Pope Francis’ recent scathing remarks to the Curia provided an astonishing moment of truth for the Roman Catholic Church.
As much as I’ve come to expect the unexpected from him, I was shocked by the directness of that challenge, by the sheer moral and spiritual force of his message on themes the institution has been in denial about since the baptism of Constantine.
Speaking of denial, Andrew Revkin of the NYT reports that now, fresh off a bold global political initiative in Cuba, Francis is preparing to hit world leaders hard on climate change.
Three weeks from now he’ll be in Tacloban, Philippines, site of the worst damage from typhoon Haiyan in 2012.
Revkin expects we’ll hear the Pope echo themes from speeches by Bishop Sorondo, the Chairman of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Academy of Social Sciences. If we do, it will mark another extraordinary “moment of truth” for the Catholic Church.
Juicy though it was, a sermon to Vatican staffers on the need for personal reform isn’t remotely as newsworthy, or frankly as morally challenging, as what he’s likely to say to all of us about the legacy of poverty, destruction and greed we seem to be planning to leave for our children on a warming planet.
I’m sobered by my responsibility for what’s happening. We should all feel chastened, like the Cardinals and Bishops Francis took to the woodshed for what they were doing to the Church. I hope the press will give this coming sermon from one of the greatest prophets the Church has ever witnessed, it’s due.
In excerpts from Sorondo’s speeches, what follows are some glimpses of what we might hear.
“Solid scientific evidence exists that global climate is changing and that human activity based on the use of fossil materials contributes decisively to this trend. Coupled with an economy based on profit and on the games finance plays in order to profit from money itself, without a clear orientation to the production of goods, this leads to social exclusion and the new forms of slavery such as forced labour, prostitution, organ trafficking, and the use of drugs as a method of corruption. A program … must include climate stabilization, the sustainable development of the natural environment and social inclusion focused on the centrality of the human being and the common good.
“We have changed the natural environment so much that scientists…define our era as the Anthropocene, a period in which human action is having a decisive impact on the planet due to the use of fossil fuels. If current trends continue, this century will witness unprecedented climate change and the destruction of the ecosystem, with tragic consequences for us all.
“Human action that doesn’t respect nature has a boomerang effect on human beings, creating inequality and increasing a “globalisation of indifference” and an “economics of exclusion” which endanger solidarity and present and future generations.
“Advances in measured productivity in all sectors – agriculture, industry and services - enable us to imagine an end to poverty, shared prosperity, and a further increase in life expectancy. However, unjust social structures have become an obstacle to the appropriate and sustainable organization of production and to the equitable distribution of its fruits, which are both necessary to achieve those objectives….
“50 percent of the available energy is used by less than a billion people, whereas its negative impacts on the environmental affect three billion people who do not have access to it. These three billion people, in fact, have so little access to modern energy that they are forced to cook, heat and light their homes using methods harmful to their health.
“Today we need to establish a mutually beneficial relationship: the economy needs to be imbued with true values, and respect for God’s creation should promote human dignity and well being.
“On these issues, all religions and all people of good will can agree. Today’s young people will embrace them to create a better world. The dangers of the Anthropocene are real and the injustice of the globalization of indifference is a serious issue. Yet, our message is also one of hope and joy. This is exactly what the Blessed Pope Paul VI wanted to achieve with his project of the civilization of love: a healthier, safer, fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable world is within our reach. The believers among us ask the Lord to give us our daily bread as food for the body and soul.”
If the human family, from our leaders down to ourselves, can humbly open our hearts and mind to such a message, it will indeed be a Happy New Year.