Encyclicals, Pope Francis and the Environment

Pope Francis will present his encyclical Laudato Sii at a Press Conference on Thursday, 18 June 2015, at 11 CET in the New Synod Hall in Vatican City; whilst the encyclical will be available to accredited journalists from 9.00 CET, the document will embargoed until midday. Laudato Sii will be the first encyclical written solely by Pope Francis; although Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), dated 29 June 2013 and published 5 July 2013, was begun by Benedict XVI and was almost complete in draft form before he stood down in February 2013.

Whereas Apostolic Exhortations, such as Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World) are published to encourage the faithful to live in a particular manner or to undertake certain activities, Encyclicals are papal letters usually addressed to Catholic clergy and laity and containing the Pope’s views on church teachings and doctrine in a particular area. While they do not establish new church doctrine, as official statements they are regarded as authoritative teaching.

Whilst the final content of Laudato Sii is not yet known, speaking after the Angelus on Sunday Pope Francis described the Encyclical as being “on the care of creation”, indicated that it was “addressed to all” and encouraged an increased responsibility “towards the [common good] that God has entrusted to us at all“[1].

The title of encyclical is generally taken from the first few words of the Latin version, but in this case, Laudato Sii refers to the “Canticle of the Sun”, (a.k.a the “Canticle of the Creatures” or “Laudes Creaturarum” (“Praise of the Creatures”), a religious song composed by Saint Francis of Assisi, and written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian.

Leaked draft

Some of the speculation on the content of the encyclical  ended with the publication of a leaked draft version in Italian of Laudato Sii – Sulla cura della case commune (On the care of our common home) on the L’Espresso web pages. The 192-page draft comprises six chapters and two prayers, and in addition to climate change covers a wide range of environmental issues: pollution; water; loss of biodiversity; global inequalities; responses to these problems and the diverse views held. Two important points highlighted in an article in The Guardian are criticisms of the potential reliance of a “technical fix”, and of carbon trading issues to which we will return after the formal publication of the document.

L’Espresso reports “Please note says the Vatican spokesman that this is not the final text and that the rule of the embargo remains in force. Please respect the journalistic fairness that requires that you wait for the official publication of the final text.” However, for those anxious to see this draft, it can be located with a couple of clicks of the mouse.


The content of the leaked draft confirms many of the assumptions that it was possible to draw from items that were officially within the public domain: the encyclical will addressed to all; cover a number of environmental issues in addition to climate change; and stress “the common good”. In view of the forthcoming COP21/CMP 11 meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France, 30 November to 11 December 2015, its treatment of global warming is likely to be of greatest interest, particularly by those of us who have spent some time working to reduce industrial CO2 emissions and advocating the adoption of more realistic global targets.

Although made in the context of the Basel Convention, Saint John Paul II’s hard-hitting comments are equally pertinent to the present situation:

“It is a grave abuse and an offence against the solidarity of humanity when industrial enterprises of rich countries profit from the weak economies and legislation of poorer countries by exporting dirty technologies and wastes which degrade the environment and health of the population.”

Pope John Paul II, October 22, 1993

David Pocklington

Update, 17 June 2015

Today Il Bollettino gave a further update on tomorrow’s proceedings:

Accredited journalists were informed that tomorrow, Thursday, 18 June 2015, at 11 am in the New Synod Hall in Vatican City, a Press Conference will be held for the presentation of His Holiness Pope Francis’ Encyclical « Laudato si’, on the care of our common home ».

The speakers will be:

– Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace;

– His Eminence Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church;

– Prof. Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber, Founding Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

– Dr. Carolyn Woo, CEO and President of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame, U.S.A.

A simultaneous translation service will be available in Italian, French, English, Spanish and from German. Following the presentations by the Speakers, a limited time will be available for questions from journalists.

A notable absentee from the “accredited journalists” will be Dr Sandro Magister who has had his Holy See Press Office credentials suspended indefinitely for leaking a draft version of Laudato si’ on the L’Espresso web site. A fuller version of the story and its impact on other journalists is reported in The Guardian.

[1] Come è stato annunciato, giovedì prossimo sarà pubblicata una Lettera Enciclica sulla cura del creato. Invito ad accompagnare questo avvenimento con una rinnovata attenzione alle situazioni di degrado ambientale, ma anche di recupero, nei propri territori. Questa Enciclica è rivolta a tutti: preghiamo perché tutti possano ricevere il suo messaggio e crescere nella responsabilità verso la casa comune che Dio ci ha affidato a tutti.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Encyclicals, Pope Francis and the Environment" in Law & Religion UK, 16 June 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/06/16/encyclicals-pope-francis-and-the-environment/

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