Chapter 34: “Pope John Paul III Encyclical on Sex”

This is the final chapter of my novel, The Pope’s Secret. (For previous chapters, just scroll down.)

This concluding chapter takes the form of a papal encyclical by the fictitious pope, John Paul III. Though some younger readers might still object to its contents as excessively traditional, the encyclical represents the type of publication I wish popes were capable of authoring. Because of its importance, I’m including the full written text in this posting along with the recorded version above. Here’s what Pope John Paul III wrote:

Chapter Thirty-Eight

To the Young People of the World: An Encyclical About Sex

It is altogether fitting that this – in all probability the final encyclical of my papacy – should be addressed, with great fatherly affection, to the young people of the world.  As a man of advanced years, I write with an immense sense of urgency and affection. My hope is that what I share with you will help you avoid the errors and destructive behavior which has become the hallmark of the modern world. 

Recent tragic experiences among my brother priests have unexpectedly forced upon me new personal insights about the topic of this encyclical. They prompt me to rethink my own life, and my teaching on human sexuality.  My wish is to communicate those thoughts and teachings in a series of direct and honest pastoral counsels, which I list below.  These counsels will be straight from my heart, informed by my own experience, and expressed without obscurity or equivocation.  Their practicality has a twofold intention: first, to offer direct guidance to you, my dearest sons and daughters, and, secondly, to create a context of freedom for those who will soon gather for the Third Vatican Council.  As part of their agenda, I want the council fathers and mothers to explore freely in the light of scripture and tradition, the points which I will express here all-too-briefly.

To begin with, let me extend my deepest compassion to every one of you.  You are challenged, as the members of my generation never were, by the enticements and deceptions of a modern consumer culture. It inundates you with words and images, songs and mass media advertising which glorify the commodification of life itself.  Indeed, the most precious of human relationships – love between women and men – has been transformed simply into one more product, to be bought and sold at the lowest price possible.  Nothing could be further from the Creator’s intention.

To deal with the overwhelming temptations and confusions which inevitably result from such commercialization, it is imperative that each of you becomes clear about the place sex has, will have, and should have in you own life.  This is a matter for serious reflection, reading and conversation (especially with your parents, or someone else you may trust).

Your own conclusions about the place of sex in your life will depend on what you think life itself is for.  This is not easy to determine.  TV, magazines, movies, popular songs, novels, and your less thoughtful friends will tell us one thing.  The thoughtful people of history (Jesus, St. Francis, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, and the insightful holy women and men of other religious traditions) will tell you something else. So, to begin with, you must decide where and with whom you stand. That will determine all else.

If you are like most people in the world we have inherited, you will agree that life is for “having fun” and enjoying pleasure, for making money, accumulating possessions, achieving fame, and avoiding pain.  With this orientation, sex is just one more source of personal pleasure – perhaps the greatest source. So, the important thing is to obtain as much of it as you can for yourself, and, if possible, for your partners.  One’s sexual conquests are proofs of personal worth, aliveness, status, femininity, and manhood.  One should never pass up a potential sexual conquest or say “no” to sexual pleasure.  This approach is especially seductive for us males.  It leads us to approach women as “creatures for us.”  They are sexual objects.  As such, they are fair game for exploitation, voyeuristic gaze, jokes and derision.

The other approach (of the people I called “thoughtful”) begins from an entirely different place.  It says that human beings are more than their bodies, more than sophisticated animals.  In fact, it says, we are principally spiritual beings.  The thoughtful people I’m referring to make four important claims about the purpose of life.  They say: (1) within each one of us resides a spark of the divine, the presence of God’s Spirit, our real Self, (2) we can come to an awareness of this fact and live from that divine place with love, patience, kindness, humility, simplicity, generosity and pure intention, (3) it is the purpose of life to do so, and (4) once we realize our own unity with the divine, we will recognize that same spark in every other human being and in all of creation, treating them accordingly.  These were the convictions of Jesus, the Christ. Males who adopt this approach will see women as persons like themselves with hopes, ambitions, talents, and vulnerabilities.  Women will be seen as delightful companions and men’s equals – entirely worthy of honor, respect, support, love and (when appropriate) protection.

