VATICAN CITY — In his new encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis condemns attacks against human life, such as abortion, embryonic experimentation and population control — saying that respect for creation and human dignity go hand in hand.
The Pope explained that “a sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.”
“At times we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in equal measure,” he said.
The Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si, was published June 18. Its name is taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s medieval Italian prayer “Canticle of the Sun,” which praises God through elements of creation, like Brother Sun, Sister Moon and “our sister Mother Earth.”
In early 2014, the Vatican announced the Pope’s plans to write on the theme of “human ecology” — a phrase that was previously used by Pope Benedict XVI.
While the 184-page encyclical wades into controversial topics such as climate change, it also aggressively argues that it is not possible to effectively care for the environment without first working to defend human life.
It is “clearly inconsistent” to combat the trafficking of endangered species while remaining indifferent toward the trafficking of persons, to the poor and to the decision of many “to destroy another human being deemed unwanted,” the Pope stated.
To have this attitude, he said, “compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment.”
Francis also highlighted that concern for the protection of nature is “incompatible with the justification of abortion.”
“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” he asked.
Once the ability to welcome a new life is lost on the part of individuals and society, other forms of acceptance also “wither away,” he said, warning against a “culture of relativism” that sees an absence of any objective truth outside of our own immediate wants and needs.
The Pope also addressed the highly debated topic of population control, a proposed solution to problems stemming from poverty and maintaining a sustainable consumption of the Earth’s resources.
“Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate,” Francis lamented.
He denounced the fact that developing countries often receive pressure from international organizations that make economic assistance “contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health.’”
Even though an unequal distribution of population and available resources presents obstacles to development and environmental sustainability, “it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development,” he stressed.
To blame a growing population for these problems, rather than the “extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”
Such scapegoating “is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption,” the Pope said, calling for an end to food waste.
Francis also rejected some ecological movements’ discontinuity in calling for limitations to be placed on environmental scientific research, while at the same time failing to apply the same principals to human life.
As an example, he noted that, within science, there is “a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos.”
“We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development,” he said, adding that once technology disregards ethical principles, “it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit.”
“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”
Once the human being seeks absolute dominion, the foundations of our life “begin to crumble,” the Pope said, so that instead of cooperating with God, man puts himself in God’s place “and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature.”
Care for the Human Body
In the encyclical, Pope Francis also spoke of the importance of accepting and caring for one’s body, since it is through the body that man relates to the environment and to other living things.
He cautioned against seeking to exercise “absolute power” over our bodies, as if they were something that we own, saying that “man, too, has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will.”
Accepting and caring for our bodies in their truest nature is essential for human ecology, he said, and he stressed that this acceptance includes “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity.”
In acknowledging differences, “we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator and find mutual enrichment,” the Pope observed.
An attitude that seeks “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it” is unhealthy, he said.
The Holy Father also pointed to the important role families play in educating on a true integral human and environmental ecology, since they are the place where life is welcomed and protected and where human growth is developed.
“In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life,” he said.
Family life is where children first learn how “to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures,” as well as how to be grateful for what they’ve been given and to ask for forgiveness when they’ve caused harm, he explained.
“These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings.”