‘climate Encyclical, Contraception & Children: Conflicting Contradictions of Pope Francis

By Jerry Slevin
Christian Catholicism
June 18, 2015

Please consider reading Pope Francis’ final Climate Encyclical here.

After a two year “honeymoon period”, more Catholics are increasingly questioning the actions of the media magnified Pope Francis. This is especially the case as the pope’s ongoing deeds continually fall short of his earlier words. Recent polls show US Catholics are less positive increasingly toward the pope on the subjects of the environment and the priest sex abuse scandal. A global poll last year showed that most Catholics oppose the pope’s position on contraception and actually support birth control. And Irish Catholic voters recently overwhelmingly rejected the pope’s position on same sex civil marriage.

Some see the pope’s “over-hyped” new encyclical on climate change (Climate Encyclical) as the pope’s desperate way of both trying positively to change the subject from so much of the negative reporting he now steadily faces, as well as to distract from the re-affirmation of the dangerous papal ban on contraception expected to occur at the final Family Synod in a few months.

Pope Francis knows that in a few months he will make a critical visit to the USA, followed by his final “all celibate male bishops” Family Synod on updating the Catholic Church’s positions on sexual morality. Francis should know by now that the Synod will likely once again strongly oppose contraception and same sex marriage. Banning contraception contributes to global warming obviously, despite Pope Francis’ disingenuous efforts in the Climate Encyclical in effect to deny this. Pope Francis also seems to know that he must continue to try to avoid any US presidential or Congressional investigations into the Vatican’s longstanding priest child abuse cover up, as are presently underway in Australia, the UK and elsewhere.

Pope Francis faces many unfolding scandals, including those related to priest child abuse and to bishops who appear to cover up the abuse, such as Cardinal George Pell of Australia, Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis (USA) and Bishop Juan Barros of Chile, and even to the scandal of alleged child abuse by former US House Speaker, Dennis Hastert , as well as to the pope’s major defeat by Irish voters. Meanwhile, the pope is preparing to address the UN in a few months, while he still continues to evade the UN’s Committee on Torture’s position on the Vatican’s cover up of priest child abuse.

The pope’s basic message in the Climate Encyclical, and in currently reaffirming therein the earlier encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, that banned the birth control pill in 1968, is that the world, especially Catholics, need to increase the number of humans by avoiding effective contraception, and then, to reduce global warming by having this resulting larger number of humans consume even less. That makes little sense, for the poor or anyone else. Once again, despite Francis’ pontifications to the contrary, the Vatican is in effect sacrificing the poor, especially many millions of children and women, to maximize papal power and wealth tied to the papal claim of infallibility.

Pope Francis cleverly in his “over-hyped” Climate Encyclical seeks to preserve pro-actively and preemptively the unique cornerstone of papal power since 1870 — an incredible and historically unsupportable claim to personal infallibility. In the minds of millions of Catholics, infallibility has been essentially linked, after Pope Pius XI’s 1930 geo-politically motivated ban on birth control, to all subsequent popes’ opposition to effective family planning, including contraception, as “sinful”.

The Climate Encyclical is likely the Vatican’s most controversial since Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, banned pharmaceutical contraception. Unfortunately, Pope Francis accepts the contraception ban as a major premise of his new statement on climate change and population growth. This is a fundamental error in the Climate Encyclical.

The irrational media hype and distracting nonsense about the pope’s anticipated and almost magical climate change encyclical seemed to assume that Pope Francis, who has merely the equivalent of a US community college certification in chemistry obtained over a half century ago, would do the impossible in the encyclical, in effect, to square a circle. He would have had to reconcile his advice on global warming and climate change with his pro-Catholic population breeding policy. Obviously, the pope has been unable to do the impossible in the Climate Encyclical.

By the time the pope later this summer visits the White House and the US Congress, the media frenzy could well shift to what President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, knew, and when he knew it, about the alleged child abuse cover ups of his brother, former Minneapolis Vicar General, Fr. Kevin McDonough, that are now under active criminal investigation apparently. And by the time the pope addresses a joint session of the US Congress, many present and former Congressional leaders, including Catholics John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and Leon Panetta, may be facing tough media questions about what they knew, when, about the allegations of institutional child abuse relating to Dennis Hastert.

The current suspicious efforts to insure secrecy at Hastert’s criminal trial will only motivate good investigative reporters to dig harder and deeper. Over 75 UK politicians are reportedly now subject to criminal child abuse investigations. Are all US politicians in the much larger USA without fault here?

Either of these real investigative possibilities will accelerate the obvious questions about why the US Federal government has failed to investigate institutional child sexual abuse, including in the Catholic Church, as Australia, Ireland, the UK, Canada and other countries are doing. Perhaps the political hero behind the massive Australia investigation, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, gave US First Lady, Michelle Obama, some guidance on this when they recently got together for a UK TV discussion.

Of course, both the Obamas are former Illinois lawyers, who may well themselves have heard earlier about the Hastert rumors. Ironically, Hastert has even hired a top lawyer from the law firm where the Obamas met and earlier practiced together. Why are reporters so fearful of asking fair and relevant questions about these matters to the Obamas, Boehner, Pelosi, Panetta, et al.? Does the pressing need to protect US children not justify such questions?

