The ‘Green Pope’?

Pope Benedict XVI has made a point of speaking out in defense of protecting the environment and respecting God’s creation.

CNS photo courtesy the Vatican
CNS photo courtesy the Vatican )

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has made a point of speaking out in defense of protecting the environment and respecting God’s creation.

But after a recent series of papal environmental comments prompted some headline writers to dub him the first “Eco-Pope,” Church-watchers are analyzing where the Holy Father stands on the theory of man-made global warming and other key environmentalist arguments.

During his visit to Loreto, Italy, Sept. 2, the Pope presided over the Church’s first “eco-rally” of 400,000 Italian youth. He called on world leaders to make courageous decisions to save the planet “before it’s too late.”

“We need a decisive Yes to care for creation,” he said, “and a strong commitment to reverse those trends that risk making the situation of decay irreversible.”

At his weekly general audience Sept. 5, Benedict explicitly mentioned climate change and careful management of water resources, which he said were “matters of grave importance for the entire human family.” And on his recent trip to Austria, he called for undertaking leisure activities with more consideration for the environment.

He has also backed this month’s religious-scientific symposium in Greenland to save the Arctic; spoken out against arsonists alleged to have started forest fires in Spain, Italy and Greece; and commented frequently during his summer vacation in the Italian mountains about the importance of nature in inspiring spirituality and praise of God.

And, a senior Vatican official confirmed to the Register Sept. 13, environmental issues will figure prominently in the Pope’s new social encyclical, due next spring.

Commentators note that Benedict’s appeals are not unique: Pope John Paul II also spoke frequently about the urgency to safeguard creation.

In his 1991 social encyclical, Centesimus Annus, John Paul warned against wasteful consumerism that “betrays” man’s God-given role of having dominion over the earth. “It’s part of a longstanding tradition,” said Kishore Jayabalan, Rome director of the Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

People First

A clear distinction exists between Benedict’s approach to the environment and that of many environmentalists.

“A lot of environmentalists are very anti-life,” said Robert Royal, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Faith and Reason Institute. “They think human beings are the disrupters of the environment as if it would be better if there were a planet without human beings.”

In contrast, the Pope’s anthropological approach places the protection of the environment in the context of upholding human dignity and mankind’s special place in God’s creation. The problem, said Jayabalan, is that “no one ever pays much attention to that part.”

And despite his statement in support of the Greenland conference dedicated to preserving Arctic habitats, there is no indication the Holy Father has endorsed the entire argument for man-made climate change.

That doesn’t make him “anti-science,” however. While scientists are mostly agreed the climate is changing, they are deeply divided on the causes.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body comprising some 2,500 scientists, believes potentially disastrous greenhouse gases are human-induced. But a body of 500 other scientists, led by Dennis Avery, an environmental economist, and Fred Singer, a physicist, has concluded that it is very doubtful that man-made global warming exists.

According to Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, a friend of the Pope and theologian-in-residence at Florida’s Ave Maria University, all the Pope has said is that climate change “is a matter of serious importance.”

“Nothing he says indicates what kind of climate change he’s talking about or in what direction the changes may be,” Father Fessio told Sept. 9.

Father Fessio subsequently confirmed those comments to the Register.

Consistent Message

Viscount Christopher Monckton, a self-described “eco-skeptic,” believes the Pope’s views are fully in line with those expressed at a recent Vatican conference on climate change hosted by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

“I’m sure the Pope is careful enough to bear in mind Cardinal Martino’s words at the end of the [Vatican] climate conference: ‘The climate is warming, and this deserves our concern; but we do not yet know the causes, and we must find out,” said Monckton, who participated in the seminar. “There is no incompatibility between the Pope’s carefully-chosen words and Cardinal Martino’s statement.”

“Climate change is a matter of grave importance whether one believes in it or not,” added Monckton, who was a policy adviser to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “If one believes in it, we shall have to adapt to it, but even if one does not believe in it, we shall have to prevent misallocation of economic resources to the detriment of the poor.”

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.

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