In June, Pope Francis addressed ecological issues through an encyclical — a letter to leaders throughout the Roman Catholic Church that comments on doctrinal issues. Atlas Network partner the Acton Institute addressed the document with contributions from several authors, including the institute’s president, Rev. Robert Sirico, who acknowledges that much of the document “poses a major challenge for free-market advocates,” but commends the pope for calling on experts to engage in “honest debate” about these issues.
“As a priest who strives to be faithful to his church, I know that I too am expected to use my God-given reason in evaluating these questions,” Rev. Sirico wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The pope’s primary focus is the faith, and the moral implications that faith has for our behavior and the systems of politics and economics we create. In this sense, there is plenty of room for discussion. The purpose of an encyclical is not to close that debate, but precisely to open faith to understanding.”
Rev. Sirico explains that economic freedom and growth lifts the most vulnerable people in the world out of poverty, and gives them access to better technology that not only improves their standard of living but makes the world a cleaner place — after all, he notes, “poverty and despoliation often go hand in hand.”
Atlas Network President Alex Chafuen, who is also an Acton Institute trustee and senior fellow, published his own perspective on the recent encyclical on the Forbes website. Chafuen points out that Pope Francis in the past has avoided speaking authoritatively about secular matters of science, in which he is not an expert. That aversion seems to have changed somewhat when it comes to economics.
“Although the Pope writes and speaks as he is not an expert on bio-technology—allowing for differences of opinion—when he speaks about political economic topics he does it with conviction and certainty,” Chafuen wrote. “Like other Church documents, this one again cautions that ‘on many concrete issues the Church has no reason to propose a final word’ and that it promotes and respects honest debate among scientists respecting the diversity of opinion. But on economic topics, ‘Laudato Si’ seems one sided.”
In a video for the Acton Institute, Chafuen notes that it may be difficult for religious leaders to separate themselves from their backgrounds, and that Pope Francis has spent most of his life in Argentina, a nation especially known for its highly corrupt, crony version of interventionist capitalism. Having experienced markets through such a dysfunctional lens may have colored his economic worldview.
Rev. Sirico also appeared on Fox News to share his thoughts on the encyclical.
Visit the Acton Institute’s page devoted to Pope Francis and the environment.