Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Laudato Si — Where is the Church? — Part XV

October 5th, 2015, Promulgated by Diane Harris

After reading Laudato Si cover to cover, and making numerous notes, it became obvious, for the sake of coherent commenting, that the disparate material had to be collected and discussed under major headings: truth, pantheism, syncretism, sustainability, subsidiarity, collectivism, actions and prayers.

Even after writing the preceding chapters, something still lurked between the lines as unrecognized, unsaid.  So I carefully re-read the entire Encyclical, as both a check on previous impressions as well as to determine if anything else should be added.   During that re-reading there came a certain clarity that, indeed, it is the Church’s role in both the problem and in the proposed solutions that had barely been touched.  In the end, this became the most disturbing insight of all.  Where is the Church in the causes, the actions, and the potential cures? (If, indeed, these matters merit Church action.)

Causes of concern

What Laudato Si calls “an ecological crisis” (#15) is blamed variously on corporate greed, government corruption and inaction, and rampant consumerism, among other causes.  Where the Encyclical is mysteriously silent is regarding any significant role that the Church should have (or could have) exercised in preventing the current environmental decay — not in the sense of recycling or not sponsoring a pit mine — but in consistently pursuing her God-given role to teach, to govern and to sanctify.   Are not greed, corruption, sloth, and serving mammon instead of God among the many sins and disturbances of soul which are subject to the Church’s evangelization and preaching?   In good times and in bad?  In season and out of season?

Why, then, have we heard so little to this point?  Without denying any relevant preaching, teaching or ‘speeching’ which might have taken place, anywhere in the world, it is hard to argue that the Church has had a foremost role as key champion during the alleged demise of the world environment.  If there is such importance as now attached, where was the active involvement in prior decades?  The very absence of such advocacy cannot be dismissed as having had no impact.  What is not avidly pursued, what is not spoken of from the pulpit urgently and consistently, will not have much attention in the minds and hearts of those in the pews.  (If this sounds too farfetched, consider just in the U.S.A., over decades even up to the present day, the obvious absence of pulpit preaching against contraception, abortion, fornication, euthanasia and same sex unions, to understand why a majority of self-identified Catholics today disagree with the Church on at least one issue.  They may often see no difference between having an ‘opinion’ vs. a rightly formed conscience, if indeed the concept of “rightly formed conscience” is even a rightly formed thought!

We need look no further than paragraph #57 of Laudato Si, which words are aimed against

“powerful financial interests [which] prove most resistant… and political planning [which] tends to lack breadth of vision.”  (#57)

Laudato Si asks an almost rhetorical question about the responsibility of highly powerful organizations; yet, cannot the same question be asked, regarding the leading moral issues of our day, of the most powerful organization in the world, the one which holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven?  The Encyclical reads:

“What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”  (#57)

Action (or not)

While Laudato Si rightfully denounces scarred landscapes, polluted air, contaminated water, and health impacts from toxins, and claims there is a significant, though largely unspecified, link to the poor, one must ask how the Church has been trying to temper the escalation of such despoiling (if indeed there is a genuine need to act)?  Beyond Episcopal Conferences and writings, what ‘action’ has targeted relief to alleged environmental victims, even on a geographical basis?  And if such aid can be identified, what has worked and what has been ineffective?  Where are the organizing mechanisms for such actions?  How can these lessons be transferred and shared for effective implementation?   How has the Church made a difference herself?

While Laudato Si uses a plethora of isolated quotes from recent pontiffs, and from regional Bishops’ Conferences, such does not equate to nearly the prominence which would have been needed to mobilize the laity, if indeed lay action were important or necessary. Rather, it is the lack of such action which undermines the very allegation that something needs to be done NOW, and at the expense of diverting other necessary resources.  If such action were really needed, from a moral point of view, how could the Church not have been previously active?  How can we now argue for secular oversight by a yet unformed mechanism, if the Body of the Church has been relatively disengaged?  What priorities would have to be realigned?  Which works of mercy can be set aside or minimized to accommodate environmental advocacy?

The historic model of action

If “ecological conversion” is now deemed to be so important, how is the Church encouraging and training others to respond to such need?   Or publicizing the opportunity to serve?  A key question is whether or not actions by the Faithful on their own initiative are aided or impeded under current structures.  The tradition of the Church for centuries was to act on her own, i.e. to open orphanages,  soup kitchens, schools and colleges, hospitals and nursing homes to provide direct service to those in need.  Many of these are now abandoned, and the people served are abandoned along with them to secular organizations.  Thus, the mechanism to respond is impaired, and more easily cedes its rightful place to government regulation, especially government opposed to Freedom of Religion, as in the closing of Catholic adoption agencies for lack of willingness to refer for abortion. Virtually the only service arm still owned and operated by the Church, substantially untouched by hostile government, is the Catholic Cemetery, not a highly actionable resource.

