Embraced initially by American Catholics for his focus on humility and charity, Pope Francis has more recently seen his popularity decline (July Gallup Poll) from 89% to 71% among all U.S. Catholics, but more notably, from 72% to 45% among conservative Catholics.
The genesis of this inchoate schism appears rooted in the liberal positions taken by his closest advisors on an array of social issues, among them the Vatican’s pronouncements on climate change and capitalism, with such views sowing confusion and disillusionment among Catholics. Who are these advisors and how much have their opinions filtered into the Pope’s statements on these issues?
Most prominent among the Pope’s advisors are the head of the Vatican’s social justice ministry, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, and Chair of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo. While each of these individuals have played a key role in helping craft the Vatican’s stance on climate change, there are two problems with their positions.
First, the cardinals’ assessments on climate change quickly unravel when held up to the light of objective scientific scrutiny. Second, their harshly critical statements of climate change skeptics conflict sharply with Pope Francis’ call in Laudato Si for “honest debate” and “respecting divergent views.” Finally, there also appears an obtuse logic to some of Cardinal Sorondo’s statements linking climate change to various social ills such as poverty, human trafficking and even abortion. Such inane opinions tear at the credibility of the Vatican’s message.
Other principals who have advised the Pope on climate change include U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and social activists Naomi Klein and Jeffrey Sachs. Each of these figures also worships at the altar of a global sustainability cult that promotes abortion as an acceptable means of limiting the world’s population. This clearly conflicts with the Pope’s encyclical message highlighting the incongruity of combating so-called climate change while advocating for the death cult of abortion. Yet all three figures have maintained a strong voice in helping the Vatican formulate its position on climate change, much to the dismay of many Catholics.
A second topic of discussion in the encyclical receiving considerable attention is capitalism, both in terms of its purported links to climate change as well as its suggested role as a catalyst in furthering wealth inequality. For his part, Cardinal Maradiaga claims a mutual exclusivity between capitalism’s profit motive and the ability of private enterprises to be responsible stewards of the planet. Meanwhile, another papal advisor, Cardinal Peter Turkson, freely opines on the perceived social injustices that he claims derive from the capitalist system.
While Americans are willing to admit the shortcomings of the capitalist system, they are also well aware of the prosperity that such a system has fostered and the generosity of the American people that attaches to it. Thus while criticism of our capitalist system may have been well received by Marxist liberation theology adherents such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa during the Pope’s recent South American tour, they are generally not welcome by Americans.
On a more theological level, this anti-capitalist polemic is, moreover, inconsistent with the more balanced views espoused by St. John Paul II in his Centesimus Annus (1991). Written against his experiences as a victim of both Nazi and communist oppression, his encyclical offers a more balanced view of free market economic systems that engender the potential to enhance mankind’s standard of living.
How can the Pope better articulate a message to his U.S. Catholic audience that is consistent with Catholic theology while distancing himself from the divisive rhetoric of his advisors? One good piece of advice is contained in the words of Cardinal George Pell, a long time climate skeptic who in the wake of Pope Francis’ encyclical stated “the church has no particular expertise in science… and has no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters.”
In light of the lack of evidence and sound reason as noted by Cardinal Pell in previous lectures on climate change, it might behoove the Pope to prevail upon his advisors to be less close-minded on the issue. Likewise, a more conciliatory message on the virtues of capitalism would be regarded as a welcome counterbalance to the collectivist hyperbole emanating from some of his advisors and one that would help heal the Vatican’s emerging rift with many Catholics.