The ‘Green Pope’ Just Might Save the Catholic Church

Pope Francis’ encyclical is a move in the right direction for the church

Scott McLelland / The Runner

When Pope Francis released his unprecedented encyclical this past June, he did more than just provide a valuable tool for those fighting for sustainable energy solutions. He may have also made an important step toward saving his Church from its ongoing decline.

For the uninitiated, an encyclical is basically an official decree from the Church to all followers that highlights official interpretations of church doctrine. In this encyclical entitled On Care of our Common Home the pope lays out over the course of 180 pages his marching orders for Catholics to better protect the planet for future generations.

The document lays out in no uncertain terms the Church’s position that climate change is real and a threat to humanity. It condemns the “cheerful recklessness” displayed by political and industry leaders towards the health of the planet, and ultimately calls for Catholics and non-Catholics to take action while laying out some suggestions on how to do so.

To understand why taking the right stance on this issue could be so important for the Catholic Church’s future we need to understand how the last decade has gone so wrong for the Church. When respected face of the Church Pope John Paul II passed away in 2005 it was hard to imagine his successor could fill the shoes of the beloved leader. As it turned out, he couldn’t. Pope Benedict XVI never had the charisma of his predecessor, though he was in great need of it when the Church became implicated, once again, in numerous child abuse scandals.

During these years, for many the Church brought to mind images of corruption and moral hypocrisy to the highest degree. It didn’t help that so many of the church’s positions on social issues were seen as tone-deaf to the realities of modern life. It became difficult for young Catholics to identify with an organization that seemed more preoccupied with fighting homosexality and life-saving safe sex techniques than the real moral issues of our time.

As a result, many Catholics (such as myself) chose to disassociate ourselves from the Church during those years with some (again, such as myself) stepping away from theology altogether. Membership plummeted in the West and it began to look like the Church would eventually fade into history.

Enter Francis. In 2013 Benedict became the first Pope to step down in nearly 600 years. Almost immediately from his selection to the papacy Francis proved to be a breath of fresh air for the Church. Francis put a greater emphasis on alleviating poverty and inequality and put pressure on leaders around the world to do the same. Taking a far more progressive mindset than his predecessor, Francis has even taken a more liberal approach to the issue of LGBTQ rights (relative to the Catholic Church, anyway). Under Francis’ leadership the Church has become far more relevant to modern morality and this focus on environmentalism is part of that.

Unsurprisingly, the Church has proven to be highly compatible with environmentalism. It doesn’t take much searching to find scripture that supports an obligation to take care of the planet. For example, Jeremiah 2:7 “And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.” Despite its falling numbers in the West, the Church still commands a significant influence with many industrial and political leaders counted among the faithful.

Speaking of political leaders, by clearly laying out an official position on climate change, the Church has (partially) removed a powerful tool from the hands of climate change deniers. For decades Christian theology has been used as justification for denying humanity’s influence on the health of the planet despite shaky-at-best support from scripture. Now, the largest sect of Christianity has outright condemned this line of thinking, making this tactic that much more refutable.

The Roman Catholic Church has been on the wrong side of history so many times. By taking a stance that will inspire its faithful to work towards protecting our planet, the Church is on the right side of history, this time.

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