sabato 20 giugno 2015

An activist pope puts his faith in science
Financial Times
(David Gardner) The first clue was not the dense white smoke billowing from the Vatican chimney, announcing a new Pope. It was that Pope’s choice of name. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a little known Argentine prelate in 2013, called himself after St Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century friar emblematic of Christian reverence for nature. This greenest of saints, the new Pope said, “is a man of poverty, a man of peace, a man who loves and safeguards creation”.
Hence this week’s encyclical — the highest expression of papal teaching — on ecology and the poor. It is at once a work of moral theology enjoining Catholics to renounce a consumerist culture fuelling environmental degradation that disproportionately hits the poor and vulnerable, and a massive endorsement of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. Its timing, ahead of December’s UN climate summit in Paris, is impeccable. Mobilising the rock-star popularity of Pope Francis — at the head of a notional flock of 1.2bn Catholics and with more than 20m followers on Twitter — is like dropping a boulder in a pool full of pebbles.
Climate change sceptics are dismissing the pronouncement as faith-based science. Most Catholics will probably welcome it as the alignment of faith and science, placing deniers on the wrong side of a contemporary Galileo debate — the revenge of the 17th-century astronomer whose observation that the Earth orbits the sun the Inquisition declared heretical.
The eco-encyclical, titled Laudato Si (Praise Be) after a St Francis of Assisi hymn, “Canticle of the Sun”, is not without problems. Albeit at huge cost to the environment, fossil-fuelled economic growth has, after all, lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in countries such as China and India. And the Pope’s words confirm his well-established distrust of free-market capitalism.
Equating “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”, Pope Francis writes that “we need to reject a magical conception of the market”, whereby problems are resolved by an increase in economic output and profits. Previously, he has dismissed “trickle-down theories” that rob humanity of solidarity, and denounced “the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose”. In this call to ecological arms, it is as though he sees political and business leaders colluding in the planned obsolescence of people and planet.
This tract emphasises the costs imposed on poor countries by rich ones that have done most to build up the global stock of greenhouse gases, through phenomena linked to global warming such as deforestation, desertification, water deprivation and catastrophic flooding. Techniques to abate global emissions, such as the trading of carbon credits, are seen as speculation favouring the haves against the have-nots.
There have been outbursts of apoplectic reaction to the Pope’s latest foray into public affairs, especially in the US. The frothing of Fox News — the Pope is a Marxist, one commentator said — is reminiscent of a remark by another Latin American prelate half a century ago, when the Church last attempted the scale of renewal Francis now seeks. “When I give food to the poor, I am considered a saint,” observed Hélder Câmara, a Brazilian archbishop. “But when I ask why they are poor, I am called a communist.”
"When I give food to the poor, I am considered a saint,” observed Hélder Câmara, a Brazilian archbishop. “But when I ask why they are poor, I am called a communist"
Pope Francis, a Jesuit who has made advocacy for the poor his guiding mission and ordered Catholic priests to be “shepherds . . . living with the smell of the sheep”, got his retaliation in early. At mass on Tuesday he acknowledged that some who hear Catholics talking about poverty say: “Well, they’re a bit communist, aren’t they?” No, he said. “Poverty is precisely at the heart of the Gospel. If we were to remove poverty from the Gospel, people would understand nothing about Jesus’s message.”
This Pope can hark back not just to the Gospel but to Pope Leo XIII and his late 19th century encyclical, Rerum Novarum, on the misery of workers in the churn of the industrial revolution. He stands in a tradition of Catholic teaching on social justice that sought alternatives to unbridled capitalism and Marxian socialism, notably in Christian Democracy or trade unions such as Solidarity in Poland. Jorge Mario Bergoglio will remember that it was the head of his Jesuit order, the Basque Pedro Arrupe, who in a letter to Latin American priests in 1968 first used the term the “preferential option for the poor” — the foundation of liberation theology, which held anything that enshrined or contributed to poverty as an affront to the Gospel.
As Pope, the Argentine Jesuit’s activism has spread to dip­lomacy: helping broker the rapprochement between the US and Cuba, and stepping in the minefield of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last month he signed a treaty with Palestine as a state and, to the horror of the irredentist Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, des­cribed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as an “angel of peace”. Naive?
Perhaps he would recall that his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, once journeyed to Egypt to mediate (unsuccessfully) with the nephew of Saladin on an end to the wars of the Crusades. Though his Laudato Si encyclical sounds at times “Yes We Can-ish”, it is a fair bet this Francis will profoundly influence the climate change wars.

Financial Times