Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment is important. It will exert a powerful influence on climate action.
A draft of Pope Francis’ new papal encyclical on the environment leaked Monday, outlining a sweeping vision for how the Catholic Church should respond to the issue of global climate change. The official version is set to be released this Thursday, but as journalists and theologians scramble to discern the finer details of the papal document, many others are wondering: what exactly is an encyclical, anyway?
Encyclicals can put intellectual teeth behind a Catholic position, often expanding a vague idea into a robust, academically rigorous platform. This frees up Catholics all over the world — and the pope himself — to advocate for specific policies using any number of well-funded church advocacy arms. Thus, while encyclicals rarely make significant alterations to Catholic teaching, they have to power to energize the church around an issue at least during a pope’s reign — and possibly for centuries afterwards.
If the leaked version is any indication, then yes, it’s amazing. It covers all the basics and then some: the need to care for the earth, the fact that humans are contributing to global warming, the fact that climate change disproportionately impacts the poor, etc.
Arguably the most important impact of the new document will be how it encourages priests to discuss climate change with their congregants. A 2014 study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found a strong correlation between priests who preached about climate change and parishioners who express support for policies that help the earth. Here in the United States, where elections matter, changing the hearts and minds of individual Catholics could go a long way toward electing candidates with sound environmental polices, and, ideally, slowing our warming climate. What’s more, Francis is also well-liked by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, allowing him to influence far beyond the walls of Catholic cathedrals.
— Jack Jenkins, Climate Progress