I wonder what will happen. People who are supposed to know such things say that in a few short weeks, Pope Francis will issue an encyclical, a letter applying Church teaching to a given reality in contemporary life, on ecology and the environment.
The pope’s message hardly will be the first comment by a major figure on the subject.
The question of the environment has been on people’s minds for a while, and protecting the environment is a cause supported across the world.
How to protect the environment is the issue, although a small minority insists that nothing needs to be protected since no problem exists.
It has become a political issue, with some demanding laws to reduce or end certain practices considered dangers to the environment, and others declaring with equal passion that it is none of the government’s business and that many proposals on behalf of protection in effect are dangers themselves to national prosperity.
I have no idea of what this awaited encyclical may say, but it is hard to believe that it will not be in step with the preponderance of scientific opinion these days that we humans are injuring the environment, that many people already are suffering, and that, if unchecked, continuing abuse will harm the lives of future generations.
I also suspect that some, possibly many, Catholics will find fault with what is said, depending of course on what actually is said.
Some well may criticize the encyclical’s logic because they will not agree with some fundamental position. This will happen.
Others will say that the pope has no business in discussing this issue at all.
People at other times used this argument to refute Church teachings on other questions. It was used, for example, when Pope Leo XIII over a century ago declared that divine law required employers to pay employees a wage enabling the employees to live decently. Ownership, as in the case of employers, confers rights, but the rights are not unquestionable when it comes to dealing with human beings.
The Church is bound to speak for, and demand, the rights afforded people by the mere fact that they are God’s children, and in this obligation to call to account any process that threatens the rights of people, such as the right to the essentials of life, clean and available water, clean air, decent food, and so on.
And the Church has the history, thank God, of looking ahead to the future, to the realization of what is right by the next generation and then the next.
When the First World War ended, the French prime minister was Georges Clemenceau. Anti-Catholic himself, he virtually made a joke of Pope Benedict XV’s suggestions about rebuilding Europe after the war.
He said with a sneer that the Catholic Church just keeps coming back!
The great minds, including President Woodrow Wilson, went along with Clemenceau and those who thought as he thought — largely setting the stage for the Second World War and the Cold War.
The human race paid so very much for the “expertise” of these leaders.
Indeed, will we ever learn?
If the encyclical offers thoughts that disturb some economists, some politicians, some sociologists and some scientists, take a moment to question the critics. From where do they come? How sound is their opinion?
To repeat, I do not know if and when this encyclical will come. I have not a clue as to its content.
I know this. If it comes, I will not hurry to give any critic the benefit of the doubt.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.