6 Things Jimmy Akin Won’t Tell You about the Pope’s New Encyclical

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Since my buddy Chris Ferrara has, perhaps before anyone else in the English speaking world, done a thorough examination of the pope’s environment encyclical, “Laudato Si,” I will confine myself here to some observations of a different sort and to proposing a few questions for consideration – to talking around it, so to speak.

A great many people, long before the document was issued yesterday, have been asking whether it should have been written at all. Is this appropriate for a pope? Why was it necessary? Why, of all the possible topics, did Pope Francis choose this one? Has he stepped outside the proper bounds of papal authority? Aren’t there more pressing matters for the head of the Catholic Church to think about? (Does anyone know how many Chaldean Catholics are still alive in Mosul, Iraq, for instance?)

Let me just start by claiming credit for being an environmentalist, in that the mass degradation of the natural world by industrial agriculture, manufacturing and yes, fossil fuels – by human short sightedness and obsession with material consumption – is of grave concern to me. I am, in short, a not-very closeted, Left-Coast hippie tree-hugger, and always have been, and so as a Catholic, I am looking actively for guidance in framing these topics. I have felt for a long time that the Church’s competent (that is, believing) theologians should address them.

The other day our friend Jimmy Akin offered his list of “12 things to know and share” about the leaking of the encyclical. I thought this was a useful format, so now that we can all read the thing for ourselves, I’m offering a different kind of list: larger issues to think about to give the document some context.

1 –Does the encyclical, in its topic or its handling, undercut papal authority? – How much authority does the papal office give Francis to make definitive statements about climate change, or about science in general? None. Nada. Not a lick. On the subject of global warming, climate change and the environment Pope Francis is as authoritative as the guy sitting next to you on the bus. He’s as authoritative as I am.

Papal infallibility does not extend either to scientific, economic or political matters. Nor does the ordinary authority of the papal office – aside from formal infallibility – bestow any particular insight into these matters. This is why, of course, popes have advisors and even ghost writers for non-infallible documents. But having made some very disputable statements as though they are indisputable facts, Pope Francis has with this document perhaps created bigger problems for himself, his successors and for the Church by undercutting the genuine authority that actually is proper to the office.

It is normal for popes to write encyclicals on topics for which they have personally little or no background. This is why they have advisors and drafting committees whose job it is (or perhaps was) to frame the papal responses with infinite care to ensure that he remains within strictly defined boundaries. But for all the papal documents on topics that are not specifically theological, has there ever been a time in modern Catholic history when a pope has made definitive claims on highly disputed scientific topics without the least nod to the legitimacy, or even existence of a debate?

What can we say about a pope who would declare, on a massively un-settled, vexed and hugely controversial scientific and political subject, “Global warming is real and humans caused it, and we know this because the mainstream science says so.” (With the implied coda, “So shut up, everybody who disagrees.”)

“Scientific consensus exists indicating firmly that we are in the presence of a worrisome warming of the climate system.”

“In recent decades… the heating was accompanied by the constant rise in the sea level…”

“…And [it] is also hard not to relate it to the increase in extreme weather events, regardless of the fact that we cannot attribute a cause scientifically determined to each particular phenomenon.”

“[N]umerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming of recent decades is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other) issued mainly because of human activity.”

All of these claims, presented by the pope under his authority as absolutely indisputable fact, have been disputed and sometimes even outright debunked, all by people well within the realm of perfectly reputable science.

In fact, so problematic has the claim become that “warmist” activists have had to change their scare-term to the more neutral “climate change” to avoid having people point and laugh at them at scientist parties. Someone might have informed the pope of this change before allowing him to embarrass himself.

But more pertinently, how can anyone ever trust Pope Francis’ pronouncements on any other topic again? How can such declarations be anything other than catastrophic for his personal credibility? Because the unwritten implication behind these extraordinary assertions is that he himself thinks he does have some kind of special insight.

So outrageous is the presumption that a pope could make definitive statements in highly politically charged scientific disputes, that some bolder among our Catholic writer colleagues were openly mocking it within hours of the encyclical’s release. Matt Archbold, brother of Remnant columnist Pat, posted the headline yesterday, “Good News. Pope Now Respected as Science Expert.”

Protestants have always accused Catholics of believing everything the pope says on every subject whatever. They have accused us, in fact if not word, of “papal positivism,” the very theological vice that has suddenly become fashionable within the Church. And with this foray into areas where he has no more competence than anyone else, Pope Francis himself appears to be first among this trend.

