Pope Francis’ charity in truth

was my Trade Tripper column in the 26-27 June issue of BusinessWorld:

Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ “green encyclical,” was released to great commotion last week. Immediately, both sides of the environmental divide were quick to claim the papal pronouncement as supporting their positions. The document, it must be said, is superbly engaging reading and contains insights well worth sharing. But radical it is not.

That is, “radical” in the progressive, liberal sense of the word. Nothing much that is new is said in Laudato Si, and its power as an “encyclical for the ages” (as one commentator puts it) has more to do with its earnest call to arms in putting faith at the center of earthly struggles.

In that context, Laudato Si is essentially the Caritas in Veritate for the environment. Indeed, as the Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, points out: “In his encyclical, Benedict also officiated in the language of the Magisterium of the Church the concept of ‘human ecology,’ dealing with the correct coexistence of people in society and in relation to the environment.”

It would be wrong to consider Laudato Si frowning upon the market economy. In one particular passage, it even mentions that “to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity.”

Undeniably, portions of Laudato Si are quite Pope Benedict XVI’ish: “Stop with the cynicism, secularism and immorality” and “human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law.”

And then it ups the ante.

Putting environmentalists on the back pedal, Pope Francis unflinchingly declared: “To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.” This puts the Church squarely at odds with climate change advocates such as Jeffrey Sachs (who incidentally attended a recent Vatican conference on climate change) who strongly pushed for population control as part of environmental development.

Indeed, Pope Francis was blunt to people that “view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited.” In other words, he was referring to activists who valued the trees and little snails more than human beings. Hence, “a sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.”

And as I wrote on June 12 in anticipation of the encyclical (“Climate change and of leaving science to the scientists”): “The Church’s mandate is with moral issues and moves with absolute sure footing when dealing in matters where the natural law and Scripture are clear: abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception. But to give specific empirical measures or remedies relating to the environment, inequality, poverty, immigration? That is better left to people with the established expertise for it.”

Such a point Pope Francis took time to make clear: “On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.”

And this is the correct thought. Consensus among scientists is one thing, but to take such as truth is another. One commentator puts it this way: the Pope “has (just as we have) no guarantee of the soundness of the views of any scientist or group of scientists. A view that he adopts based on what a climate-change scientist or group of scientists -- be he or they believers (known to their critics as ‘alarmists’) or skeptics (known to their critics as ‘deniers’) -- say, could be wrong.” Note Laudato Si’s quite off comments on air-conditioning, for example.

Finally, there is Pope Francis’ express criticism of gender theory and transgenderism: “Valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.’”

The foregoing is no mere religious medievalism. The rationale here is that “the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development.”

All in all, Pope Francis shares nothing whatsoever with progressive environmental activists’ overriding faith in institutions, policies, or human activism but rather a continuation of and consistency with Church teaching: that to care for the environment is connected with respect for all that God created, whether it be in the new life that we see in children, the unborn, and the distinction between men and women.

Indeed, more than any pollutant or corruption, the “culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another.”