Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Could we postpone debate on the Pope's encyclical until it appears?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 07, 2015

At The Catholic Thing, Robert Royal has serious misgivings about the Pope’s forthcoming encyclical, which will tackle the issue of climate change. But the Crisis site, Rachel Lu tells us that we shouldn’t lose sleep about it.

Writing for Forbes, Steve Moore worries that the encyclical will be harmful to the cause of the poor. For National Review, a more excitable Dennis Prager fears that it will cause the demise of the Catholic Church. And on the ordinarily sensible First Things site, Maureen Mullarkey  sees the encyclical as evidence that the Pope is “an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist.”

In all this learned discussion of the papal encyclical, one thing is conspicuously missing: a papal encyclical.

All these comments on the Pope’s new document are based upon speculation, or at best upon leaks from Vatican sources who claim to have inside information about the text. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that we should postpone the discussion of the document until the document appears?

Look, I’m nervous about this encyclical, too. I don’t want to see the Pope embroiled in a scientific debate that has become highly politicized.

But I’m even more concerned that when the encyclical does appear, commentators on both sides of the spectrum will focus exclusively on the political aspects of the document, to the exclusion of the spiritual message. It’s happening already.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 10, 2015 7:35 AM ET USA

    The difficulty for many is the "big picture" to date. Many who've opposed the Church's teachings on faith and morals are ecstatic about Pope Francis. Pray and fear not, but Maureen Mullarkey's claim that the pope is imprudent in this endeavor- while coarse- is not altogether unreasonable. Despite secularism's rise, the pope's words are still a big deal to the world. He's no climatologist, and this topic is perilous. The first rule of medicine is to do no harm. Even for field hospitals.

  • Posted by: shrink - Jan. 07, 2015 5:36 PM ET USA

    I guess if I were to have a fear about an encyclical on saving the environment, it would be that its spiritual message will not be new, but that its political message would be very new, and very radical, that is for a Pope. But we know that fear is useless, and that it is not mother earth, or the environment that needs to be saved, but souls.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Jan. 07, 2015 10:51 AM ET USA

    If I might risk adding to a colleague's thoughts, this is a perfect example of how we humans insist, as the expression goes, on "borrowing trouble". Never mind Our Lord's advice to "let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day" (Mt 6:34). But don't worry, we not only borrow trouble but pay it back. Once the encyclical appears, we will criticize it based, not on the text, but on the preconceptions that led us to assume we knew what the text would say.