This more thoughtful approach to the meaning of life has led me to summarize its observations and to make recommendations.  My observations include the following:

√ Sex is the second most powerful physical drive human beings possess. After self-preservation comes propagation of the species.

√ As such a powerful force, undisciplined sex has severely damaged the lives of an extraordinary number of otherwise mature and apparently successful people, along with the lives of their families and loved ones. You have only to read the daily newspaper to see this.  Reports of rapes, incestuous relationships, unwanted pregnancies, marital infidelities, abortions, acquisition of STDs, and/or involvement with prostitution and addiction to pornography show that undisciplined sex can be ruinous. Above all, the scandal of the sexual abuse of children by some of our own priests illustrates this point.  All of these instances show how necessary it is to be in charge of ourselves in this area of life – as well as in others that are potentially addictive (food and drink, drugs, work, money, personal ambition…).

√ Obsession with sex passively (guilt or fear) or actively (compulsive thoughts or actions) is harmful.

√ It is important to deal with sexuality in an open, honest, rational, and prayerful way.  If not, it will come back to haunt you.  Either reckon with it as a young person or reckon with it later.  The longer one postpones coming to terms with sex, the more likely it is that the postponement will result in crooked or compulsive (that is unfree) sexual expression.  By “reckoning with” sex and “coming to terms” with it, I mean thinking about it, evaluating it and deciding about its place in your life.

√ Members of the opposite sex are extremely attractive to most of us.  This is entirely wonderful and a precious gift from God.  However, it is very easy to objectify those for whom we experience sexual attraction – to treat them as “things,” rather than as persons of equal value, and comparable hopes, anxieties, and destinies.  This is especially noteworthy for men relative to women, because the male-dominated culture of the West objectifies women for commercial purposes in sex-related ways.  I urge you to reject that mindset and practice.

√ As for those who find members of the same sex attractive sexually, I can say very little.  However, I do trust Scripture scholars who have found that the Bible has very little, if anything, to say on the topic.  It is certain that the Bible does not at all address problems of “sexual orientation,” which is an entirely modern concept.  I also trust those who claim same-sex attraction when they testify that they have no more chosen their sexual orientation than have heterosexuals.  My heart goes out to such individuals because they are so misunderstood and persecuted in the West.  I confess as well that the church bears much responsibility for their suffering.  Of course, within homosexual orientation, the same guidelines for personal relationships apply as are relevant to heterosexuals. (See below.)

√ Sexual thoughts, use of pornography, and self-stimulation are not matters of sin requiring punishment. However, they can represent self-centeredness, loss of personal control, poisoning of the mind, and objectification of persons. Such diversions from life’s true purpose can easily become addictive, time-consuming, costly, and unhealthy.

√ Once one becomes sexually active, it is extremely difficult not to have sex a part of subsequent relationships.

√ The more partners one has, the easier it is to treat those involved as sex objects, to deceive and exploit them. We must never forget that apart from their spiritual impact, all sexual relationships establish undeniable chemical bonds between those who engage in them. Thoughtless multiple sexual relationships can desensitize one to those bonds and cause heartbreak and pain. 

√ Sexual involvement early in a relationship prevents men and women from getting to know one another personally, intellectually, and spiritually. That is, the sexual dimension of a man/woman relationship is easy. However, it should be the last element in a much more complicated and difficult progression of “knowing” that goes from (1) meeting to (2) knowledge of the person’s history and background, and to (3) knowledge of the person’s thoughts and values, to (4) knowledge of the person’s spirit and spiritual orientation. 

