Boston College Expert: Encyclical on Climate Change
PROFESSOR JAMES BRETZKE, S.J., SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY, BOSTON COLLEGE
Fr. Bretzke is a Jesuit priest and professor of moral theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He is the author of 70 articles/reviews and seven books including A Morally Complex World: Engaging Contemporary Moral Theology and Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary. He earned a doctorate at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he also taught for three years. He has also taught for several years in Seoul, Korea at Sogang University and as a Visiting Professor of Moral Theology at the Loyola School of Theology of the Ateneo de Manila, Philippines. On the weekends, Father Bretzke ministers at St. Michael's Parish in Bedford, Mass.
“Pope Francis is taking what he believes to be a ‘centrist’ position in these debates,” says Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Professor James Bretzke, S.J., who has read all of the Encyclical's Italian text. “He’s seeking primarily to lift up the environment as a pressing concern with a huge moral dimension that requires timely and dedicated response which will involve not just ‘fixes’ to environmental problems, but a real cultural shift. Here the role of faith, religion, and Christianity can make a most important contribution.”
While this is not the first time the church has weighed in on the environment, this encyclical may be its most significant message about the topic.
“What’s new about this is it’s extensive, it’s holistic, it’s integral and it’s crystal clear that this is a pressing, pressing moral issue of the first rank,” says Fr. Bretzke, a papal expert, author of seven books, and a Jesuit like Pope Francis. “He says the environmental situation is global and if we’re going to address it effectively, this is going to involve some real global cooperation and it may involve some sort of global oversight.
“It also says by way or corollary the church’s response to poverty cannot simply be charity. There has to be cultural and systemic change in our attitudes to the situations that produce and maintain cycles of poverty.”
The Pope of the poor has a message regarding how the environment can adversely affect society’s most vulnerable.
“Any environmental degradation is going to be felt most strongly by the poor because they have the least amount of resources to deal with it,” says Fr. Bretzke. “For example, in California with the drought and cutbacks on agricultural water, food prices are likely going to go up. Who’s going to feel that disproportionately? The poor. Pope Francis is saying the solutions have to be shouldered in a proportionate manner. You can’t simply say, ‘Well the poor or poor nations have to do more.’”
While this encyclical, the most authoritative teaching document a pope can issue, may change perspectives, this pontiff is keeping expectations in check.
“Over and over again I believe the Pope is doing his best to take the world as it really is---both good and bad—and move forward with that in a realistic manner,” says Fr. Bretzke. “’Gradualism’ and ‘incrementalism’ are practical and strategic principles that run through much of the document.”
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