Father Lombardi: Eco Encyclical on Track for Expected June Publication

Speaking to the Register, the Vatican spokesman dismissed a claim this week that doctrinal concerns about the encyclical’s draft text have derailed its publication.

Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, rector of the Universidad Católica Argentina in Buenos Aires.
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, rector of the Universidad Católica Argentina in Buenos Aires. (photo: Courtesy the Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has denied that Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical has been delayed because the Holy Father feared the first draft would not be approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told the Register May 14 that the “preparation procedure of the encyclical took place, and is taking place, in a completely normal way, and there has not been, and there isn’t, any delay compared to what was expected.”

He added there have “never been reliable predictions” about the time of the publication of the encyclical, which is expected to reaffirm the Church’s teaching on safeguarding the environment and controversially endorse the science of anthropogenic climate change.

Those who have claimed to know the date of its release have based their comments on “rumors and fantasies,” Father Lombardi said.

The Vatican spokesman did say he has always thought it would appear “before the summer,” but added that it has already been “announced and repeated that the final text is being translated, and it’s reasonable to expect the publication within a few weeks, probably in June.”

Father Lombardi’s comments came after veteran Vaticanista Sandro Magister claimed on his blog “Settimo Cielo” May 11 that the Pope had “binned” the first draft of the encyclical when he spent a week in March examining the document.

Magister said the Pope feared the first draft — which had been ghostwritten by his theologian friend from Argentina, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández  — would have been “demolished” by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “once it had gotten into his hands.”

But Father Lombardi said it is “normal and obvious” that, as with any encyclical, the CDF would check the document before publication and that he was unaware of “any cause of delays or problems.” He called the speculation “totally unfounded” and said it “seems almost unbelievable that such things are written.”


Archbishop Fernández’s Interview

Speculation over whether the CDF would be involved in checking the encyclical derives in part from comments made by Archbishop Fernández in a revealing May 10 interview with Corriere della Sera.  

The rector of the Universidad Católica Argentina in Buenos Aires, whom Francis made archbishop in 2013, disparaged the role of the Curia, saying it “is not an essential structure” and that a prefect of a dicastery was essentially not necessary to prevent the Church from “falling into ignominy.”

“Catholics know from reading the Gospel that it was to the Pope and the bishops that Christ granted a special governance and enlightenment — and not to a prefect or some other structure,” he said. “When one hears such things, one could almost get the impression that the Pope is merely their representative or one who has come to disturb and must, therefore, be monitored.”

He added that the Pope “is convinced that what he has written or said cannot be treated as an error,” and, therefore, all his utterances can be “repeated in the future, without having to fear receiving a sanction for it.” Then, he added, “The majority of the people of God, with their special sense, will not easily accept turning back on certain things.” The theologian also said the Pope is surrounded “in a theological sense” by the “College of Bishops in order to serve the people.”

Later in the interview, Archbishop Fernández is asked whether the papal rapport, by having a direct approach with the people, is risky, as it can marginalize Church leaders. “Cardinals could disappear, in the sense that they are not essential,” the archbishop replied. “The Pope and the bishops are essential.”

The archbishop’s comments come after Cardinal Müller stated in an interview in April that the CDF’s role was to “provide the theological structure of a pontificate.”

As well as ghostwriting the Pope’s truly first encyclical, Archbishop Fernández also contributed to the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World) and was appointed by Pope Francis as vice president of the commission that drew up the final message of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family last October. The Pope considers the archbishop, who has written for a large number of publications in Latin America and Europe, to be a “consultant” who is part of his inner circle.


Timed to U.N. Events?

It is generally perceived that Pope Francis is keen that his encyclical be published in time for his visit to the United States in September, which will include an address to the United Nations in New York. More importantly, he wants it to be a contribution to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.

A workshop at the Vatican last month, attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, was aimed at supporting the encyclical. The meeting, spearheaded by Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the Argentine chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, was organized to “raise awareness and build a consensus” on protecting the environment in ways coherent with “leading religious traditions.”

Voice of the Family, a coalition of pro-life and pro-family groups, criticized the meeting for hosting Ban, the economist Jeffrey Sachs and others who strongly advocate abortion and population control. Sachs is contributing to the encyclical.

Ban said at the event that the Pope’s encyclical may be ready in June, but he was not aware of its contents.

“That’s not my responsibility,” he told reporters, but added that he was “very encouraged” that Pope Francis is “very committed” to the issue.

During their meeting at the time of the workshop, Ban said, the Holy Father had assured the U.N. official that he would cooperate “with the U.N. and world leaders, scientists and faith leaders to have this realized for humanity.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.