     √ Sexual intercourse finds its proper place only within the context of stable, permanent commitments. However, it is extremely easy to deceive oneself about such pledges. Mere self-seeking can too easily masquerade as “love” or “commitment.” Almost inevitably such deception leads to heartbreak and deep personal wounds. This shows the wisdom of our tradition when it confines full sexual expression to the marriage context.

     √ Postponing sexual gratification and involvement with other people is possible. Demonstrating this possibility (despite the reigning culture’s denial) is one of the great services provided by those who have received the vocation to the celibate life.  They demonstrate for all to see that one does not really “need” to be sexually active to lead a happy and meaningful life.

√ Postponement of sexual involvement is highly desirable.  Sex complicates life and relationships very much.  (Think of your friends who are already sexually involved.)  Young people do not need such complications while they are still in school attempting to make the most of their studies and athletic potential. Personally, I am very happy that I was free of that while I was finishing my studies and excelling in sports. I did not miss anything and gained a great deal.

     √ Saying “no” to early sexual involvement is a greater sign of maturity and strength than saying “yes.”

     √ It is important to develop in oneself the ability to say “no” to sexual gratification. Eventually one’s marriage and family may depend on it.

            √ Child molestation (along with rape and incest) is abhorrent. Those who engage in such activity urgently require exposure and treatment. This applies to the members of the clergy who have sinned grievously in this area.

             √ Abortion remains a concern extremely close to my heart. At this juncture in my life, it is important to reaffirm the church’s concern for human life, and life in general, in all its manifestations and stages. However, too often in the past, the church has transformed abortion into an  issue centralizing female responsibility. Instead, it must be seen as society’s problem. It is therefore entirely objectionable for the faithful to be protective of human life within the womb, and not to maintain the same concern after pregnancies have been brought to term. It is wrong for Christians to insist that abortion be outlawed, without at the simultaneously supporting public programs providing healthcare, housing, education, childcare, and a living wage. In other words, Christians are responsible for creating a welcoming atmosphere for all children.

More particularly, for too long, men (and churchmen with no direct experience of women’s sexuality) have tried to instruct and regulate women on this topic. However, despite such uninformed pronouncements, women have for eons dealt with it using their unique knowledge and wisdom. Accordingly, abortion has always been part of women’s special insight, practice, and lore.

Since abortion is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, we are thrown back on such feminine wisdom and practice based as it is on biology and logic in order to reach conclusions about abortion’s morality.

Intuitively at least, women’s biology tells them that spontaneous abortions are nature’s way – the way their female bodies work. They recognize that about ten to twenty percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage (i.e., before the 20th week of gestation) – not to mention pregnancies that are unknown.

Logically, that spontaneous phenomenon reveals something about the divine plan of creation. It suggests that before at least the 20th week of pregnancy, the fetus cannot be considered a human person.  

And even subsequently, there is no reason to think that the Divine’s infinite wisdom and power cannot reincarnate any aborted soul in another body when the time is right according to the mother’s judgment.

The bottom line here is that men (especially celibate men) have little to say on this topic., Women must have the final word.  


     √ Be careful, my dear friends, about the thoughts, images, song lyrics, and other influences you allow into your minds. Our holy tradition teaches that the thoughts we think, the images we put into our minds (sexual, violent, consumptive. . .) shape who we are.  Being careful about what we allow into our minds is simply part of taking responsibility for our own selves and destinies.  Repeated thoughts lead to actions; repeated actions create habits; habits shape character; character determines destiny.

     √ Form as many friendships as possible without complicating them with sex. Sex gets in the way of the real knowledge (personal, intellectual, and spiritual) I described earlier in this letter.

     √ Socialize “defensively.” That is, avoid situations which will lead to the premature involvements, commitments and expectations that go along with sex. Meet your companion’s parents.  Go out in groups.  Plan your outings.  Keep busy during the time together (movies, concerts, lectures, sports events . . .)  Return home on time.  Say goodbye on the doorstep, not in a car or remote location. 

