If you want to know how an encyclical like Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ works its way through the Catholic Church, take a look at the latest number of Our Sunday Visitor, the venerable weekly newspaper for the church’s American rank and file. OSV leans to the conservative side of the Catholic ideological spectrum, but it is never not with the papal program, whatever that happens to be.
Behind this week’s cover story on harmful side effects of oral contraceptives (“A Poisonous Pill”) are two articles advancing the encyclical’s cause. The first asks in its headline, “Is Clean Power Plan Compatible with Laudato Si’?” That would be President Obama’s plan to require power plants to reduce their carbon emissions 32 percent by 2030.
The answer comes from Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network and a key climate change activist: “The pope says we have to change, and we have to do it now. We can’t wait 20 or 30 years. This plan will be a way to start moving forward. I don’t think it goes far enough, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.”
Magisterial support comes in the form of a quote from Miami archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, that the bishops “welcome this important move by the administration” — plus a reminder that Wenski has written to Congress urging members not to vote against the plan. Nor does OSV shy away from smacking Catholic presidential contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who have opposed it. Such opposition is, according to Catholic Climate Covenant associate director Lonnie Ellis, “immoral.” Ouch.
The second OSV article is a guide to embracing Laudato Si’ personally (“Caring for our common home in our family life, spirituality, spending habits”). Says Father Kenneth Haydock of Holy Rosary Parish in North Edmonds, WA.: “I’ve heard people repeat what some politicians have said, about the pope needing to stay out of science or out of politics. So I’m going to keep hammering away at it, helping people understand what the pope is saying and why he’s saying it.”
Climate Change activists might carp that OSV doesn’t encourage parishioners to engage in civic action, such as by joining an organization like The Climate Mobilization. A bigger problem is that where OSV once had a circulation of over half a million , it’s now down to under 50,000 subscribers. And as widespread use of the pill by Catholic women itself indicates, ignoring church teaching on social issues has become common practice in the U.S.
On the other hand, the pope will have more American Catholics paying attention to him than God when he shows up in New York, Washington, and Philadelphia next month. To say nothing of everyone else in the country. And you can be sure he’ll be pitching Laudato Si’.