“Laudate Si’s” Disturbing Echoes

The great 19th century thinker and apologist John Henry Newman observed that the Church exhibits three characteristics: first she is pastoral thereby sanctifying her members, next she is pedagogical (a fancy word for her teaching mission), and finally she is political because the Church is made up of humans. It was this third characteristic that caused Newman the greatest concern and, in fact, any cursory glimpse of Church history quickly reveals her many political struggles from the beginning, when Paul took Peter to task over his attitude towards the gentiles as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.

.  The problem is that the lines are not clearly demarcated and sometimes political considerations become entangled with the Church’s pastoral and pedagogical mission. That human factor inevitably influences any and every institution, even a Divinely founded institution like the Church, because it is still made up of humans and administered by them. With that reality in mind I turn to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical concerning the environment entitled Laudate Si. The first thing to note about this pastoral letter is that it does not address anything related to personal questions of faith or morals as traditionally understood. It seems to be less a defense of faith than a polemic echoing a secular global environmental agenda. It delves heavily into political, social, and economic theory as in this passage. The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and still we have not solved the problem of poverty. (Laudate Si, sec. 27)

And who is really able to define “acceptable limits” in a world which is still far more undeveloped than it is developed. Are mere humans (even those with PhD.suffixes on their names) really capable of making such sweeping judgments about earth’s carrying capacity? Take Nigeria, for example, which is hardly Manhattan developmentally, although it is about 18,000 times larger. So is it really moral to cut off economic development for Nigeria’s 177 million people so that fewer than 2 million people in Manhattan can feel good about their paltry efforts to “save the planet?”. Or perhaps those 177 million Nigerians shouldn’t get to vote on their own future. The question then becomes who is really being exploited here, the planet or the people of Nigeria?

Reading through the encyclical I began to wonder about some of the ghost writers who were obviously quite active in actually penning it. The pope must be far too busy to personally research and write 170 plus pages of a very detailed and often technical treatise. Like most executives, he probably articulated a few key ideas to his advisers who did all the heavy work and, at the end, he simply signed off on the document So it might prove interesting to meet a few of the “experts” who were instrumental in drafting Laudate Si. I am sure that you will be as surprised as I was when you learn about their other “scientific” activities.

Meet Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and professor of economics. He is also former director of the U.N.’s Millenium Project. But besides such stellar academic credentials Sachs is also an ardent champion of population control. He pleads for legalizing abortion around the world as a “cost effective” means to eliminate unwanted children when contraception fails. In his 2008 book, Commonwealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, Sachs describes abortion as a “lower risk and lower cost option” to bringing human life into the world. In 2011 he was busy advocating a maximum 3 child policy for Nigeria. Despite being a confirmed neo-Malthusian, Sachs moderated and co-hosted a Vatican conference on climate change in April, 2015 at the invitation of Msgr. Marcelo Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Next on our panel of experts we meet Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. On May 28 of this year Moon was one of the main speakers at a Vatican workshop held at the same Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Yet in April, 2012 the same Ban Ki Moon told 47 members of the U.N.’s Commission on Population and Development that millions of girls – teenagers and younger – need access to abortion and contraceptives. In September, 2013 Moon recommended that the U.N. provide women in besieged Syria and Iraq “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services… this must include… the safe termination of pregnancies for survivors of conflict related rape.” Does that sound like your typical Vatican adviser?

Perhaps the highest profile “scientific” adviser helping draft Laudate Si, and since named as a permanent adviser to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a German, Hans Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research. A physicist by training, Schellnhuber is a confidant of Angela Merkel and sits on the German Advisory Council on Global Change.Schellnhuber is a rabid neo-Malthusian, arguing that the world is currently overpopulated by at least 6 billion people! In 2009 the New York Times quoted his cynical avowal, “It’s a triumph for science because at last we have stabilized something – namely the estimate for the carrying capacity of the planet, namely below one billion people.” This ardent disciple of the original population alarmist Thomas Malthus has been described by Canadian journalist Donna La framboise as a masterful “political actor… a full blown activist, the kind who seems to forget that politicians are answerable to ordinary voters rather than self-important experts.”