     √ Realize that sexual involvement is a process, which progresses in stages – holding hands, kissing, touching, touching intimately (another name for foreplay) and intercourse.  Once started, it is progressively more difficult to stop and turn back.

     √ If despite what I have written here, you decide to have sexual intercourse, never do so without protection.  I say this for your own benefit.  Literally, it is a question of life and death.


   My dearest sons and daughters, there is much more to be said about all I’ve addressed in this letter.  What I’ve shared here is, I think, common sense.  It is also reflective of Christian perspective in the Roman Catholic tradition.  Perhaps that tradition does not have for you the same value that it continues to have for me.  In the end, you must decide whether you want to subscribe to it or not – whether you want to accept what it offers as “wisdom” or not.  Personally, I have done so.  That doesn’t mean that I have not made mistakes in my life. Like you and everyone else, I have committed many errors.  However, I do recognize the tradition’s wisdom and am struggling to stay on the path it describes.

            My hope is that sharing like this has some meaning for you.  Please consider it carefully.  At the very least, recognize it for what it is – the Holy Father’s poor attempt to give some guidance to the sons and daughters he cares so deeply about.

With heartfelt affection and love,

            John Paul III, Pope

Why Male Clerics Promote Papal Teaching on Abortion & Contraception But Not on Climate Change

Patriarchy climate change

Why is it that under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI Roman Catholics heard no end of sermons about the evils of contraception and abortion? And yet today we’ve heard hardly a pulpit peep about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change – published fully nine months ago. On the contrary, chanceries throughout the country (including the Lexington diocese) have been scrambling to sweep Laudato Si’ under the sanctuary carpet.

Could it be that Pope Francis has touched on an issue that lays moral burdens on men, their businesses and pocketbooks, and not primarily on women? The latter, of course, bear the main burden of unwanted pregnancies. So the all-male clergy has found itself courageously outspoken in defending human life, the “personhood” of fetuses (based on medieval science), and in prohibiting contraception rationalized on a similarly grounded morality of “natural law.” So, papal pronouncements about such questions are definitive, infallible, and universally binding (on women!).

Meanwhile, Laudato Si’ challenges the patriarchal economic system of capitalism, the coal and oil industries, Wall Street, and the one percent. Good Catholic men are up to their necks in all of that. So are bishops and the clergy in general.

So, the “pro-life” hierarchy hastens to distance itself from its infallible leader. They do so even though Francis claims to defend life in ways that far surpass concerns about sperm, eggs, zygotes, fetuses, and stem cell research. He’s defending the future of the planet and the human race!

An example of such double-standard is provided by the Lexington diocese’s Discovering Laudato Si’: a Small Group Discussion Guide. It not only softens Pope Francis’ teaching about climate; it actually contradicts them. For instance:

  • Pope Francis says that the issue of human caused climate change has been settled by the vast majority of climate scientists. The diocesan guide says “The debate will probably not be resolved anytime soon.”
  • Pope Francis writes that addressing the issue is “urgent” and must be confronted “here and now.” The diocesan booklet affirms that we are not called to “rush headlong into the fray. . . We have been given time to reflect, to absorb, to be transformed.” The Church’s slow response, it says, has precedent and purpose.
  • Pope Francis spends the preponderance of his encyclical addressing the structural causes of climate chaos including the unbridled market, the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and even specific issues such as carbon trading. Yet the diocesan booklet says that it is not yet time for “larger responses.” In the meantime, we are told, “Pope Francis has given us many little tasks we can begin right away.” Basically they are to reduce, recycle, reuse.
  • Pope Francis celebrates climate change activists and their organizations. He quotes approvingly from their Earth Charter, recommends boycotts, and employs the language of “climate debt” borrowed from those resisting mining operations in Latin America. Yet Discovering Laudato Si’ discourages such organizing. “Fortunately,” it says, “the Pope is not calling us to ecological crusade.” Joining movements, it adds, is worse than doing nothing.

