When The Pope Speaks, Does Anyone Listen?
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? So too I wonder about Pope Francis’ recent Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality. He writes about the devastation we humans are causing to our Earth and its creatures, but is anybody listening?
Pope Francis on Climate Change
According to the Pew Research Center, over the past century the number of Catholics worldwide has more than tripled to an estimated 1.2 billion. Catholics comprise about half of all Christians and 16% of the total global population. Pope Francis, as the Bishop of Rome, is the leader of the Catholic Church. Needless to say, Pope Francis has a large following, both inside and outside of Catholicism, but is anybody listening to him? Pope Francis is the first in several categories. He is the first pope from the Americas, the first non-European pope since Gregory III in 741, and the first Jesuit pope. Pope Francis has been known for his humility, his emphasis on God’s mercy, and his concern for the poor. He now makes a plea to end the havoc we are causing to our planet and its creatures – in his words, “Our Common Home.”
Pope Francis does not mince words in his Encyclical. At the outset he adopts the teachings of Patriarch Bartholomew: “[T]o commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” Pope Francis calls it a sin to “degrade the integrity of the earth.” As an example of such degradation, he points to the tropical forests as the “lungs of our planet” and how we are leveling them, and in the process “countless species are lost.” Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface; now they cover a mere 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years. Every second 1.5 acres of rainforest are lost with tragic consequences. Cattle ranching is the number one reason for deforestation in virtually every Amazon country,
and it accounts for 80% of current deforestation.
Pope Francis on The Fishing Industry
Pope Francis also takes on the fishing industry and how it is causing a “drastic depletion of certain species.” Our demand for seafood is causing a rapid deterioration of our marine ecosystems. We harvest 100 million tons of fish from the ocean each year and another 50 million tons are killed as “bykill” and thrown back into the ocean. Each year over 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises are killed as bykill. 1081 types of fish are listed as threatened or endangered. Ninety percent of all tuna, sharks, swordfish, cod and halibut are gone. We have removed more fish from the ocean in our lifetime than in the previous thousands of years and this is causing large-scale ecosystem changes.
Pope Francis’ namesake is St. Francis, the twelfth-century founder of the Franciscan order and the patron saint of animals. Pope Francis has much to say in his Encyclical about how we treat animals because they “have value in themselves” and “[e]very creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness.” Pope Francis notes that “[b]ecause of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us.” “We have no such right” according to Pope Francis.
Pope Francis on Animals Used For Entertainment
Pope Francis strongly rejects the notion that animals “are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish.” According to Pope Francis, “we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” God must look at our circuses and rodeos and ask, what give us the right to treat his creatures in such ways for our entertainment?
Pope Francis on Animal Agricultural Practices
What about animal agricultural practices where mistreatment of animals is institutionalized?T he Pope makes it clear that animals are not “resources to be exploited.” Animals “have a value of their own in God’s eyes.” He states plainly: “How can we possibly mistreat them [animals] or cause them harm?” And this: “May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures.”
Pope Francis concludes that being “protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” Pope Francis issues a call to action: “we human beings . . . need to change.” Is anybody listening, or are his words like trees falling in a forest with nobody around to hear them?
Doug Meier is a board member of VegansEatWhat? and practices law in Colorado.
Doug Meier is an attorney who practices in Colorado the area of insurance bad faith and legal malpractice. He became a vegetarian 13 years ago and went vegan approximately 2 years ago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com