Awaiting an Ecology Encyclical, Many Seek Pope Francis’ Support

Among the suitors is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

(photo: CNA/(CC0 1.0). (CC0 1.0))

VATICAN CITY — In view of the much anticipated encyclical on ecology, countries, agencies and even industries are seeking papal support in advance of the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference, being held in Paris in December.

During his Jan. 15 in-flight press conference from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, Pope Francis said, “I will take a week of March, an entire week, to complete it. I believe that, by the end of March, it will be finished and sent out for translation. I think that if the work of translation goes well … it can come out in June or July. The important thing is that there be a bit of time between the issuing of the encyclical and the meeting in Paris, so that it can make a contribution.”

While one of the restricted meetings that usually take place before any U.N. conference is being held in Geneva, Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, a Micronesian nation, met with Pope Francis on Thursday.

Kiribati consists of more than 30 atolls (coral islands), and Tong is very concerned about his country’s future, as it becomes uninhabitable because of a shortage of potable water and disappearing land due to climate change.

According to the Holy See Press Office, Tong and Pope Francis discussed “the importance of safeguarding the environment and the issue of climate change, the effects of which are worrying.”

Tong also met with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Papal support has also been sought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy came to meet Vatican officials Jan. 31, with the aim of showing how aligned President Barack Obama and Pope Francis are on climate change. McCarthy shared in a press conference that global warming is a public threat, but also a chance for economic opportunity.

According to a source involved in the preparation of the meetings, the talk between McCarthy and Vatican officials dealt with a wide range of issues, including that of the Holy See’s policy at the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference, which is expected to be crucial.

The Holy See’s position is likely to be focused on two key topics: the need for a sustainable development and the duty to protect.

“This latter may be defined as the duty to protect populations from war or the duty to protect creation from exploitation,” a Vatican official expert in environmental issues explained to CNA Thursday.

These two issues should be the pillars of the Holy See’s position at the 2015 Paris conference.

During the Jan. 15 press conference, Pope Francis said that the last such conference, held in Peru, “was nothing great. I was disappointed by the lack of courage; things came to a stop at a certain point. Let’s hope that, in Paris, the delegates will be more courageous and will move forward with this.”

According to insiders, the document drafted in Lima was almost interlocutory, filled with “notions that needed further clarification.”

“For example, an issue at stake is that of the intended national determined contribution: the effort each country undertakes to contribute to the common effort of combating climate change,” the source maintained. “But who will decide whether this effort is compliant or not? Who will control how financial support is being managed to meet the goals? And who will ask the parties to foster or increase their commitment?”

The Holy See’s opinion on the task may be crucial to switch the balance of discussions to one side or on the other, and this is the main reason why Pope Francis’ encyclical is so much awaited.

The first draft of the encyclical was prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Cardinal Turkson, the pontifical council’s president, delivered a collection of opinions gathered from its internal and external advisers.

The Vatican source maintained that the draft was then reviewed by a restricted commission, which included officials of the second section of the State Secretariat, members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a top representative of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences.

Pope Francis said during his in-flight interview that, together with theologians he made a third draft, sending a copy to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Secretariat of State and the theologian of the papal household and that he had received their responses.

The final draft of the encyclical is reportedly now in the Pope’s hands.

The encyclical’s main themes will likely be based on the twin pillars of a duty to protect and sustainable development, as well as human ecology.

The encyclical should also deal with the issues of land seizures and of the universal destination of goods, a struggle the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has been carrying forward for years.

To this end, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace will release the document “Earth and Food” by the beginning of March.

The document will be divided in three parts. The first part addresses the unmet right to food and the unsustainable use of natural resources; the second will propose Church teaching on creation; and the third will provide guidelines to address the issues.

The Vatican source concluded, “It is likely that most of these reflections will be part of Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology.”

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