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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/10/16

How the Catholic Right Has Domesticated Pope Francis in My Home Diocese

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Last week (just in time for Lent) the Catholic diocese of Lexington Kentucky published a study guide for Laudato Si', Pope Francis' outspoken encyclical on the problems resulting from climate change. The guide called Discovering Laudato Si: A Small Group Study Guide. It entirely domesticated the pope's clarion call for a "bold cultural revolution" (Laudato Si' 114).

In fact, Discovering Laudato Si' does exactly what Pope Francis refused to do in his authoritative letter to the entire church. The diocesan guide bends over backward attempting not to offend and to mute the certainty and urgency of the climate chaos emergency.

The narrative of our local publication runs like this: The topic of climate change is controversial. Some see it as caused by humans and threatening to the very existence of the human race. Others say that climate variability is cyclical and natural, and can be remedied by human technology. Of course, such matters are too complex for non-experts and even for the Church to decide. So while the experts are resolving that "big picture," let's be practical. Let's all take a deep breath, slow down, and avoid environmental crusades. Let's determine the 'small tasks' that little people can do to mitigate the environmental damage our lifestyles may be causing. Let's reduce, reuse, and recycle. You see, environmental crusading might offend those with opposite opinions. And remember, Christians must be nice and inclusive. On these matters, the faithful should 'bend to the pastor's direction'.

True: the diocesan guide lets the pope's encyclical speak for itself on the first page of each chapter. But it does so by selecting innocuous quotations from Laudato Si' -- including the only mention of abortion in the entire text. Even then, however, the discussion-prompts subtly retract what the pope's overall document says. For instance, the questions at the end of Chapter One create a false equivalency between the 97% of scientists who recognize that climate change is caused by humans, and the 3% who deny human causality. "This debate will not be resolved anytime soon," the study guide sagely observes!

Laudato Si' itself takes an opposite tack. It is not concerned with possible offense to endorsers of the 3%. Instead, it calls for that "bold cultural revolution" I mentioned. It denounces capitalism-as-we-know-it (190). It calls for "radical change" (171). It identifies climate change deniers as "obstructionists" (14). It demands "reparations" (wealth redistribution) for global south countries wounded by the climate crimes committed by their rich colonizers (30, 51, 52). It suggests a form of world governance (53, 173-'75).

All of these are "big picture" items that the diocesan guide recommends we leave to the experts. They are also the very stuff of elections, political campaigns -- and wars. For that reason, Francis' document has evoked the wrath of Rush Limbaugh and the entire Republican establishment.

Limbaugh said, "Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as 'a new tyranny' and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality . . . Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the 'idolatry of money' . . . This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope."

Why did the pope avoid the milk toast approach of the Lexington diocese? It's because he knows that we're on a train that is speeding 200 mph down a track and headed for a precipice just a mile away.

In the face of such impending calamity telling people of faith to "take our time, be deliberate, avoid rash actions, ecological crusades, and a headlong rush into the fray," is misleading in a real and tragic sense of the word.

Evidently however, it is the way the right wing has chosen to emasculate Laudato Si's summons to abandon capitalism-as-we-know-it and (in this election year) its implication that Catholics should vote against climate change deniers.

The tragedy in Lexington is that we actually have a progressive bishop. John Stowe is a Franciscan who is among the few American prelates genuinely attempting to channel Pope Francis' program. However the diocese's publication of this booklet shows how powerful conservative forces in the local chancery evidently are.

Can you imagine what the pope is up against with the Roman Curia? The fact that he was able to publish Laudato Si' in the face of all the opposition makes me admire him even more.

(Article changed on February 11, 2016 at 12:24)

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)

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