To round out the panel of “scientific experts” Msgr. Sorondo included the leftist writer and Canadian social activist Naomi Klein. Other than writing several best selling books her only credential as a climate expert is that she directs the climate activist group 350.org. Naomi is also a big supporter of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.She is a convert to feminist activism and radical environmentalism, attending the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, and was later arrested protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Msgr. Sorondo also included a few lesser “scientific” luminaries on the panel including the ardently socialist, and nominally Catholic, Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio. Bill believes that his city, with an abortion rate approaching 41% of all pregnancies, is under-served by quality abortion providers and is working hard to bring home more “talent.”. Add to the Sorondo list a former Jesuit and current Governor of California Jerry Brown whose record supporting abortion rights speaks for itself.

As Newman noted, the Church is a political animal among other things and this tendency to desire recognition from the world can sometimes overshadow her mission to teach the truth, in season and out of season. I do not mean to imply that Laudate Si says anything overtly contrary to the consistent teachings of the Church. In fact there are whole sections that uphold those teachings such as this line “…concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.” (Laudate Si #120)  The problem is that such disclaimers are mingled into a mediocre rhetorical hodge-podge of political ideology and pseudo-science that conspire to undermine any moral legitimacy.

For your own comparison, I have selected a few actual quotes  from Laudate Si juxtaposed against the writings and views of some of those “experts” we met above.In the Introductory section 8 one of the encyclical’s co-authors, Patriarch Bartholomew, challenges us to acknowledge our “sins against creation.” Now consider Naomi Klein’s assertion that her own country Canada is a “climate criminal,” a remarkably similar position. Ironically, Canada may be one place on the globe that could really use a little global warming.

After piously admitting that the Church is not equipped to determine scientific questions the encyclical goes on to avow in section 165, with an apparently new-found authority, “We know that technology based on the use of coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” Who told them that?  Maybe it was Jeffrey Sachs who advocates, “de-carbonizing to prevent global temperature increases of 4 to 6 degrees c. by 2050. Most of the energy we produce should be zero carbon.” Of course Sach’s 4 to 6 degree prognostication is pure fright mongering as any knowledgeable climatologist would surely realize. Most reliable estimates place anticipated increases at one degree or two at most, and that will happen only if the current 15 year period of stability end tomorrow. Nevertheless Sachs’ personal imperative that society must “de-carbonized” still manages to make its paraphrased conclusion into this papal encyclical.

Of course the group that any radical de-carbonization will hurt the most is the poor, the very group the encyclical assumes that it is defending and protecting from corporate greed. When utility bills double or triple, as they surely will as a result of such draconian austerity, the poor will be hardest hit.(Germany is the textbook example of how de-carbonizing has impacted utility rates dramatically over the past 20 years.) When job creation slows due to the lack of cheap energy this will further deny economic opportunity for those same poor, especially in developing third-world nations. Perhaps all those free contraceptives and abortion services provided by the U.N. will help soften the blow.

There also seems to be some subtle Marxist “redistribution of wealth” theme underlying the overall rationale of Laudate Si. Section 170 states, for example, “Strategies for lowering emissions call for the internationalization of environmental costs.” Compare that with Hans Schellnhuber’s demand made in a 2003 article in the UK Guardian, “..Westerner’s should feel guilt for “eco-crimes” and establish a U.N. supervised adaptation fund worth several trillion dollars.”

Then there are other socialist overtones embedded within the document. “Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market.” (Laudate Si, sec. 56, italics mine)  “Blame the 1% for wrecking the planet. We want this planet back from the Koch brothers!” That second quote is papal adviser Jeffrey Sachs addressing demonstrators at an “Occupy Wall Street” rally in 2011. So are we being incited to save the environment or take up class warfare here?

