Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum, is a hard document to characterize. Exhortations are supposed to encourage Catholics in their Faith. However, this document deals with ecological issues and is addressed to “all people of goodwill on the climate crisis.”
Thus, the work reads more like an eco-lamentation, a written debate, a United Nations report, not a theological treatise. It breaks all the rules. Lacking are the citations of saints and theologians. Its style can be imposing, allowing for no other climate opinions.
The text comments upon recent meetings and events, taking away its atemporal tone and gravitas found in past pontifical pronouncements meant to counsel future generations. Papal documents also do not normally get technical, as this one does, with its discussion of carbon emissions, global temperature readings and climate statistics.
The document is not original. It was announced as a second part of the pope’s earlier environmental encyclical, Laudato si’. However, this much shorter 7500-word supplement has little to add since it quotes the earlier work nineteen times.
A Gloomy Lamentation of a Failed Eco-Agenda
Laudate Deum begins as a lamentation decrying the lack of action on the part of the global community to heed the pontifical 2015 warning. Pope Francis implies that time is running out. Ocean levels are rising, and ice caps are melting. Humanity is responsible for this disaster and must immediately act.
It is an angry document stemming from a failure to convince a skeptical public. One has the impression that the first part is written as if engaged in a personal debate with an unknown, invisible (presumably American) climate denier whose rational and scientific arguments are too compelling for the pope to refute.
Indeed, a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey found that only 27% of Americans believe climate change to be a crisis. Among religious Americans, all categories are below one-third of climate believers, with many groups reporting significant drops.
Perhaps this is why Pope Francis mercilessly attacks this invisible debater’s stands by denouncing those who ridicule, “deny, conceal, gloss over or relativize the issue.” The pope asks his readers to disregard these unenlightened ones. He evangelizes with harsh zeal, calling upon all to convert to the climate change gospel.
Pope Francis affirms the reality of climate change with an air of scientific infallibility. Thus, the document is punctuated with phrases like “no one can ignore that,” “it is verifiable that,” or “it is no longer possible to doubt that.” No one can question the climate alarmist dogma, even in its minute details. The scientific doubters, and there are many, including Nobel laureates, receive no accompaniment nor listening on the journey to sustainability.
Global Government as a Solution
Adding to the gloom is a large section that chronicles the failures of the various U.N. climate conferences known as COPs over the decades. He dates his message by mentioning the coming COP28 conference in Dubai (which is also probably doomed to fail) as an opportunity to enact meaningful change.
To do this, Pope Francis insists that the present “international politics are insufficient to deal with the climate problem.” Thus, he cites his 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti calling for some form of world authority regulated by law, “equipped with the power to provide for the global common good, the elimination of hunger and poverty and the sure defense of fundamental human rights.”
Many critics question this vague global framework, invested with immense powers that seem to trump national sovereignty or religious connection. They know well that opening this Pandora’s Box might lead to greater problems—especially when implemented without a moral conversion of its leaders to God and His Church.
A Spiritual Side
The exhortation attempts to give a spiritual side to the problem. However, bereft of supernatural content, the document’s naturalistic vision is a vague command for people to unite themselves with nature. Human life is “incomprehensible and unsustainable without other creatures.”
Absent is an appeal to God’s loving Providence to provide for human needs, intervene on behalf of the faithful and thus avert climatic disaster. There is no mention of the Blessed Mother, the angels and saints as a part of the reality of human life and to which one might have recourse. There is no mention of sanctification, which should be a central theme of any apostolic exhortation, not carbon footprints.
Traces of Ideology
Many other aspects of the document could be analyzed. However, one important characteristic that fails to convince Catholics deserves to be mentioned. Throughout the appeal, one senses ideological threads that weave their way into the document’s narrative to present a determined message outside the scientific framework.
Pope Francis has labeled conservatives as the evil followers of ideologies. And yet, in this document can be found many modern ideologies that are so much a part of the Catholic left’s agenda. Traces of class struggle, liberation theology, naturalism, deep ecology, anti-market rhetoric and indigenism unite to form an ideological foundation for the document’s message to the world.
Some Catholics find the text unconvincing due to an anti-Western (and offputtingly anti-American) focus that attacks certain modern abuses together with many elements of order and progress.
The Church as the Solution
The apostolic exhortation elicits a feeling of sadness for what is missing. To please “all people of goodwill on the climate crisis,” the document fails to offer the Church’s wisdom. One expects biblical and religious references, citations of the saints and moral principles, not U.N. boilerplate.
The Church has so much to offer in the realm of stewardship and love of God’s creation. Indeed, the Church is the best equipped to deal with any true ecological crisis. The faithful living in accordance with Church moral teaching and natural law will necessarily be the best stewards of the earth. Christian civilization is the best possible solution to any ecological crisis since it is mindful of God’s creation and humanity’s central role to dominate it wisely and virtuously.
The tragedy of the apostolic exhortation is that it neglects to do what it is supposed to: Encourage the faithful in the practice of virtue and love of neighbor. It gets involved in technical and scientific arguments that are best left to experts in the field. It forces the unconvinced faithful to the sad situation of defending themselves against those on the left who might use the papal document to advance their subversive agenda.