“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” Linus van Pelt, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Linus’ wisdom is often noted among people in polite conversation. Obviously I have breached the politics part of this. And I’ll leave the great pumpkin to Linus. But there is an observation to be made about religion.
Actually it is more an observation about the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, and the principles that he champions. I am a great admirer of Pope Francis.
It starts with the fact that he is a Jesuit. I have always thought, since my student days at Canisius College, that if the religious orders of the Church played the role of military units, the Jesuits would be considered the Marines. They are smart, dedicated and strong. The few, the proud, the Jesuits.
Pope Francis, throughout his life, has demonstrated his appreciation and support for the interests of the poor. He lives a humble life at the Vatican. His reaction to those living a different life style is “who am I to judge?”
So this is how I am bringing politics and religion into the same conversation. Pope Francis today issued an encyclical about the environment and the need to deal with global warming and climate change (Praised Be to You, On Care for our Common Home). The encyclical’s publication comes with some political intrigue and creates an interesting dilemma for some Catholics in the United States, as well as some Republican candidates for president. First, the political intrigue.
Earlier this week a report surfaced outlining some of the points that were in a draft version of the encyclical. Some of the more sensitive issues in the document were “leaked.”
For those of us who have lived in the world of politics, “leaks” are a well-known process. Leaks can try out a subject on background; attempt to damage an opponent by getting out part of a story and twist it in some way; or just try to get some early publicity to build interest in a subsequent announcement.
Some of the readers of this blog may have used leaks themselves, or perhaps been a victim of one. Leaks are part of the game in politics. In the history of the Catholic Church, it is hard to find many examples of an encyclical being leaked, although a New York Times story mentions that something similar happen to an encyclical issued in 1968 by Pope Paul VI concerning birth control. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/17/world/europe/leak-of-pope-francis-encyclical-hints-at-tensions-in-vatican.html
The story in the Times about this week’s leaked encyclical speculated that some of the more conservative elements in the Church hierarchy may have leaked portions of today’s encyclical to embarrass Pope Francis, to stir up controversy and to hurt the chances of the encyclical getting properly circulated and reviewed.
At the risk of over-using a headline that I included a few posts ago, I am shocked, shocked, that politics is going on here.
It is a pretty well-known fact, at least among serious Catholics, that there has always been politics going on in Church business. The difference now is that the conservative leadership that has held such strong control of things does not have total control of things at this time. Pope Francis, in a variety of ways, has pulled back the curtain on what has been going on. So on to politics, Vatican-style.
An American political dilemma
Francis’ encyclical on the environment is just the latest issue to arise that challenges the political thought process among many American Catholics, including the leadership of the American Church. It is no secret that some among that hierarchy align themselves with some Republican officeholders and candidates. I emphasize “some.”
A reasonable person, regardless of their own beliefs or philosophy, should understand and respect the connection between some officeholders and candidates and the Church hierarchy about deeply held believes on issues like abortion. What mystifies me, however, is a political alliance on political and social issues concerning things like medical care, child nutrition, and now, the environment. What would Jesus do?
I am not converting this blog into a platform to discuss religion and I will return to our regularly scheduled program. I respect all religions and the people who practice their religious beliefs. What is hard to comprehend, however, is how some people can lack the simple understanding that mankind has degraded the environment and that we should work to correct the problem. Intelligent people know that there are scientific facts on this. Denial of such facts, which has more recently morphed for some Republican politicians into a position of “I’m not a scientist,” signals that a politician is hiding either their lack of intelligence or their lack of courage. I say Republican politicians, but if someone can show me a Democratic politician with anti-climate change positions, I will be happy to acknowledge that.
I spent the early years of my life living in the Valley neighborhood of Buffalo. I vividly remember when the steel and chemical plants were in their heyday in Buffalo that the sky usually looked a color other than blue and the air smelled funny. I am well aware of the high incidents of cancer that have developed over the years in folks who lived in locations like the Valley. You do not need to be a scientist to understand that businesses and people did that damage to the environment.
So whether you are Catholic or not, take a moment to consider what the Pope has written. And hope for all our sakes that it helps to focus the world on an important issue that will not just go away with some denial of the truth.
Here’s a link to the encyclical: