Many Catholics, especially conservative ones, obviously aren’t thrilled with the pope’s new encyclical. I find myself once again spending a lot of time explaining to non-Catholics why the current pope is either not a Marxist or is being yet againmisunderstood for the 999th time. Frankly, I’ve lost most of my credibility with these folks, who surely see me as a hopelessly blind Catholic.
This constant defense-mode has been unique in the case of this particular pope. Sure, much of the fault is with those looking to remake this pope and this Church in their own image, and I’d even add (in Francis-like thinking) that the Devil himself has made a mess of things. Yet, much of it is absolutely the pope’s own doing, as Francis is the master of the imprecise word and off-the-cuff sloppy statement. He—and they—keep us faithful Catholics busy. All of which brings me to the new encyclical on “climate change.”
The secular left, of course, loves this encyclical. As I write, the farthest reaches of the left, People’s World, house organ of Communist Party USA, has two articles singing atheistic hosannas to the bishop of Rome. This has become common at People’s World. The successor to the Soviet-directed Daily Worker is a vigorous champion of this pope. There truly has never been a pope that communists have embraced like Pope Francis. Believe me, I research this, I know.
“The Roman Catholic Church and the U.S. labor movement are working more closely together than ever,” celebrates a feature article at the current People’s World.
“The Pope calls for serious and immediate action to address climate change and other environmental crises,” crows a second article. “The encyclical addresses issues of water stress, biodiversity, pollution, the declining quality of life, economic inequality, and more.”
Noticeably absent among the “more” were Pope Francis’ eloquent statements about protecting other of God’s creation, such as unborn babies, the most innocent victims of secular progressivism’s “throwaway culture.” That’s one aspect of the encyclical that the left is avoiding like toxic waste. Indeed, the People’s World article closes: “while the Pope is progressive on many issues including climate, the Catholic Church continues to be backward on issues of reproductive health, women’s choice, same sex marriage, and other issues.”
That brings me to the reason I’m writing today. I write with encouragement to faithful Catholics who understand that the elephant in the global living room right now—especially in the West—is not carbon emissions or fossil fuels but family and marriage. And in that area, here’s the crucial point: this pope has been superb and seems to be growing steadily stronger. It is the main issue, the issue of our time, and it’s the main issue for this pope.
It is more than ironic that in Pope Francis’ Wednesday general audience announcing the release of his encyclical he talked mostly about family and marriage. He mentioned the encyclical only at the end. He noted it was his nineteenth (yes, nineteenth) general audience on family and marriage. He has been hammering this issue non-stop. I’ve shared here his many excellent statements, everything from his January warning on the “forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family” and “redefine the very institution of marriage,” to his November remarks on how “children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother,” to his complaint just after last fall’s synod: “What they are proposing is not marriage, it is an association, but it is not marriage! It is necessary to say things very clearly and we must say this!” That’s a mere snapshot of the man who once declared same-sex “marriage” a diabolical effort of “the Father of Lies.”
It was fitting that on the Sunday before the release of the environmental encyclical, Francis was again talking family. He spoke to the families of Rome, his diocese, where he celebrated the “diversity” and “difference” of male and female before a crowd of 25,000 at the opening of the annual Ecclesial Convention, which this year is dedicated to (you guessed it) the family. He exhorted parents to (again) protect their children from “ideological attacks” that “destroy society, the nation, [and] families.”
Particularly notable is Francis’ constant emphasis on the complementarity of men and women. His condemnation of “so-called gender ideology” has been downright extraordinary. “Gender ideology is demonic!” Francis shouted at one interviewer, saying it fails to recognize “the order of creation.” He has compared gender ideology to “the educational policies of Hitler.”
In this, Francis has even taken an activist role. There was a huge demonstration in Rome this week (June 20) protesting attempts by Italian leftists to promote gender theory in schools. As one article reported, “Hundreds of thousands of people from all over Italy responded to Pope Francis’ repeated warnings about gender ideology, by taking part in an enormous demonstration in the square of St. John Lateran in Rome on Saturday. The ‘Family Day’ was aimed at defending the traditional family and stopping the spread of gender ideology in schools.”
Some estimates were higher, as organizers had hoped to draw a million marchers. “It’s fantastic,” said one attendee, a father of six from northern Italy. “Finally, people have gathered to fight this terrible ideology.” One organizer celebrated from the stage, “The Holy Father is with us,” as indeed he was, being the event’s spiritual inspiration.
Think about it: Just four days after the pope’s encyclical, they were marching at St. John Lateran not against global warming but gender ideology. Does that not say something?
Really, this is just the start. In fact, whatever momentum the environmental issue picked up at the Vatican will evaporate into the ozone when Francis comes to America for the synod on family and marriage. Actually, that ball is already rolling. On Tuesday, the Vatican released its much-anticipated “working document” for the October synod. A hefty 21,000 words, and thus far only available in Italian, it is intended to serve as the statement of record for the bishops. What it says on same-sex “marriage” is very good news. As Edward Pentin reports, “On the issue of homosexual relationships, the document firmly rejects same-sex unions, saying that ‘there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’” This, Pentin notes, is a quote taken from the authoritative but much-reviled (by liberals) 2003 document from Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pentin adds that the document “also speaks strongly against pressure exerted on clergy to accept same-sex ‘marriage,’” and even condemns as “totally unacceptable” the demand by certain international organizations that poor countries receive aid only if they establish laws inventing same-sex “marriage.”
Again, given Pope Francis’ many previous statements on family (I haven’t even mentioned his numerous comments blasting abortion) none of this is a surprise. This is the leadership we need right now, globally, in the West, in America.
So, in sum, I urge faithful Catholics to take heart. A faithful Catholic, after all, has faith in the chair of St. Peter and the Holy Spirit-led cardinals who chose the occupant. Looking back, one can discern a Providential hand in certain popes being where they were at pivotal times. And right now, the issue is family and marriage. This pope gets that. His common cause with liberals on the environment should earn him at least a drop of trust and moral authority with them on these other issues.
To be clear, I’m not saying that faithful Catholics should ignore their pope’s passion for “climate change.” Let the liberal Catholics be cafeteria Catholics. Let them pick and choose what to take seriously. My very fallible sense, however, is that the burning issue of our day is the “forces of ideological colonization” hellbent on taking down family and marriage. “The future of humanity,” says this pope, “passes through the family.”
Fear not, faithful Catholics. Keep your eye on the ball. It’s less the future of fossil fuels than the future of the family.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage. His other books include11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.