As the Church has become more of a “middleman distributor” of financial resources to organizations which function outside of the Church’s direct control, the link of the Faithful to the work itself is seriously weakened or unfocused. And recipient organizations (such as reported for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development) are sometimes accused of flouting Catholic Teaching in the way they disburse funds.  Money, not action and service, thus becomes the medium of exchange, inside as well as outside the Church.

Are there cures?

Laudato Si sets forth a number of action points, some of which are listed in Part XI.  Unfortunately, there are few proposals which are individually actionable, and the Encyclical at times dismisses individual effort and at other times seems to weakly acknowledge its benefit.  But recommendations for project implementation by the Church, among the Magisterium and Faithful in the pew, is substantially absent from the Encyclical.  It is as if all the fixes are mandated to come from secular sources, i.e. a giving over of authority to forces outside the Church. Excerpted quotes, with some frequency, involve finances or power or both (even in the Laudato Si “Christian Prayer in Unity with Creation”!)  But there is little mentioned regarding the Church’s key mission to change hearts.  Rather, there is more emphasis in this Encyclical on behavior modification than on spiritual  metanoia.

Moreover, the emphasis is on world power reorganization, forcing certain actions or penalties, transferring money or exercising authority to limit growth or to execute the ambiguous concept of “sustainability.”  There is an absence in the Encyclical of noting the obligations of the Church to aid hearts to truly and deeply convert.  Behavior change has scant strength against the demons of the age.  Ecological conversion is not the same as metanoia of soul.

Questionable Alignments

Catholics and other Christians, working shoulder-to-shoulder in any effort which serves the Almighty, build brotherhood and encouragement and strength in His Name.  However, it is particularly disturbing to those in the pews when proposals and examples at such high levels show alignment with what even the most simple soul knows to be antithetical to long-standing Church teaching, such as in advocacy of collectivist power and oversight, in embracing the dangerous U.N. sustainability language, and in failure to strongly differentiate Catholic Teaching from any coincidental overlap of minor or temporary goals.  Mincing words is not in the tradition of a Thomas More, Edmund Campion, Oscar Romero or Charles Lwanga, nor is avoiding risk in the tradition of Isaac Jogues, Maximilian Kolbe or Edith Stein, or of so many other Christians and nameless martyrs killed for their higher purpose of saving souls, not of cleaning up a waste dump.  Increasingly, these are likely to become the saints we need to learn from for survival of soul in this new, ever old, secular order.

It isn’t too difficult an argument to see that people do want their lives to have meaning, to be inspired to serve truly higher purposes, and not to settle for less than the most they have been called to do.  Certainly it is reasonable for us to look for the words of Jesus in determining what is important, and what is not.  Yes, we want to inherit the world He promised to make new, but we should have no illusions that we are going to do it ourselves!

Language implications

The other uncomfortable reaction is from the confusing language of  Laudato Si, which portends great risk from future actions by powerful governments.  The words lend themselves to being twisted and used against Catholics.  It is not too great a stretch to imagine that the words “the firm resolve to achieve sustainability” (#207) written by the Vicar of Christ might be interpreted in the future as a Catholic approval to use whatever means necessary to reduce population even though that was not explicitly written, and even though Church Teaching clearly rejects the strategies of sustainability through human depopulation.

Reportedly, the presence of a ‘fan’ of sustainability’ was present at the launching of Laudato Si, a person who had publicly stated that the world needs to decrease from 7 billion to 1 billion people.  Such presence may be interpreted to add to the historical impression that such strategy is contained within the papal words supporting sustainability.  As children we knew and understood the words: “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.”  The liaisons formed between those with power in the Church and the advocates of the secular world who mean different things from the same words are too dangerous to ignore.

Half a step down that path is reflected in Laudato Si’s words

“…the idea of infinite or unlimited growth … which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology … is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.” (#106)

And so a half-step groundwork quote is laid, ready to take the full step, to justify, in the future by those who would manipulate it, one child or no child families, and refusal of medical care to the elderly or infirm.

One very uncomfortable aspect of Laudato Si is its lack of clearly defining Catholic life principles, using instead references to organizations and their code words rather than unabashed Church Teaching.  Although Laudato Si is addressed to the whole world, it misses the opportunity to evangelize that world.  The ‘Catholic” message, to the world and also to the Faithful, is sadly diluted.

