David Russell Mosley
17 June 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
Dear Friends and Family,
Tomorrow will see the release of perhaps one of the most controversial documents issued by the Vatican in recent years. While Gaudium Evangelii certainly received harsh criticism after it was published, Laudato Si has received innumerable criticisms and has not officially been published yet (though an middling draft was leaked a few days ago). I wish I could say I didn’t understand why, but I understand all too well.
Politics and money are so obviously playing their role; why just look at the responses from Republican (and Catholic) presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush. Both men are wanting to distant themselves, as Catholics, from this encyclical because they expect it to be unpopular with the members of their party. Santorum went so far as to significantly embarrass himself telling the Pope (who has a Master’s degree in chemistry) to leave science to the scientists. Jeb Bush was slightly less harsh. Seemingly recognising this little thing called Catholic Social teaching, Bush stated that he doesn’t get his politics or economics from bishops or popes. Instead, he said, ‘”I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”’ Making me, at least, wonder what politics is about if not the bettering of society, which is the bettering of people?
What still surprises me, in spite of myself, is the level of criticism levied at a document that hasn’t been officially released yet. Even the leaked copy is only in Italian making it less accessible to most non-Italians. Artur Rosman deals with some of this criticism in his interview with Anthony Annett who is a climate change and sustainable development advisor at the Earth Institute (Columbia University) and in this position is affiliated with Religions for Peace. Annett strongly reminds us not to think of this encyclical as the “global warming” encyclical but the common good encyclical (you can read a brief excerpt from the leaked version on Rosman’s blog here). This environmental encyclical will, it seems, rest firmly in the Catholic Social teaching litany that began in 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.
As a non-Roman Catholic, it can be hard for me to understand some of the downright vitriol put out there about this unpublished (as of 17 June 2015) encyclical from Catholics themselves. I understand that this encyclical is not about doctrine and so carries a certain amount of less weight than documents on dogma. Yet why is Pope Francis being treated as if he is doing something downright wrong and inconsistent with the teachings of the Church when texts like this have been put out by the vatican for over a century. Not only that, but Christians such as St Francis of Assisi have been talking about the importance of our caring for creation from the very beginning. Look at some of these shareable graphics from Word on Fire which list quotations from various theologians (primarily past popes) on the subject of human care for creation.
In the end, only one thing can assuage the concerned or enrage them (or more likely a little of both) and that is reading the letter when it is actually released. I am looking forward to it. My study of ancient and medieval Christianity, my study of Catholic Social teaching and distributism, and even the fictional works of men like George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others has prepared me to see that the good news of the Gospel is not simply about saving souls. It is about the reunification of heaven and earth and this has political, economic, ecological, poetic, theological, ethical, and everyday implications. I hope, whatever your feelings about Laudato Si, you will give it a chance and read it for yourself before you pass judgment.