And if you have any doubt that the whole manufactured climate crisis is not in some way directly linked to global population control, consider this tag from section 106 of Laudate Si, “the lie that there is an infinite supply of earth’s goods… leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond its limit.” First of all, this is a “straw man” argument because nobody has ever proposed that the earth is in any way “infinite,” so where is the lie? But such false logic feeds very nicely into a more practical (and political) argument made by neo-Malthusian Jeffrey Sachs who speaks of, “humanity transgressing planetary boundaries, threatening an overly crowded planet.” His solution is what he calls the “demographic dividend” which says that countries must invest in family planning to reduce fertility in order to experience development. That sounds curiously like an ultimatum some bureaucrat at the World Bank might impose on some poor country desperate for an economic lifeline.

The obvious question must surely arise at this point about who is setting Church policy and teaching here. Is it the ordinary magisterium of bishops aligned with the Holy Father or a cadre of secular activists exerting undue influence in order to achieve their own purely political ends? None of us can definitively answer that question from where we sit and so one ought to respectfully reserve judgment concerning Pope Francis whose name shows up on Laudate Si. The actual text does, however, represent an unsettling shift towards a more worldly and collectivist understanding of our historic Faith. Yet it hardly seems necessary to remind ourselves that saving the world is not in our job description. That task was superbly accomplished some 2,000 years ago. Our concern needs to be the saving of our own souls as well as those around us.

I will leave you to scratch your heads about the true meaning and purpose of Laudate Si with these few passages taken from chapter 6. Perhaps I will be accused of cherry picking, but that is hardly my fault considering that this encylical seems to be bursting with ripe tasty morsels of every imaginable flavor. And while I freely admit that there are many well founded truths embedded within, what the document seems to be lacking overall is a truly consistent Christian message or line of reasoning. That is Laudate Si’s greatest, and fatal, flaw in my opinion. As one journalist keenly observed, it ratifies the principles of the neo-Malthusians if not their actual conclusions.


Chapter 6, Section 215 expounds the need to undergo “ecological conversion,” which apparently includes, “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can be reasonably consumed, showing care for others by using public transport or carpooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, etc.” (Laudate Si, sec. 211) Over and above those requirements we are further encouraged in Marxist ideology, “If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.” (i.e. fewer people?) (Laudate Si, sec. 208) I always assumed that our individualism. like life itself, was a gift from God, otherwise he could more simply have cloned the human race.

Finally we get some very squishy advice such as, “Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good.” (Laudate Si, sec. 225) That certainly feels a lot better than being forced to love one’s neighbor, especially if he drives a big, oversized SUV to haul around his 10 kids..And for just one final pearl of inspiration consider this advice, “..love in social life – political, economic, and cultural – must be given renewed value, becoming the constant and highest norm for all activity.” Of course, for a Christian anyway, I have naively presumed that love for God to be the constant and highest norm for all activity. But in a secular scientific universe where God is conspicuously absent from any discussion of reality, love in social life is the best we may hope for.

Francis J. Pierson



2 thoughts on ““Laudate Si’s” Disturbing Echoes

  1. Good article on this also in the Catholic Herald. I especially liked this:

    ‘[Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI] were the only popes I had known, as a Catholic. I thought that was what popes were for: defending and articulating the Magisterium. One Sunday morning after Mass, having just written about Laudato Si’ (actually, in some distress: I don’t like criticising the pope: this Pope, any pope) I responded to a priest who asked how I was. “Confused and distressed,” I said. “What by”? “Well, the Pope. Especially by this encyclical”.

    “Ah,” he said, smiling. “The encyclical. I haven’t read it, and I don’t suppose I will. We don’t have to, you know. And don’t be upset by the Pope. Popes come and popes go. A great one is a wonderful bonus: we just had two in a row. But it’s the Church we depend on.”’



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