by Dan DiLeo, Millenial Journal
Over the past several weeks, Pope Francis has made explicit reference to the challenge of climate change with respect to nutrition, migration and the United Nations international treaty negotiations.Given that Francis’ ecological encyclical is expected to be published in the next several months, these remarks make it seem increasingly likely that the pope will explicitly address climate change in the document.
If this is in fact the case, many Catholics—indeed many people of faith and goodwill—have reason to be particularly excited as we move closer to 2015. On the other hand, and in light of some Catholics’ resistance to Evangelii Gaudium, it also means that the Church should prepare for criticisms of the document and/or the pope by Catholics who seem more committed to their respective political ideologies than to the fullness of Catholic Social Teaching. As such, and based on my previously published expectations of what will be in Francis’ encyclical, I offer the following list of likely objections and recommended refutations.
Objection 1: “I don’t have to listen to Pope Francis on climate change. Encyclicals do not necessarily teach infallible dogma and climate change is a matter of prudential judgment.”
Respondeo: Theologian Richard Gaillardetz, Ph.D. identifies four levels of authority in Catholic teaching, the lowest of which includes “concrete applications of Church teaching, prudential admonitions and Church discipline” (p. 125). To this level, Gaillardetz says that Catholics owe “conscientious obedience” whereby Church teaching “must be taken seriously” in the prudential formation of opinions and positions (pp. 125-126). This understanding is echoed by Catholic commentator Stephen M. Barr, who says that an encyclical’s “analyses of particular political, economic, and social situations [ … ] merit respectful attention, as coming from the supreme earthly shepherd of the Church.” In other words, Catholics are called to deeply, prayerfully consider prudential papal judgments made in an encyclical—and not immediately dismiss them based on their incongruence with a priori sociopolitical/economic ideologies.