Review of Laudate Deum, Pope Francis's new climate document
Published on 12 October 2023
Rev David Coleman, chaplain of Eco-Congregation Scotland, offers us his thoughts on Laudate Deum [Praise God], the Pope's latest publication concerning the environment which follows his 2015 pastoral letter Laudato si' [Praise be to you].
Laudato si', Pope Francis' pastoral letter on caring for creation, was published in 2015 to coincide with the Paris Agreement which introduced the - now endangered - 1.5 degree ‘maximum' for global warming. Clearly a team effort, Laudato si became the single most useful environmental resource for people of faith in the last decade and remains exemplary in the claiming of spiritual mainstream for social, political and environmental transformation.
Now Pope Francis has issued Laudate Deum, a much shorter and far more personal 'apostolic exhortation'. Building on and substantially sharpening the tone of his first message, it is a compelling and well-evidenced update.
This extended sermon is passionately intolerant of fake science and the marginalisation of 'green' concerns as if they were not "a human and social problem on any number of levels".
The papal gloves are off and the document clearly identifies both the strategies and the proponents of climate denial and obstruction as well as exposing "the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model".
Laudate Deum gives us a fight for justice from a well-informed advocate for the rights of the poor.
It expresses deep frustration that it is still necessary to state the "obvious" about the crisis, but it does so with humility as well as with great confidence.
Every spiritual house - including the Catholic Church - is to be put in order: not through the blunt exercise of power, but by being confronted with what are now unarguable facts about the impact and causes of the environmental "crisis".
The ineffectiveness of the United Nations and patchy achievements of the COP conferences are reviewed in a call for a more balanced multilateralism in global relations that repurposes rather than reinvents the channels of diplomacy and international co-operation.
"It is no longer helpful for us to support institutions in order to preserve the rights of the more powerful without caring for those of all" the document states.
It could be said that the UK government has moved into this firing line with their u-turn on net-zero and fossil fuel exploration since "international negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good".
Yet Pope Francis is positive about the beneficial potential of the human role in the web of life, especially our tenderness, sensitivity and value of beauty - everything crushed by what he calls the ‘technocratic paradigm which aims to make of fellow creatures slaves "prey to any whim of the human mind and its capacities."
Laudate Deum concludes with a catalogue of Bible study possibilities which could be developed into a series for local congregations, and I'm delighted to report that the obsolete term ‘stewardship' which stunts our relationship with Creation, does not occur in this document.
For ultimately, as Laudate Deum reminds us, "human life is incomprehensible and unsustainable without other creatures."