Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ has elicited a range of reactions, from rabid criticism to gushing praises.
But what does the encyclical mean for the average Catholic? Is it binding on Catholics?
The short answer is yes, said Good Shepherd principal and canon law lecturer Msgr Brendan Daly.
“All Church teaching binds. The document Laudato Si’ is an encyclical and an encyclical is the main teaching document of a pope,” he explained. “[T]here are, in fact, many different documents and they have different binding force but, obviously, something from the pope is much more significant as a teaching document.”
Msgr Daly said that in Laudato Si’, Pope Francis has taken a step as the world’s moral leader. “There is this vacuum that exists and clearly Pope Francis is in a position where he is head
and shoulders above any other religious leaders in the world. He has the capacity and charisma and the message to speak to humanity,” he said.
Msgr Daly said the thing that struck him were the two prayers at the end.
“With Laudato Si’, the Pope concludes with two prayers. The first prayer is one that we can share to all who believe in God. It’s an example of the Pope acting as a spiritual leader of humanity and he is giving teaching that everyone can relate to,” he said. “And then there’s a
second prayer that has to do with respecting creation that is for us specifically as Christians.”
Would it be a sin to disregard the papal encyclical?
“There would be some sinfulness involved in not following Laudato Si’ but I think it has to be recognised that some of the contents of the encyclical vary in their significance,” he said.
For example, Pope Francis cited abortion, which is against Divine Law and expressly stated in the Ten Commandments.
“So we do need to recognise there are some elements in the encyclical that are much more serious and significant in their teaching,” he said.
Msgr Daly said most of the negative reaction to the Pope’s encyclical is “partly because the Pope is tying together the spiritual greed that lies behind some of the destruction to the planet”.
“It’s significant in this document that the Pope is attacking the rampant corporate and financial power that is leading to the destruction of the world and the environment,” he said.
It is also significant to note, he said, that criticisms come mostly from political leaders of the First World. “At the individual nation level, at present, rich countries are exploiting poor countries.
Naturally, people in rich countries are going to feel threatened and challenged by the Pope’s analysis, because rich countries are getting cheap products and increasing their wealth at the expense of the Third World,” he said. “This encyclical is a direct call to action.”
He said the Pope does not want to see the market or science and technology deciding how humanity will live.
“At the beginning of the encyclical, the Pope talks about the Earth as our common home. And he’s very clear that, at present, in our consumer society, people tend to consume as much as
they can, but the result of this is both the Earth and the poor are suffering.
And for the Pope, the consequences of climate change are directly related to individual greed and institutional greed in companies and government,” he said.
Msgr Daly added that the Pope also addressed individuals.
“Increasingly we see that our society is becoming a throwaway society and that is affecting the world’s resources,” he said. “The Pope gets down to a very practical personal level about how we recycle, how we ensure that at a personal level, we are not wasting things.”
Msgr Daly said the Pope does not accept all the arguments put forward by those promoting environment issues.
“He doesn’t see that there needs to be fewer people in the world or an introduction of population controls, because he points out the unequal distribution of population and resources,” he said.
Rather, the Pope sees the solution in better distribution of resources and control of consumption.
“Pope Francis wants the whole human community to be accountable for the world and the environment. There is a real appeal to affirm the truths we have in common with non-believers that everything in creation comes from God. We are all connected through creation to God. We’ve all got a responsibility to care for the created world,” he said.