While all this hesitancy and caution in defense of LIFE writ large? Why the endless chatter about moral obligations primarily directed at women?

Might it be that a pope has finally said something that threatens patriarchy?

As they say, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be the eighth sacrament.

Domesticating Laudato Si’: Our Milk Toast Diocesan Study Guide


This week (Just in time for Lent) the Lexington Catholic diocese 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.

Following two introductions – one to the social teachings of the church, the other to the booklet itself – Discovering Laudato Si’ consists of eight two-page chapters and a “Final Reflection.”  In each “chapter,” one page is devoted to excerpts from the pope’s encyclical. The second page lays out three or four questions related to the chapter’s selections.

That plan is indeed helpful for small group discussions in the parish settings for which it is intended. It means participants can avoid homework. They can actually read an assigned chapter during the relevant meeting itself.

That seems, perhaps, a positive contribution.

The booklet’s liabilities however overwhelm that modest asset. That’s because 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.

In his encyclical, the pope might well have said “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. On these matters, the faithful should ‘bend to the pastor’s direction’.”

The pope avoided all of that. But it’s the actual argument the diocesan discussion guide makes!

True: it lets the pope’s encyclical speak for itself on the first page of each chapter. But the question page often subtly retracts 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!

The pope however did nothing of the kind. He was not concerned with possible offense to the 3%. Instead, he called for “a bold cultural revolution” (114). He denounced capitalism-as-we-know-it (190). He called for “radical change” (171). He identified climate deniers as “obstructionists” (14) He demanded “reparations” (wealth redistribution) for global south countries wounded by the climate crimes committed by their rich colonizers (30, 51, 52). He suggested 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. In fact they are 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 “headlong rush into the fray,” is misleading in a real and tragic sense of the word.

Laudato Si’: Pope Francis’ UPSETTING (But Hopeful) STORY About Our WORLD

Same Text

In my local faith community – St. Clare’s Catholic Church in Berea, Kentucky, we’re getting ready for Advent. As our seasonal project, we’re proposing a parish-wide discussion of Pope Francis’ eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’.

I’ve suggested that we purchase copies of the encyclical for each adult member of our parish, that we centralize it in a special liturgy, and that we present copies of Laudato Si’ to each recipient just as we do the Eucharist each Sunday. The presenter would say something like, “Receive the call of Pope Francis’ to reform your life and save our planet.” And the recipient would respond, “Amen.”

However, as our Peace and Social Justice Committee has discussed such possibilities, some have remarked that the pope’s encyclical is rather long and difficult to read. They’ve predicted that despite having the book in their hands, many parishioners will never get around to reading it.

What we need, my friends have said, is a comprehensive thumbnail sketch of the encyclical’s contents – with some provocative discussion questions.

So in fewer than 2000 words, here’s my stab at that. My summary contends that in Laudato Si’ Pope Francis is telling us a disturbing but hopeful story. In fact, the story’s main point (about the failure of capitalism) is told in all the papal social encyclicals since Leo XIII (1891). But this time the world is listening.

Here’s what Francis says in Laudato Si’:

  • The earth was given to humankind as a whole (93).
  • It belongs to everyone (93, 95, 158).
  • Thus the earth is primarily a Commons (164).
  • The climate itself is a common good (23).


  • Though the Commons by definition cannot be privately owned, the Church has always recognized the right to private property in other spheres (93).
  • However the Church has never understood even this right as absolute or to be exercised primarily for personal gain (93).
  • Instead the right to private property has primarily been considered an administrative responsibility (95, 159).
  • As such it must always be exercised for the common good (129, 156).
  • In fact, “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order” is “the principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use” (93).
  • So it is immoral that the earth’s resources and wealth be concentrated in the hands of a few (50, 90).


