Question and Answer
1. Why is the Pope talking about the environment?
Pope Francis is speaking as a pastor offering moral guidance rooted in central Catholic teachings about care for others and care for God’s creation. Pope Francis knows that more fully caring for God’s creation will help real people right now, especially the poor and vulnerable.
Care for creation is rooted in scripture and is part of our Catholic Social Teaching. The dignity of the human person is the central theme of Catholic Social Teaching. Human life is impacted by the natural environment. We have a responsibility to care for creation because God made it and it is our home. If we love God, we will love what He created. None of us want a messy, polluted home.
2. Have other Popes addressed this topic?
St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict both saw that our calling to care for the natural world grows from our calling to care for one another as brothers and sisters. Both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict linked the dignity of the human person with care for the environment and recognized this as a moral issue. Pope Benedict, said that “the environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.”
3. What does the Church know about science?
The Church isn’t an expert in science; that’s why it has advisors like the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, a highly respected body that includes Nobel laureates and leading climate scientists. The scientific consensus on the link between human activity and recent climate change is strong – as strong as the scientific consensus on the link between cigarettes and cancer. It would be imprudent not to act on this knowledge. Even if you disagree, the moral case for acting to protect the created world remains. Let’s not let disagreement over this distract from the moral case that Pope Francis is making regarding care for God’s creation.
Faith and reason go hand in hand. The Church respects the role of science. Scientific knowledge should be used to promote human flourishing and to protect the poor. We're a global church with experience with what's going on in communities around the world. The Church is an expert in humanity and sees how the environment impacts human life and human dignity.
4. What about jobs and economic development?
The Church has always taught that profit is legitimate and that business must also serve the common good and pursue justice. Protecting the environment does not necessarily stall economic progress. Pope Francis is inviting us to consider a “new climate economy” that balances economic growth and sustainability.
As Cardinal Wuerl recently stated, “Protecting the environment need not compromise legitimate economic progress…The need for sustainable development solutions is both a moral imperative and an economic incentive as a business issue. To take it up courageously is pro-business…Businesses large and small have much to contribute and much to gain. It is surely in our tradition to look to free enterprise for creativity in developing the ‘engine’ (energy) of a more climate-friendly and sustainable economy, both domestically and internationally.”
Sustainable development means that economic prosperity, protection of the created world, and inclusion of the poor and vulnerable should be pursued together. It is a both and, not either or.
5. Is the Pope advocating a political agenda?
Catholics are called to participate in public life and work for the common good. Responsibly caring for the natural world will help families. This really is about advocating for our kids and grandkids. Every day, environmental impacts affect the lives of countless people right here at home and around the world.
The Church engages in political discourse but is never partisan. The Church encourages morality, not an ideology.
6. What if I don’t like what Pope Francis is saying?
The encyclical is an exercise of Pope Francis’ teaching authority. It affirms core Catholic moral teachings on care for others and for God’s creation. It offers prudential judgments on particular issues in light of those core moral teachings. “Prudence is intelligence applied to our actions. It allows us to discern what constitutes the common good in a given situation.” (US bishops 2001)
Catholics are called to consider such prudential judgments prayerfully, thoughtfully, and humbly. Invoking the role of prudential judgment doesn’t allow us to dismiss the encyclical out of hand. This is at its root a moral issue.
We’re not called to live our faith grudgingly or to assent to its teachings as minimally as possible. In fact, we’re called to just the opposite: to overflow in our love and generosity towards others, and in our humility and docility to our Church.
7. So, what am I supposed to do and what difference will it make?
Our “throwaway culture” drives many of our environmental problems. We can resist this by taking small steps toward simpler, fuller lives. This will help us grow closer to God and each other. Small everyday actions matter. We can all take action in our homes and in our communities.
Responsibly caring for the natural world is a global challenge and it needs a global response. We all need to do our part. This is an opportunity to witness to our faith. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American to be canonized, is attributed as saying: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”