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Why I find it hard to laud pope’s ‘Laudato’

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When I read of the pope’s encyclical calling attention to global warming of “sister earth,” my immediate reaction, on face value, was that an encyclical calling for action on global warming is about the best we could hope for from a pope. It seems hard to quarrel with someone influential sounding the alarm about climate change among mostly conservative followers.

The encyclical, issued June 18, is titled “Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (“Praise be to you, my Lord”).

A bonus is seeing the conservative Republican Catholic pols squirm. I’m thinking of John Boehner, who invited the pope to give his inappropriate address to Congress this fall, and the disproportionate number of Roman Catholic presidential wannabes.

Have you noticed just how many of the Republican candidates or soon-to-be official presidential aspirants are Roman Catholic? There’s Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum. Perhaps most amusing was Santorum’s reaction, expressed during an interview with a Philadelphia radio station, in which he actually criticized the church’s teachings: “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”

While it’s refreshing to see Santorum dredge up Galileo, where has he been during the past 25 years of unending “black collar” crimes?

But nevertheless, I do have a quarrel, a major quarrel, to pick with Pope Francis and his encyclical. Which is that since the dastardly “Humanae Vitae” was issued in 1968 — in which Pope Paul VI not only crushed the hopes of an entire generation of idealistic young Catholics, consigned women to be brood mares and cemented the church’s war on abortion and contraception — the world population went from 3.5 billion to today’s 7.3 billion and counting. Yes, it’s more than doubled. And that’s surely a crime by humanity against what the pope calls “sister Earth.”

Sure, there are other religions and factors at fault, but I hold the Catholic hierarchy most to blame for humanity’s out-of-control population growth. Overpopulation may not be the direct cause of all our environmental ills, but it makes all of them worse, far worse. The more people, the more cars and carbon dioxide emissions, the more plane flights and fuel burned, the more deforestation, wildlife and habitats destroyed, the more trash in space, in the oceans, dumped in developing nations, the more biodiversity silenced or imperiled, the more fodder for plagues, famines, droughts, wars, natural (and “unnatural”) disasters. It’s not rocket science.

My mother used to have a favorite analogy about overpopulation, what she called a “sanity test.” You’re in a room with an overflowing sink and a mop and bucket. What do you do first? Do you turn off the spigot or mop the floor?

We humans need to pass that sanity test and turn off the spigot.

Most despicable is the pope’s recent, strong affirmation of the church’s condemnation of what it insists on calling “artificial birth control.” (As John Stuart Mill once noted, a condom is no more “unnatural” than using an umbrella to shield against the rain.) On the flight back from his January visit to the Philippines, Francis had the gall to complain about a pious Catholic woman he met in Rome a few months earlier who’d had seven children via C-section and was pregnant with an eighth. At first, his comments sounded like he was channeling Margaret Sanger, asking, “Does she want to leave the seven orphans?” The pope then added that Catholics should speak of “responsible parenthood.”

“God gives you methods to be responsible,” he continued (meaning abstinence and “the rhythm system”). “Some think that — excuse the word — that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No.”

Here was the pope blaming the victim — a faithful Catholic mother dutifully carrying out the irrational doctrines of her church, which demands she never use contraception, and which still embraces the doctrine of maternal sacrifice. If there’s a choice, the church still counsels “let the pregnant woman die, save the fetus.”

The Philippines has one of the highest birth rates in Asia, with a population that has more than doubled from 45 million to 100 million the last 30 years. It’s the only country where divorce is still not allowed, thanks to the Catholic Church. It’s been under the thumb of the church for 400 grueling years.

Despite the dire poverty, “garbage cities,” high infant mortality (35 out of 1,000 births), high rates of maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy, the church has fought family planning policies tooth and nail. Only a year ago last spring, over the vocifierous objections of Catholic hierarchy, did the country’s Supreme Court finally uphold a policy legalizing contraception.

When Pope Paul II made his first over-publicized trip to the U.S. in 1987, “pope mania” was at full throttle. The Freedom From Religion Foundation fought back with Dan Barker’s irreverent “Stay-Away Pope Polka,” which contained these (very true) verses:

The world is overcrowded
And they’re dying of starvation
And you tell them what they need is a prayer?
A simple word from you could help control the population
But no, you’re too religious to care.

Yes, with a few simple words, Pope Francis could really help fix global warming and environmental degradation, by halting the Church’s global war on contraception, abortion and sterilization.

But no, he’s too religious to care. Under the circumstances, I find it hard to laud “Laudato si’.”


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