  • The Judeo-Christian tradition unequivocally supports the position that the earth belongs to everyone (66, 67, 71, 76, 93, 95), that human “owners” do not have absolute dominion over possessions (67, 68, 75, 82, 83, 93, 95), that all life forms are loved by God (68, 69, 76, 77, 92, 96), and that extreme wealth inequalities are immoral (70, 71, 71, 90, 95).
  • Jesus endorsed all those beliefs by incarnating God’s presence in a poor worker as the locus of God’s presence par excellence (98, 99).
  • Additionally, the natural world itself, as the “Book of Creation,” represents a source of revelation. It too supports biblical insights that summon humans to ecological responsibility rather than to absolute dominion over nature (85, 86,87, 88).
  • Jesus supported such convictions with his teachings about the universal fatherhood of God (96), with his parables about seeds, soil, plants, flowers, harvest, birds, and weather patterns (97, 100), and with display of his own complete harmony with nature (98).
  • The work of the Church, as a community of Jesus’ followers, is “to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature,” while at the same time protecting humankind from self-destruction (79).



  • Nonetheless at some point in history (“when the Roman Empire was seeking to impose absolute dominion”), the notion of private property became distorted (74).
  • Private property came to mean absolute ownership for personal enrichment without reference to the common good.
  • The notion of private property expanded to include the right of “owners” to do whatever they wished with “their” property including its complete destruction, without regard for “collateral damage” suffered by billions of humans and innumerable life forms excluded from the benefits of the market system (49, 67, 123).
  • Eventually common goods such as seeds, water, and life itself were turned into commodities whose ownership was “privatized” (30, 134).


  • After the Industrial Revolution, the power of “owners” to alter and destroy “their” goods increased dramatically.
  • The steam engine and its successors (including today’s robots and computers) conferred power to alter and even destroy not only what owners considered their belongings, but the Commons in general (including the air, water, wetlands, mountains, non-human lifeforms, “resources” below the earth’s surface, and the climate itself).


  • Free market ideology has played no small part in enabling unregulated technology’s harmful impact on the earth.
  • This ideology includes deep-seated, but often indefensible (109) convictions, for instance that:
    • Human beings enjoy absolute dominion over nature (67).
    • The world is anthropocentric: it revolves around human beings who can treat other life-forms as instruments for their benefit and pleasure (115).
    • Such beliefs are supported in the Bible (67).
    • A technological imperative demands that every advance in technology represents “progress” and therefore must be accepted as inevitable (105).
    • Might makes right and winners are entitled to “take all” (82).
    • Government regulation of the market is always undesirable, even in the face of huge income disparities (60).
    • No action should be taken on climate change in the absence of indisputable proof demonstrating the human origins of unusual climate events (186).
    • Unregulated market forces can solve all problems of environmental destruction and poverty.


  • The combination of technological development, market forces, and an enabling “free market” ideology has increasingly conferred on industrialized countries the ability to exploit resources world-wide.
  • As a result, for the past 200 years, these nations have incurred an “ecological debt” vis-a-vis the rest of the world (51).
  • Besides robbing their colonies of valuable resources while often enslaving their people, the industrialized countries have filled the atmosphere with two centuries of climate-changing pollution which most proximately threatens the colonies they exploited (51, 52, 170).
  • As a result, the industrialized powers owe their former colonies debt-repayment (30).
  • Such reparations must at the very least include cancellation of “Third World” debts, transfers of money and of non-polluting technology (52, 172).


  • Indigenous people have been especially attuned to such inequities and obligations on the parts of their exploiters (146, 179).
  • They have not only experienced colonialism as theft of their resources, they have identified the practices of industrialized capitalism as the rape of the one they (and St. Francis) honor as “Mother Earth” (1).
  • For their part, scientists in the industrialized world have warned humans about the unsustainability of such practices on purely scientific grounds (161).
  • True to the predictions of both indigenous shamans and secular scientists, we have now reached a crisis point (23).
  • Humans must either change their economic paradigm (based on this concept of absolute ownership) or face extinction (23, 61, 181).


