Vatican logo, taken from the encyclical Laudato Si'

Who says Laudato Si' is not a political manifesto?

Vatican logo, taken from the encyclical Laudato Si'

Vatican logo, taken from the encyclical Laudato Si'

A week after publication, the meme that is settling in to soften the message of Laudato Si' is that Pope Francis' ecological encyclical is not political.

Thus, the Iowa Catholic Conference describes it with these words from Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines: “‘Praise be to you’ as an encyclical is not a political document, nor a scientific document, but a religious document which our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has developed to guide us in our moral life in order that we might be faithful to the scriptures and teaching of the Church in our times.” Over at GetReligion Terry Mattingly trashes the MSM coverage with: "This is a pastoral document, built primarily on Catholic doctrines; this is not a political manifesto, no matter what journalists keep chanting."

I beg to differ. Laudato Si' is all about politics. It's no accident that "politics" and its cognates occur 52 times in the text. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the central message is the need to employ a worldview of "integral ecology" to establish political control over economic forces. The following sentences are key:

What happens with politics? Let us keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity, which grants freedom to develop the capabilities present at every level of society, while also demanding a greater sense of responsibility for the common good from those who wield greater power. Today, it is the case that some economic sectors exercise more power than states themselves. But economics without politics cannot be justified, since this would make it impossible to favor other ways of handling the various aspects of the present crisis.

Tmatt singles out for praise a post on Patheos by Catholic blogger Rebecca Hamilton listing various things that, she says, the encyclical (contrary to various representations) does and doesn't say. One of them is: "Laudato Si does not recommend specific legislation or reforms."

To the contrary. "There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy," writes the pope. "Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies." I'd say that's pretty specific.

I'd also say that Laudato Si' is pretty specific when it turns thumbs down on the buying and selling of carbon credits, a mechanism employed by all the members of the European Union under the 1992 Kyoto Protocol: “[I]n no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require.”

None of is to deny that Pope Francis has written a religious document, a guide to the moral life, a pastoral document. He's done all those things. But check your dictionary. A manifesto is a public declaration of aims and policies, of values and principles. Whatever else it may be, Laudato Si' is a political manifesto.


  1. Bravo! Thank you.

    Why do so many want to divide the political from the pastoral, the lived experience of people in the world from their lived experience with God?

    The separation of faith and living in the polis – the political – is one of the major problems of our age. (Cf. Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes 43: “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted
    among the more serious errors of our age.”)

    The politicization of faith has undermined the need to see that faith informs politics, that the moral dimensions of politics and economics (and thus the environment) need to be scrutinized by a living faith that seeks love and justice.

    Thank God that Pope Francis has given us a really “political” manifesto, not a politicized one (as many of his opponents manifest.)

  2. Yes, the Church needs to walk that fine line, with one foot in this world, the other in eternity. Certainly every encyclical is a political document, but political only in the sense to evangelize with it. In reading this encyclical, it is clearly a call to conversion. The Church’s mission is to lead souls to heaven, but also to establish peace, and to live harmoniously in the world. So the Church must convince governments that it can establish churches within territories, and generate peace, not anarchy, within that society.

  3. Thank you for noting that the encyclical is both religious and political, to use lay terminology, and is most particularly significant in identifying a moral need to manage public affairs in a way that avoids swamping Miami and parching the West, and identifying that doing so is in the interests of the poor, the very young, the very old, the exact concerns of Jesus.

  4. I’m confused. I thought the likes of Frances Kissling, Dan Maguire, and the National Catholic Reporter have all shown that Vatican II was about respecting the personal and individual conscience?

    So can’t “good and faithful” Catholics disagree with the pope on climate change and how to address it “in good conscience”?


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