September 25, 2015
As seen in:
In June the Vatican released the papal encyclical "Laudato Si", subtitled “On care for our common home, that is, Mother Earth.”
The inspirational title is from a canticle by Pope Francis’ namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, in which the beloved patron saint of the poor, animals and ecology reminds us that Earth is both like “a sister with whom we share our life, and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.”
This papal encyclical is a stirring paean to the planet and nothing less than a green manifesto to save the biosphere from the excesses of its most dominant species – us – Homo sapiens. For that it deserves plaudits.
It is extraordinary to see a pope write that: “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”
This heartfelt plea for ecojustice might well have been written by Saint Francis himself, except that God’s creatures were not nearly so endangered by human activity in the 13th century as they are today.
Yet in toeing the Vatican’s party line – reaffirmed in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 papal encyclical “Humanae vi-tae” – to staunchly oppose contraception, Pope Francis’ encyclical is simply more of the same humbug people have come to expect from the Holy See.
For Pope Francis to truly make a positive difference, he should have informed the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics that the Vatican no longer condemns condoms, the Pill and other contraceptives.
He should have said it now endorses them as essential tools both in preserving Creation while allowing countless poor families the world over a chance at attaining sustainable prosperity.
Instead, Francis scapegoats “business interests and consumerism,” that is, capitalism and the rich, both for world poverty and for environmental degradation, including the climate crisis. How convenient. In so doing, he exonerates the Vatican from any accountability for the world’s population explosion, which harms both the poor and the environment.
It took humanity many thousands of years to reach its first billion in about the year 1800, yet each of the last three billions has been added in just 12 years.
Today, there are 7.3 billion human consumers on the planet; 80 million more are added each year. That’s 220,000 new mouths to feed every day. That food has to come from somewhere, and agriculture, whether industrial or subsistence, is the biggest single destroyer of wildlife habitat on Earth.
Amidst this unstable and unsustainable growth scenario, more than a billion people lack sufficient food and safe drinking water; massive poaching threatens iconic species like elephants and rhinos with extinction, while habitat loss imperils many others; anthropogenic global warming is disrupting ecosystems and threatening billions of people with dislocation and war like we are already seeing with the refugee crisis in Africa, the Middle East, and now Europe; supplies of oil are depleting and becoming ever more dangerous and expensive to extract; and urban sprawl consumes 10 million acres of natural habitat and farmland every year.
Pope Francis is the most admired religious figure on Earth and rivals, if not surpasses, even Pope (now Saint) John Paul II in his popularity. His visit to America amounts to a lovefest. This is someone who could make a genuine difference on a crucial issue, but he has so far been unable to bust free of the Vatican’s rigid ideological shackles on birth control and overpopulation.
He once – and once only – admonished fellow Catholics that they need not “breed like rabbits.” But his latest encyclical continues a tragic tradition of Vatican blindness on population.
If Pope Francis could open his eyes, he would see that this living Earth can be destroyed by the needs of the poor as well as the greed of the rich.