Thursday, January 01, 2015

a human, humane, smiling and intelligent face looking at the core human tragedy of social exclusion...,

esquire |  Papal encyclicals are odd beasts. In the lives of even semi-devout Roman Catholics, an encyclical can simultaneously be a complete anachronism and every bit  as immediate as a trip to druggist to buy your birth control. In Bare Ruined Choirs, historian Garry Wills gives a fine thumbnail history of them in the context of Humanae Vitae, the ruinous encyclical on artificial birth control circulated by Pope Paul VI. Wills traces how encyclicals began as a call from orthodox bishops to ally themselves against various beliefs that they believed to be heretical, specifically Arianism. As the Church centralized itself around the papacy, the collegial aspect of encyclicals withered away and they were transformed into a way for the pope to propound his views to the bishops, and to the Church itself. More to the point, as Wills illustrates through the example of how theologians of both the left and the right found reasons to support Humanae Vitae while the great majority of Catholic laypeople were ignoring it entirely, the former group  used the "old trick of curial theologians" whereby the Clan of the Red Beanie would go about "sneaking generally accepted things up to the scale of authority to 'practical' infallibility," even though encyclicals are not issued under the strict parameters required of infallible pronouncements designed by the First Vatican Council by that prince of fools, Pius IX. Basically, in my experience, and in my own very limited study of the matter, encycicals are basically what you make of them. And, if Papa Francesco is seriously about to do what he's apparently about to do, this is a very big deal, indeed.

In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world's main religions. The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope's wish to directly influence next year's crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions. "Our academics supported the pope's initiative to influence next year's crucial decisions," Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. "The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion."  Fist tap Dale.