WASHINGTON — Several leading U.S. bishops praised Laudato Si (The Care for Our Common Home), the new papal encyclical, as an invitation to turn away from sin and grow closer to God through a relationship with the created world.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, described the document as fundamentally an invitation to deeper conversion.
“It’s about our Holy Father saying everyone should take responsibility, and sin is not taking responsibility for the truth,” he told CNA June 18. “Sin is both individual and social,” he added. “One does not negate the other. And so personal decisions that we make are important.”
“We understand that it is as he said: in communion with everyone, that we seek the common good. And that is a very forceful call. It is a call for conversion.”
The archbishop spoke at the National Press Club in Washington on June 18. He was joined by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington.
They discussed the Pope’s 184-page document, the title of which is taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures,” praising God for his creation.
“We not only receive this message with joy, but we seek to be responsible in caring for our common home, a home that God has entrusted to us,” Archbishop Kurtz told reporters.
The encyclical applies faith to today’s issues in “reading the signs of the times,” said Cardinal Wuerl.
He added that the encyclical’s use of empirical data “shows his [Pope Francis’] and the Church’s deep respect for the world of science and the understanding that it is a domain of its own.”
While focused on the environment, Laudato Si also addresses the broader relationship of humans to nature, to each other and to God. It discusses the connection between sin and the degradation of the environment, condemning the overconsumption of natural resources, as well as a similar disregard for God’s creation through abortion and population control.
While the document is addressed to the whole world, Archbishop Kurtz told CNA that the United States has a specific role to play in promoting its teachings.
“We in the United States: I think we do have a special responsibility to look for the ways in which we can care for others and not be concerned only about self-interest,” he said.
The archbishop also warned people not to tailor the encyclical to their own narrow interests.
“When it becomes simply an economic or a political policy paper,” he said of selective readers, “they miss the message. It’s that important. Because the message is much more profound.”
Pope Francis makes this point in the encyclical, the archbishop noted, dismissing a narrow “biocentrism” that shows concern only for the Earth and not for human persons. Francis also criticizes a “technocratic approach” that values technological progress while ignoring its effect on people and the environment, Archbishop Kurtz added.
While citing scientific studies on climate change and its causes, Pope Francis still leaves room for “dialogue” on the matter, and this is clear at the end of the document, the archbishop affirmed.
“He also says at the end that, in calling for dialogue, he does not in any way give the impression that the Church is settling questions of science,” he said. “[Pope Francis] knows that in dialogue with others there’s a great respect for that human person, for our creativity.”
Other bishops throughout the U.S. also issued statements reflecting on Laudato Si.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in his weekly column for The Tidings that what struck him most about the encyclical was “the sense of urgency and the personal tone.”
“Laudato Si is not so much a work of politics or economics — it is a moral and spiritual reflection on our times,” he said.
Inviting all the members of his archdiocese to read the encyclical and reflect on ways to put it into practice, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta reflected, “The Holy Father wants us all to take seriously the issues that face our planet — not only from an economic perspective, but out of genuine ethical concern for all of the people with whom we share it.”
Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., echoed this notion, also saying that the Pope is calling “individuals, families, communities, corporations and nations to a fresh way of thinking and acting.”
“As previous popes have done, he urges us to reject a utilitarian consumerism that does not preserve the environment for future generations and that shows a harsh disregard for the poor today,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, whose city will host Pope Francis during his visit to the United States this September, also welcomed the encyclical, which he described as “a deep and complex appeal to conscience, a challenge to all of us to re-examine our stewardship of the environment and our love for the global poor.”
“As Philadelphians prepare for the World Meeting of Families this fall,” the archbishop added, “Pope Francis reminds us that the family is a school of love and responsibility, the seed of a ‘culture of life’ that includes the dignity of the Earth and the needs of all its peoples.”