A panel of three speakers: Dr. Lammer-Heindel, Fr. Joensen and Dr. Kohlhaas organized an in-depth panel discussion of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, on the evening of Sept. 10.
Each of the three gave a brief summary of their opinions and impressions of the encyclical before opening it up to the audience. Dr. Lammer-Heindel, professor of philosophy, began with what he believes to be Francis’ diagnoses of our current environmental crisis. One issue is that it is not so much a lack of faith in God that is our biggest problem but a lack of appreciation for the “Gospel of creation.”
A second diagnosis by Pope Francis that he notes is a “technocratic paradigm,” a worldview whose goal is blind economic growth, immune to moral considerations it may implicate. He also cites a tendency where our creation and technology tend to rule us, rather than us ruing them. Lammer-Heindel also gave three takeaways from the encyclical. The first is the need to deconstruct that technocratic paradigm. The second is the imperative to see our world in a new way. The third is to construct a new paradigm that recognizes the relationship between ourselves, God, and the earth.
Fr. Joensen’s summary had a slightly different focus. Joensen, dean of Spiritual Life, drew away from it the need to adopt a contemplative posture towards the world. He acknowledged that Pope Francis did not propose specific policy solutions to our ecological issues, but that the Church’s job is not to over-prescribe solutions. A goal laid out in the encyclical is to reclaim a genuine anthropology and an integral ecology. What this means is essentially a better understanding of the relation between ourselves as humans and the environment. The blind worship of progress, in Joensen’s interpretation of Francis, is to be replaced a measured progress.
Dr. Kohlhaas, professor of theology, noted the contradictions and paradoxes within Laudato Si. It is both traditional as well as challenging, blending the old and new. It takes inspiration from medieval theologies of God’s presence in nature, as well as modern concerns those theologies are applicable to. The document is a capstone to responses that many Catholic leaders have already made. Francis acknowledges and cites Catholic churches around the world taking environmental matters into their own hands and taking responsibility for them. Because the environment is such an omnipresent issue, Kohlhaas said that it was an encyclical that “Needed to be written.” Francis emphasizes holistic healing, prioritizing right relationships between God, the earth, and ourselves.
After these summaries, Lammer-Heindel, Joensen, and Kohlhaas opened it up to input from the audience. One audience member pointed to a concern that conservation has often been a domain of the wealthy, as the poor often do not have the time or resources to focus on the environment.
Dr. Kohlhaas responded that often it is exploitive relationships between countries that create these environmental problems in the first place, burdening the ecosystem as well as the poor. He did note human priorities though, including a statement by John Paul II that we cannot be worried about conservation with a war going on.
After all of the audience’s questions we answered, the left and right sides of the audience prayed in turn select quotations from the encyclical, ending with A Prayer for the Earth.
“I think that it makes us think more deeply about the consequences of our actions, and puts our responsibility on us,” stated audience member Jenny Andryscyk. As growing concerns of global climate change and environmental crises put the future in our world in question, the input of the Holy Father marks a new and growing body of Catholic social teaching.