And this is not the first time. When he was asked why he thought there had been mutterings against his lack of clarity and sound leadership, Francis told Antonio Spadaro, “Look, I wrote an encyclical – true enough, it was by four hands – and an apostolic exhortation. I’m constantly making statements, giving homilies. That’s magisterium. That’s what I think, not what the media say that I think.”

The Catholic neo-conservative world tied itself into knots trying to demonstrate that the pope’s many interviews, homilies and off-the-cuff ramblings, and the frequently incomprehensible statements in them, meant nothing. That he wasn’t interested in changing Church doctrine or doing anything really crazy, because as everyone knows, interviews and off-the-cuff comments can’t be taken as part of the formal papal magisterium. Shortly after this, they fell silent as the Vatican issued a book compiling all the papal interviews, primarily those most controversial ones with the Marxist atheist Eugenio Scalfari, and calling it formally part of the Francis magisterium.

The conclusion seems inescapable that this is a pope who does not know the meaning of the term “papal magisterium,” or the purpose of his own office. Or perhaps who simply doesn’t care. Remember, this is also the pope who has repeatedly railed against “doctors of the law” and the Church’s previous interest in “small-minded rules.”

2 – Who were these advisors?  Many of the people who have criticised Pope Francis for coming down on this side of the “global warming” debate have pointed out that he is now keeping some very unpleasant company indeed. And appears to be doing so without the least embarrassment.

Who are these people? Well, one of the people at the press conference launching the encyclical officially – who was presumably also advising the pope – was Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. This is a highly respected member of the warmist community and is perhaps the best possible representative of their entire programme for humanity. And his influence is enormous. He advises the Chancellor of Germany, Europe’s lead economic nation and serves as chairman of the German Advisory Council on Global Change. At the transnational level, he is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of the United Nations.

Professor Schellnhuber is a major voice calling for massive reduction in… wait for it… human population. In 2009, he articulated the commonly held opinion of the scientific left that the only solution for planet earth will be the elimination of all but one billion of the human population. The New York Times reported on his speech at an international climate meeting in Copenhagen, where he said it is a “triumph for science” that they have “stabilized” the estimate: “namely the estimates for the carrying capacity of the planet, namely below 1 billion people.” At that time, Herr Schellnhuber declined to specify a methodology for achieving this.

At the Vatican’s press conference, though, he focused on other priorities, protesting only that “the science of Laudato Si is watertight.” He added a warning that if “humanity” didn’t reduce carbon emissions, “we, our neighbors, and children will be exposed to intolerable risks.”

Continue reading over at The Remnant

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8 Responses to 6 Things Jimmy Akin Won’t Tell You about the Pope’s New Encyclical

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    I cannot hide my scorn for the attitudes shown over at the Remnantsince when has the defence of Catholic Tradition required fighting against Science ???

    And whilst I admire their honesty, and their strong Faith in the Catholicity, beyond that, they’re usually on very shaky ground from a broad doctrinal perspective.

    They write : Papal infallibility does not extend either to scientific, economic or political matters. Nor does the ordinary authority of the papal office (…) bestow any particular insight into these matters.

    These are weasel words, given that infallibility concerns this Encyclical not in the slightest, and they fly in the face of both the Papal Authority and the Tradition.

    The Tradition, and Church doctrine, state clearly that the Roman Pontiff may authoritatively instruct the Faithful on all matters pertaining to the Christian life — scientific, economic, and political matters are not excluded in the slightest from the purview of his actions.

    Furthermore, the core of Laudato Si’ is not these things at all, but matters of moral instructions for the behaviour and actions of the Faithful.

    The “logic” of “I deny the proposals of the climatologists, therefore I can not only personally reject this Encyclical entirely, but I will also permit myself to write articles attacking its contents, and publicly urge others to reject it as well” is rancidly uncatholic and rancidly Modernist.

    It verges on the heretical to publicly denounce the contents of an Encyclical, rather than, perhaps, simply disagreeing privately with any non-binding proposals that it might contain.

  2. Everyone at some level wants to be, or acts as if they are, the Pope. It makes for stirring reading, eh?

  3. JabbaPapa says:

    I am not the only one to be wary of the attitude of catholics like these Remnant people :


    Bishop Fellay, SSPX : The Society’s weaknesses? The risk of separation is serious. Look at the caricature of Tradition that calls itself the “Resistance”, for example: it is a non-Catholic spirit that is almost sectarian. We wish to have nothing to do with it; it is a movement that is withdrawn into itself, with people who think that they are the only good and just men on earth: that is not Catholic. It is an objective, but relative danger. Most of the Society is healthy and will not fall into these illusions. This encourages us to rely upon supernatural means. God will show us what He wants of us; He will speak through circumstances.