  • Many with vested interests in continuing to profit from the earth’s destruction have adopted “obstructionist attitudes, including denial (14, 26).
  • They are more willing to risk the earth’s destruction than to abandon the concept of absolute ownership upon which capitalism-as-we-know-it is based (60).
  • So they mistakenly claim that deregulated markets and technological development will save the day without basic changes in the consumerist lifestyle (109, 110).
  • They also propose risky “solutions” [such as Solar Radiation Management (SRM)] rather than low-tech, common sense responses to problems connected with climate chaos (14).


  • The common sense solutions must on the one hand include acts on the parts of individuals such as “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or carpooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights. . .” and reducing the use of air conditioning (55, 212).
  • On the other hand, dealing with climate chaos requires action which national governments alone are capable of performing (38, 129).
  • These include weening national populations from dependence on fossil fuels (165) as well as investment in high-speed railways, and renewable energy sources. National governments must also strictly regulate trans-national corporate activity (38).
  • Changing paradigms even includes the submission of national governments to an international body with legislative authority to protect rainforests, oceans and endangered species, as well as to promote sustainable agriculture (53, 173, 174, 175).

(Author’s Note: By the way, if we think the United States with its proud history of independence could never submit its own legislative power to the possibility of being overridden by some international body, we should know that it already has. U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization, the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and those of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) already allow international bodies to nullify U.S. laws such as those protecting our air and water. That is, if such national laws are ruled to interfere with the expected profits of multinational corporations, the laws can be rendered null and void, regardless of what U.S. citizens might think. In other words, there is precedent for U.S. submission to international bodies with binding authority to legislate about environmental deregulation. The pope is merely requesting that the same authority be given an international body tasked with protecting the environment rather than allowing its further degradation.)

  • In summary, the principles guiding necessary changes include the following:
    • The Principle of the Interconnectedness of All Reality: (e.g. 16, 42, 70, etc.).
    • The Principle of the Common Good: “The common good is ‘the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment’.” Laudato Si’ identifies the common good as a “central and unifying principle of social ethics.”(156).
    • The Principle of the Subordination of Private Property: “(T)he first principle of the whole ethical and social order” is “the principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use” (93).
    • The Principle of the Universal Destination of All Goods: (See immediately above).
    • The Principle of Preferential Option for the Poor: This principle “entails recognizing the implications of the universal destination of the world’s goods . . . {T}his option is in fact an ethical imperative essential for effectively attaining the common good” (158). In practice it means guaranteeing the rights of the world’s poor to land, housing, work, education, credit, insurance and access to markets (94).
    • The Principle of Distributive Justice: According to Pope Francis, the common good cannot be served without social peace which in turn “cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated,” he observes, “violence always ensues” (156).
    • The Principle of Subsidiarity: this principle embraces decentralized solutions (144, 157, 179, 196).
    • The Principle of Transparency: Laudato Si’ states that “An assessment of environmental impact of business ventures and projects demands transparent political processes involving a free exchange of views . . . Environmental impact assessment should . . . be carried out in a way which is interdisciplinary, transparent and free of all economic or political pressure. . . A consensus should always be reached between the different stakeholders . . . The local population should have a special place at the table . . . (183).
    • The Precautionary Principle: This principle (as expressed by the Rio Declaration of 1992) states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures” which prevent environmental degradation.” Laudato Si’ adds that “If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it” (186).


  1. How does the message of Pope Francis’ encyclical make you feel? Hopeful? Discouraged?
  2. In your opinion does the pope step outside the area of “faith and morals” by addressing issues such as climate change and its relationship to capitalism-as-we-know it?
  3. How is climate change a matter of moral concern?
  4. Is the pope correct in subordinating the rights of private property to the common good?
  5. What might that subordination mean in practice?
  6. How is climate change connected with your faith?
  7. What alternatives to capitalism-as-we-know-it can you think of?
  8. What would happen if climate-change deniers applied the pope’s Precautionary Principle to climate change?