SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Climate change and the Church

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 June) – It was long in coming, but at least and at last, it has come – a strong statement from the Roman Catholic Church on the state of the global environment that seems to have reached tipping point. Dated 24 May 2015 but made public only yesterday by the Vatican, Pope Francis’ encyclical titled “On Care for Our Common Home” dissects the issues at the core of the singular environmental problem that threatens the continuity of life on Earth as we know it – climate change caused by global warming.

Many might be wondering about the significance of the encyclical – or any encyclical for that matter – given the amount of media attention it got. An encyclical is a letter from the Pope to the bishops and to the faithful of the Church that lays down policy on religious, moral or political issues. Yet far from deviating from established Church doctrines and dogmas, it is written based on the Church’s interpretation of the Gospel, as well as draws arguments from the teachings of the saints and previous encyclicals.

As such, encyclicals may be likened to the rulings of the Supreme Court, which emerge as interpretations of laws but automatically become part of the laws. In the same manner, encyclicals are written based on Church teachings and become part of the official stand of the Church. For instance, Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical on the regulation of birth by Blessed Pope Paul VI, is the Church’s chief argument against artificial contraception.

But what separates the latest encyclical from the others is the boldness with which Pope Francis pinpoints the structural culprits of environmental degradation: use of technology and science to perpetuate the domination of the majority by a few, economic reductionism that disregards the sustainability of the world’s resources, consumerism, unjust power relations, uneven distribution of wealth, and neglect of the rights of future generations or what others would call stewardship.

The encyclical, quoting from the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” reminds the faithful to keep in mind that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces”.

To emphasize the interrelation between the environment and social dynamics, the pontiff quotes from Evangelii Gaudium, an apostolic exhortation issued on 24 November 2013: “Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment. There is an interrelation between ecosystems and between the various spheres of social interaction, demonstrating yet again that ‘the whole is greater than the part’.”

In addition, “On Care for Our Common Home” reflects the ecumenical outlook of Pope Francis. In its introductory part, for instance, the encyclical notes the same concern for the environment voiced by other Christian and non-Christian religions. It cites, in particular, Patriarch Bartholomew’s view that committing acts that harm Mother Earth is also a form of sin, and that humanity needs to acknowledge the spiritual roots of environmental problems, not just look for solutions in technology.

Lastly, I must admit that what draws me to the encyclical is not only its substance and relevance to the global climate crisis that is now behaving like an awakened beast. I’m also drawn to the elegant language in which it’s written even if the frequent attributions to the Gospel and Church doctrines may turn off agnostics.

Consider this: “It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things. I would add that ‘religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons… Is it reasonable and enlightened to dismiss certain writings simply because they arose in the context of religious belief?’ It would be quite simplistic to think that ethical principles present themselves purely in the abstract, detached from any context. Nor does the fact that they may be couched in religious language detract from their value in public debate. The ethical principles capable of being apprehended by reason can always reappear in different guise and find expression in a variety of languages, including religious language.

There is wisdom. There is poetry. There is faith. Above all, there is love for this place called Earth, our common home. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at