June 8, 2015

EDITORIAL: “Praised Be”

By Jennifer Butler

In less than two weeks, the Vatican will release "Praised Be," the Catholic Church's first ever papal encyclical on climate change and environmental justice. Of course, Church teaching has long advocated for responsible stewardship of creation, but this document brings it to a new level of prominence. It’s historic.

And it’s crucial. The future of humanity and the planet depends on transitioning away from our unsustainable dependence on fossil fuels and our staggering emission of carbon pollution. It is a global challenge and a moral duty.

One sure sign of the encyclical’s importance is that climate change deniers have already begun attacking it. In April, the climate change-denying Heartland Institute sponsored a “prebuttal” press conference outside the Vatican, where one speaker said addressing climate change would demean the

papacy. This week, perennial political candidate Rick Santorum suggested Pope Francis should stick to theology instead of science (as if both didn’t point in the same direction on this issue). The American Petroleum Institute responded to questions about the upcoming encyclical by claiming that “fossil fuels are a vital tool for lifting people out of poverty around the world.” Politicians and special interests wouldn’t bother to speak out if they didn’t fear that Pope Francis wasn’t about to change the course of the debate.

Vatican watchers expect the encyclical to be more than a theological statement. Rather, it will be a call to action not only to save God’s creation, but to protect the poorest of God’s children, who contribute to climate change the least but suffer from it the most. The theological soundness of this message mirrors the scientific soundness of the conclusion that climate change is real, caused by humans, and catastrophic. The movement to stop climate change is getting a hefty dose of divine inspiration.

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