  4. kathleen says:

    Jabba, I can’t help wondering what Bishop Fellay really means by saying he wants “nothing to do” with the “Resistance” groups – yes, probably referring to, among others, the Remnant group. I have read interviews in which Bp. Fellay himself was less than complimentary about some of Pope Francis’ utterances.
    The SSPX itself, that has so faithfully retained Catholic Tradition as a form of resistance against the Modernism that was let loose in the Church following the Council, is a faithful reminder to all of us of the beauty of our Church before it was tainted by the so-called “spirit of Vatican II”. Yet because of this, they too have been branded as a resistance group.

    I am not arguing with your statement, by the way, but simply pointing out a possible flaw in Bp. Fellay’s reasoning.

  5. JabbaPapa says:

    I sometimes despair that we’ll ever rid ourselves and our Church of the Heresies of Modernism and Relativism (Americanism can be fought, and it can be defeated, including by ordinary secular & Lay means).

    They have become so deeply rooted in our education system & our upbringing and into our very culture, that even Faithful Catholics can fail to see their presence — not just in others, but even in themselves.

    What Bishop Fellay refers to as “the Resistance” is uncatholic not just because of its blatantly schismatic tendencies (and yes, to describe huge numbers of Catholics as not being “real catholics”, but describing you and your like-minded friends as being so is a schismatic statement — which does not prevent one complaining of café catholics and so on) — but because the movement is Modernist through and through, albeit not Relativist

    Modernism is the Heresy whereby one’s personal opinions are deemed to be of greater value than the Truth that is provided by the Church. It is very clear that those at the Remnant have succumbed to Modernism.

  6. ginnyfree says:

    Do not despair. We will eventually rid ourselves of a few of the heresies you mention, but by that time, we’ll have another bunch of weirdos to deal with, and so it goes till doomsday. Be the change you want to see. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  7. kathleen says:

    “Be the change you want to see.”

    That is highly perceptive Ginny. Yes, none of us can change the world, but we can, each individual, certainly be true personal witnesses to our Catholic Faith in our daily lives amidst the turmoil going on around us. 😉


    “Modernism is the Heresy whereby one’s personal opinions are deemed to be of greater value than the Truth that is provided by the Church.

    Jabba, I believe the Remnant group would energetically refute the term ‘Modernism’ to describe their vehement complaints about much that is coming out from Rome these days. How can their indefatigable defense of Catholic Tradition be called Modernism?. It is that very Truth “provided by the Church” in its 2000 year history that they want to protect and continue to see preached; Modernists promulgate their own personal ideas that differ from Church Doctrine. These traditional Catholic groups hold to everything the Church has always taught, and although one could say their criticism against the Pope sometimes goes too far – I really think it does – who could honestly deny that they have good reasons to speak out so strongly against the many errors and betrayals taking place these days, and the confusion being spread around because of them?

    The Remnant group love the old Liturgy because it is so much more reverent and inspiring; they point out weak and erroneous proclamations coming from many in the hierarchy today, not because they see themselves as holier-than-thou, but because they do not want to dilute the fullness of Truth, or see this Magisterial teaching of Truth be denied! Yes, denied by many who should know better, and yet who seemingly never receive any sort of correction or reprimand from Rome. Conservative Catholics get many ‘raps on the knuckles’ though. These traditional groups want to know why this is being allowed to happen.

    On the Chartres pilgrimage I met and talked to Michael Matt and other members of the Remnant. They are the most likable, joyful, genuine Catholics you could meet anywhere.

    I know you are mostly in disagreement with their outspoken criticism of the current Pope, and I understand that many Catholics are naturally very unhappy about this – after all, he is the Vicar of Christ – but at the same time would you really say that they have no grounds for complaint?
    Besides, this is not the only group who finds a lot of very troublesome utterances coming from this papacy, but I believe only a very small number of these dissatisfied Traditional Catholics would ever deny that Pope Francis is the true Pope. They protest against some of the Pope’s words and actions, but not his position as Holy Father.

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    Jabba, I believe the Remnant group would energetically refute the term ‘Modernism’ to describe their vehement complaints about much that is coming out from Rome these days

    Martin Luther made pretty much the same defence.

    I think, dear kathleen, that you confuse modernity for Modernism.

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