Bleak tone

Laudato Si paints a bleak picture of the current and future world environment.  It was in the final reading that the issue of tone became clearer, a disappointment since if the Church can’t witness to Joy, who can?  It is not about whether or not there isn’t cause for sadness, as for anyone caught in the web of sin and destruction.  Rather, the sadness seems foreboding, almost despairing. For example, Laudato Si uses the expressions:

“… a sort of mental pollution.” (#47)

“… a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation….” (#47)

“… humanity has changed profoundly….” (#113)

“… to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” (#114)

“An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world.” (#116)

“… constant schizophrenia, wherein a technocracy which sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the other extreme which sees no special value in human beings.” (#118)

The point is not to criticize any justifiable complaints or indictments of what needs to be changed, but rather to notice a thread of hopeless tone which asserts itself within the framework of dialogue in the Encyclical.   What is missing, in my opinion, is the vision of relevant change, in cooperation with God’s Teaching, which exhorts but respects the free will of mankind.  And it is made worse by pronouncements in favor of the unproven global warming, against air conditioning and fossil fuels, without proof, citations or explanation, implying a link to Church Teaching which cannot exist, and intimidating the less technically cognizant.  There is a conflict between the rule by “organizations” and its juxtaposition to the dignity of the human individual:

“Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment… institutions develop to regulate human relationships.  Anything which weakens those institutions has negative consequences, such as injustice, violence and loss of freedom.” (#142)

It is disappointing that the words of Laudato Si weren’t qualified by the assertion of and respect for free will.

Where is the Catholic Church?

One inevitably is compelled to ask “Where is the Catholic Church in these concerns, other than in an Encyclical?”  There are many other parties blamed for the secular obsessions and consumerist hunger, but barely touched is an answer to where the Church herself is to be found — in the battle for souls or in an environmental skirmish?  If the Church cannot teach what is necessary in ethics and morals, who can?  And why would the Church give up her role to secular forces and human organizations?  Advocacy for the environment, it would seem, should be more clearly subservient to Faith and to the salvation of souls.

It is the Church’s mission to draw souls to Jesus Christ, Who fills and sustains those who seek Him.  The Church has a unique advantage in being able to work across borders, which governments and secular organizations cannot do as effectively, so rather than transferring power to the U.N. or collectivist overseers, should not the Church be delineating her role to the priorities established by Christ, rather than seeming to impose behavior change?  Rather than closing off discussion of relevant technology as a condition to “dialogue”?


The simplicity of the conclusion of this chapter is “If these environmental issues are so important that the priority of an Encyclical is brought to bear, where has the Church been while the degradation was occurring?”  And, why?  How then, do we now argue that environmental activism is suddenly so important that other priorities should be set aside?  And which priorities and at what cost?  What perhaps makes more sense is that what has not been of great priority or urgency previously, while not unimportant, nevertheless does not now precede Church Teaching and the good of souls, and that there is no comparability of the impact of Laudato Si to the momentous work of, say, Theology of the Body.



3 Responses to “Laudato Si — Where is the Church? — Part XV”

  1. II Cor 2.11 says:

    Diane is asking an extremely acute and penetrating question: Church, where are you? This reminded me of Genesis where God says to fallen Adam: “Adam, where are you?” I think every bishop, priest, deacon and each member of the Catholic lay faithful need to ask these questions.
    When I read personal action items in LS, I thought of these for myself. Stop taking such long showers, stop using so many paper towels in the kitchen, and turn up the setting on the A/C. These resolves reminded me of my mother telling me to eat the peas because they’re starving in India!
    It occurred to me today that the great global industrial powers have been the USA – never a Catholic country – Great Britain – which shed the the Roman connection around 1535, and today China, never even a Christian country.
    Will conclude with my thoughts on sustainability:
    My sustainability: about seventy or eighty years.
    American sustainability: until we run out of money.
    European sustainability: ditto.
    Counsel of despair? No,because God both rulers and overrules.

  2. patty says:

    Diane, this is a great series of reflections. Is there anywhere I can go to download the whole series in one fell swoop rather than in many separate documents? I would really like to save the whole thing off in one document.

  3. Diane Harris says:

    Thank you, Patty. Your question is as good a time as any to say that there is one more chapter to be uploaded (about half done; probably will go up in the next week.) Meanwhile, I did just what you suggested — downloaded in full what was posted, and then began using it as a rough draft for a monograph (book). It should be published by Thanksgiving, somewhat enlarged and expanded upon, punctuation improved, and an INDEX to Laudato Si so that things referred to can be found in the encyclical by paragraph number. (One of the painful challenges of doing all this was lack of an index in Laudato Si; so now it will be indexed to the subjects I’ve dealt with, on a keyword list.

    All this is by way of saying that if you can just wait a few weeks longer it will be available in book form, spiral bound so that it will lie flat for easy use as well. The plan is to have enough printed to mail a free copy to the head of every diocese in the US, and of course to the Vatican. And I will do some extra in the first printing for those who are interested. I don’t have the final printing quote but I’m just trying to cover expenses, so I’m thinking about $10 each, plus tax in NYS.

    Cleansing Fire will of course be acknowledged as the launch pad, which I think might be a bit unusual as an approach to a book. CF also got a kudo in the recent issue of the St. Joseph Foundation Newsletter for the Laudato Si sequence. Click here to view their latest issue on line; we are mentioned on page 7, lower right quadrant.

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