual and think our only concern is to be about the spiritual.
Sandro Magister is not the only water carrier for the big boys of industry whose productivity and wealth depend on an unlimited access to water, atmosphere, forests, and the earth. Former Senator and professedly new to the Catholic Cafeteria, Rick Santorum, is no admirer of Pope Francis, espousing a Reform of the Reform Catholicism that is selective in its acceptance of the teachings and decrees of the Second Vatican Council. The implications of the role of the Church in the modern world as outlined in Gaudium et Spes would seem to him and to many Catholics like him to put too much stress on the secular and to lose focus on the Church’s spiritual mission. Of course the fact that Consol Energy, a Pennsylvania energy company with interests in coal and natural gas production, is one of Santorum’s clients compromises the former’s Senator’s objectivity when it comes to developing a Christian response to the moral imperative of environmental responsibility. Senator Santorum said that the Pope should limit himself to spiritual matters and leave science to the scientists. The Pope has an advanced degree in the sciences; Santorum’s academic background is Political Science (“not a real science” as Sheldon Cooper would say) for undergraduate; a Masters in Business Administration, and a Juris Doctor (Law School Graduate). But then Cardinal Burke says that men need to dress like men so as they say on the lower East Side: “Go figah.”
Jeb Bush is another Catholic running for President who weighed in against Pope Francis’ teaching on the moral issues regarding the environment though he was a bit more respectful in his tone than Senator Santorum. The former Florida governor and latest scion of the Bush dynasty to seek the White House said that he would not pass judgment until he read what the Pope wrote, but thinks that the purpose of religion was about making us better people and less about “things that end up getting in the political realm.” Again we hear the whine of that that mild gnosticism. Well, while Poppy Bush was devilishly intelligent (adjective meant to be taken literally), his sons are somewhat dim bulbs who seem incapable of making the connections between moral imperatives and political agenda even when a Pope sent Cardinal Pio Laghi, a family friend of the Bushes, to explain it.
But the issue about Francis bugging the conservatives is more fundamental than his call for a responsible use of our natural resources and protecting the environment. The heart of the matter is probably best explained in this morning’s New York Time’s article where Michael McKenna, an energy lobbyist and Republican political consultant—and a self proclaimed “conservative Catholic”—said the following
“For practicing conservative Catholics, the folks who sit in the pews on Sunday, this is not going to be an indictment of guys like Rubio and Jeb,” Mr. McKenna said. “Those guys have already made up their minds on climate change. For the real churchgoers, this is going to be an indictment of the pope.
“This pope is selling a line of Latin American-style socialism,” he continued. “This guy is not in sync with the American Catholic Church. Guys like Jeb and Rubio are more in line with the American Catholic Church than the pope.”
This is the problem: not that the Pope is speaking out on the moral imperatives of environmental responsibility but that the Pope is making it clear that unbridled free-market capitalism and the raping of the earth’s resources and environment that is consequent to lack of governmental—and international—control is not compatible with our Catholic faith and morality. While previous popes—Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI—have spoken out loud and clear about the moral imperatives of social responsibility, Francis still represents a startling discontinuity with his predecessors. The break is not so much in the message—it would be difficult to find more explicit challenges to the industrial and economic status quo than Rerum Novarum or Mater et Magistra—as in the stance from which the position is being declared. At the end of the day Francis’ predecessors went home to the Apostolic Palace and its courtly life. Francis, in his very public rejection of the pontifical life style and his frayed sleeves and down-at-the-heels black shoes lets you know that despite that friendly smile and his donning the occasional clown’s nose for a photo, means business. His merciless reforms at the Vatican Bank, his virtual sacking of opposition Cardinal Raymond Burke, his plain-spoken off-the-cuff remarks to the press, his calling to account of Bishops who have covered up sexual misconduct by their priests tells us that this encyclical isn’t going to be ceremonially delivered and then go away. Republican members of Congress (and potential Presidential candidates) should start sweating now about his September address to a Joint Session of Congress. (Not that he will let Democrats off the hook when it comes to the unborn and probably same-sex marriage.) But it will be much harder for Republicans in the upcoming elections to revive the Karl Rove strategy of convincing Catholics that our true political home is in the GOP.
Francis himself has said that his papacy will be short but there is no doubt that he will not leave the Church as he found it and his legacy will be a pain in the ass for advocates of the old order of things. It is a risky business for Francis personally but for the Church it is a defining entry into the realities of applying the Gospel to our contemporary world. Angels need no longer dance on the head of a pin ‘cause we ain’t countin’ no more.