Pope Francis promulgated an encyclical on climate change and its impacts on the poor, especially. The document, delivered to the world’s Catholics, is both conservative and radical in its concept and temperament. Conservative, in that Francis invokes the Bible and past theologians to found his critique of capitalism’s excesses on long-standing moral precepts. Radical, in that Francis develops root causes of climate change and how it is and will continue to wreak havoc on at-risk populations across the planet.
Alas, popes speak and nothing happens. From Pacem in Terris and Laborem Excercens to Populorum Progressio and, now, Laudato Si, the Bishop of Rome condemns and implores. Yet, the matters of concern worsen. And if capitalism’s excesses are the common cause, the critiqued economic system continues to accrete, depositing “filth” as it enriches a few at the expense of the many.
I fell away from the Church decades ago; my “soul” was never in it. The Church, after all, is for believers, those who hold that God exists, created the world, and somehow inheres in that creation, perhaps guiding and cajoling the faithful in their daily lives. Yet, I appreciated then and now the Church of my youth as an innately moral institution with something to say that is profound and provocative. It sits both within and without society, calling upon ancient verities to expose human shortcomings and, it always hopes, provide a pathway to redemption, in this world and, it believes, the next.
Of course, the usual suspects, the captains of industry and reactionary minds, quickly dismissed the pope and his encyclical. Such reaction is altogether predictable and historical. In the U.S., an entire political party rejects the very premise of Laudato Si, that humans are causing the planet to warm with untold consequences for earth’s most vulnerable.
Ironic, indeed, that a majority of Supreme Court justices and a significant plurality of Republican presidential candidates call themselves Catholic. They feel emboldened to follow their “conscience” in ignoring anything the popes write in opposition to their controlling political ideologies.
These same conservatives applaud the Church’s actions against the doctrinally permissive religious on issues of sex. Suppose the Vatican were to see fit to excommunicate Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas for his egregious policies against the poor in Kansas? Same with Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, or any of the Catholic Supremes who give license to corporations’ wealth extraction and sanction capital punishment, a punishment falling disproportionately on the nation’s poor?
If the Church wished to send a message, that would be a start.