Originally posted at Talk to Action.
The conservative criticism of Laudato Sii, (“Praised Be”), Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment and poverty that began even before its release, has now reached a fever pitch.
It is of more than passing interest that many of the cadre of naysayers are members of the Catholic Right. And not coincidentally, many of them have strong ties to conservative Evangelicals. What is it that they truly fear about Laudato Sii? Is it the encyclical’s inconvenient discussion of the disastrous implications climate change has upon the world’s poor – or is it something else? To wit, does the Jesuit Pope Francis threaten to undermine the power of the Catholic Right-Evangelical political alliance?
Among the rankled conservatives feeling the political heat are several hopefuls for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, including: Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.
In the past, Catholic Democratic Party candidates who disagreed with the Vatican on biological issues bore the onus of being out of step with Church teaching. Now that dynamic has changed. The emphasis of the current Pope is not abortion and birth control but economics and now environmental justice. This places GOP Catholic pols in the unfamiliar (and often uncomfortable) position of being out of step with the Church on significant issues.
The worrying has led to well-orchestrated pushback. Coal industry lobbyists, for example, have been distributing “talking points” to members of Congress in order to lessen its impact. Rush Limbaugh is again dissembling about Pope Francis being influenced by Marxist economics.
As the New York Times recently noted:
This stance has rankled some conservative Catholics, as well as climate change skeptics, who have suggested that Francis is being misled by scientists and that he could veer into contentious subjects like population control. Others have argued that papal infallibility does not apply to matters of science. In April, a group of self-described climate skeptics, led by the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group, came to Rome to protest.
As well as:
Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo of Argentina, who is also chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, has sharply rebutted the criticism and postulated that many of the attacks have been underwritten by oil companies or influenced by conservative American interests, including the Tea Party. “This is a ridiculous thing, completely,” Bishop Sorondo said in an interview at the Vatican.
Among those on the Catholic Right who chided the pope on the encyclical were Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Catholic League President Bill Donohue. Both came off as best, ineffectual.
Santorum started the ball rolling by complaining that Pope Francis is not competent enough to discuss matters of science. While the pontiff does not hold a Master’s degree in chemistry as has sometimes been reported He did, however, earn a 2 year degree in the subject along with working several years as an actual chemist.
And of course Bill Donohue went into overdrive to obfuscate matters. And in one attempt at discrediting the pope the Catholic League President attempted to make the document be about the condemnation of air conditioning. In reality, air-conditioning is mentioned only once in passing, in the book-length document.
Pope Francis’s Jesuit credentials are of no small consequence in this matter. For the last century the Jesuit order has been one of the most progressive within Catholicism both in economic and scientific matters. Among other things, they run the Vatican Observatory. (Georges Lemaître, the astronomer who developed the big bang theory of the universe was a Jesuit-educated priest and a professor of physics.) And it has been the Jesuits – current pontiff included – who dismiss a fundamentalist rejection of evolution. And of course they have been active in pursuing distributive justice economics.
It is no wonder that the Catholic Right looks upon the Jesuits with distrust and alarm. Culture warriors such as Opus Dei’s Rev. C. John McCloskey and recently resigned Bishop Robert Finn have epitomized their preferred visions of Catholic clergy. As I have previously written, this cabal has long desired replacing moderate and liberal Catholics with converts from the fundamentalist Evangelical Protestantism. Obviously, the more progressively minded Francis frustrates this plan of action.
Then there is a political alliance that now exists between the Catholic Right and elements of fundamentalist Evangelicals. Frederick Clarkson has written extensively on this development, explaining how the two camps – often distrustful of the other – are now collaborating in ways that were, until relatively recently, unthinkable. But now, it is the new reality.
Laudato Sii is clearly not the signal the Catholic Right wants to send to potential fundamentalist Evangelical converts to Catholicism. Nor is it a subject that climate change skeptical Catholic GOP presidential hopefuls want to discuss with the evangelical voters they need to win the nomination. Just as John F. Kennedy was asked in 1960 by some of their number, there may also be some concern about whether the where their loyalty may lie: To his evangelical supporters or to Catholic teaching? Indeed, recent polling has revealed that the majority of American Evangelical Protestants attributed the cause of Extreme weather as a sign of end times as opposed to a manmade climate change.
At least for now, gone are the days when most of the significant pontifical pronouncements provide comfort to the GOP and movement conservatism. We do indeed live in interesting times.
Filed under: Catholic Right, Catholic social teaching, Other Christians, Religion and Politics, religious orders, Uncategorized | Tagged: Bill Donohue, Bobby Jindal, Catholic Right, climate change, climate change skeptics, GOP, Jeb Bush, Jesuits, Laudato Sii, Pope Francis, Rick Santorum | Leave a comment »