Some excerpts for you from Naomi Klein's recent New Yorker essay entitled "A Radical Vatican?": Klein notes that she was asked to speak at a Vatican press conference about Laudato Si' in early July, and attended the event with some trepidation. The torrid heat in Rome in July, the requirement that women visiting the Vatican be enswathed in clothes that cover their limbs, the fact that she was the only non-Catholic invited to be part of this panel, worry about whether the Vatican would turn off the air-conditioning at the event, since Laudato Si' states that the growth of an air-conditioning culture points to "harmful habits of consumption" now affecting the entire planet . . . .
Then comes the day of the press conference, and the Vatican press director, Father Lombardi, introduces Klein (citing her own words from her prepared text) as a "secular Jewish feminist," enunciating the words slowly and carefully in English, while everything else he says in his introduction is in Italian. In the evening following the event, Klein sits at table at a dinner hosted by the Holy See with a man "from an influential American Catholic organization." And:
I ask him how spreading the message of "Laudato Si'" is going back home. "The timing was bad," he says. "It came out around the same time as the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, and that kind of sucked all the oxygen out of the room." That's certainly true. Many U.S. bishops welcomed the encyclical—but not with anything like the Catholic firepower expended to denounce the Supreme Court decision a week later.
The contrast is a vivid reminder of just how far Pope Francis has to go in realizing his vision of a Church that spends less time condemning people over abortion, contraception, and who they marry, and more time fighting for the trampled victims of a highly unequal and unjust economic system. When climate justice had to fight for airtime with denunciations of gay marriage, it didn't stand a chance.
On the way back to the hotel, looking up at the illuminated columns and dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, it strikes me that this battle of wills may be the real reason such eclectic outsiders are being invited inside this cloistered world. We're here because many powerful Church insiders simply cannot be counted upon to champion Francis's transformative climate message—and some would clearly be happy to see it buried alongside the many other secrets entombed in this walled enclave.
And her noteworthy conclusion:
Many have puzzled over how "Laudato Si'" can simultaneously be so sweepingly critical of the present and yet so hopeful about the future. The Church's faith in the power of ideas—and its fearsome capacity to spread information globally—goes a long way toward explaining this tension. People of faith, particularly missionary faiths, believe deeply in something that a lot of secular people aren't so sure about: that all human beings are capable of profound change. They remain convinced that the right combination of argument, emotion and experience can lead to life-altering transformations. That, after all, is the essence of conversion.
The most powerful example of this capacity for change may well be Pope Francis's Vatican. And it is a model not for the Church alone. Because if one of the oldest and most tradition-bound institutions in the world can change its teachings and practices as radically, and as rapidly, as Francis is attempting, then surely all kinds of newer and more elastic institutions can change as well.
And if that happens—if transformation is as contagious as it seems to be here—well, we might just stand a chance of tackling climate change.
This, of course, is a hopeful assessment of what Pope Francis is about. I find it interesting to read because it comes from a "secular Jewish feminist" who, as she says, supports Francis's analysis of "how responding to the climate crisis requires deep changes to our growth-driven economic model," while she disagrees with him about a whole lot else.
But as I read, I remind myself that not far down the road will be the World Meeting on Families. To which Rick Warren, an American evangelical with a long history of anti-gay statements and anti-gay activism, has been invited. While the organizers of that event have barred all LGBT-affirming groups from participation, so that the voices of families headed by same-sex couples will not be heard at this "world meeting" of families.
And I continue to ask myself where hope really lies in the papacy of Francis.
(I'm grateful to Brandon Meister for sending me this article.)
The photo of Naomi Klein, by Mariusz Kubik, is from her Wikipedia biography, and has been uploaded for sharing to Wikimedia Commons.