Coincidentally, perhaps, Gillard had strongly endorsed earlier efforts of leading Australian abuse survivor activist, Aletha Blayse, who has persuasively made the case for the need for a US Federal investigation into institutional child sexual abuse like Australia has. Will President Obama and/or House leaders Boehner and Pelosi finally step up to protect US children from priest predators and the unaccountable bishops who facilitate them and possibly from powerful politicians as well?

Pope Francis has in the Climate Encyclical necessarily (despite Jeb Bush’s criticism) both endorsed the scientific consensus, and accepted the overwhelming evidence, that global warming is caused significantly by “human actions” and other factors. Accordingly, he notes logically that reducing adverse human actions can significantly reduce future global warming.

Illogically, however, the pope fails generally to accept the related obvious truth that reducing the number of potential future “human actors” will also significantly reduce future global warming. Yes, as the pope correctly indicates, adverse human action can be reduced by individuals reducing their own “per capita” contribution to unnecessary global warming by curtailing their “overconsumption”, etc. But adverse human action can also be reduced by applying simple arithmetic, that is, by responsible and voluntary family planning that reduces the number of “capitas” contributing individually to future global warming. Some combination of both options and approaches is clearly what is called for.

Pope Francis irrationally and even dangerously excludes the second option, even though an overwhelming majority of cardinals, bishops, theologians, medical professionals and married couples approved of contraception, after four years of exhaustive study and debate a half century ago as members of the pope’s own select birth control commission, as thoroughly reported here in Robert Blair Kaiser’s classic study,The Politics of Sex and Religion. Kaiser, a onetime Jesuit, bequeathed his study generously to all as a free e-book in 2012. I am proud to acknowledge that Kaiser had let me make some comments to his new preface to the e-book.

The pope’s hopes for a very positive rollout of his Climate Encyclical have been dampened by the unprecedented and unexpected recent criminal and civil actions triggered by the Minneapolis Archdiocese’s ongoing rampant and horrible child endangerment record. The hopes have also likely been dampened by the recent devastating analysis of the Vatican’s latest “bishop accountability stall tactic”, a bishops’ tribunal, as just more “smoke and mirrors”, offered by an informed and careful Sydney lawyer and former seminarian. Moreover, the pope’s anti-Obamacare contraception insurance and anti-gay marriage crusades are likely to fizzle and undercut some of the Climate Encyclical hype after the likely adverse US Supreme Court decisions expected soon and before the pope gives his addresses in a few months to the US Congress, and to the UN that Pope Francis and his recent predecessors have mostly defied to date on Vatican child abuse cover up matters.

The US political complications for the pope have suddenly become much more volatile due in part to the extraordinary Minneapolis Archdiocese’s indictment and to former US Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert’s scandal related to one or more high school students that allegedly may have been sexually abused by Hastert.

A key person in the Minneapolis case, the courageous whistle blower and former Minneapolis diocesan official, Jennifer Haselberger, has recently reported that investigators for the local prosecutor, Jesuit (Marquette) educated John Choi, had more questions for her, since “… they were still working towards a determination of whether Archbishop John Nienstedt, Bishop Lee Piche, and perhaps other Chancery officials would be criminally charged as individuals for their role in abuse committed by Curtis Wehmeyer, [a local priest] ….”. Evidently, the other officials appear to include former longtime Vicar General, Fr. Kevin McDonough, brother of Denis McDonough, Obama’s Chief of Staff.

Since Nienstedt and McDonough reportedly separately consulted on priest child abuse cases with the US papal nuncio and/or the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican may have direct criminal law exposure in Minneapolis. It is hardly a coincidence that the pope has sent Ivy League lawyer, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, to take control of the legal strategy there. Since Hebda and his seeming mentor, Cardinal Daniel DiNarda, both reportedly “served successfully” in formative periods in Pittsburgh under the infamous Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, one should not expect much transparency or improvement in child protection on Hebda’s watch.

Some of these recent revelations suggest that US leaders, including House leaders, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, and President Obama, may hardly be more forthcoming about “insider child sex abuse scandal” related matters than secretive Pope Francis and his Vatican “old boys’ club” have been about numerous tarnished cardinals, including Australia’s Cardinal George Pell and Philadelphia’s former Cardinal Justin Rigali. The family of Rigali’s former top aide and convicted child endangerer, Monsignor Lynn, have reportedly in effect blamed Rigali and his predecessor, Bevilacqua, for the crimes Lynn had been charged with. The pope still apparently treats Rigali, and Cardinals Law, Mahony, Sodano, Danneels, et al. with high respect when they visit the Vatican.

Ironically, Nienstedt reportedly once criticized Pelosi for her “misinterpretation on the question of when life begins,” adding that her “remarks underscore once again the need for Catholics, and especially Catholic politicians, to form their consciences according to the moral truths taught by the Catholic Church”. Nienstedt, with his reported longtime ties to major fundamentalist papal donor, Tom Monaghan, is breathtaking in his hypocrisy, no?

Of course, the pope has a conflict of interest here in promoting his Catholic “breeding policy”. More future Catholics means more Catholic donations to the Catholic hierarchy and more Catholic votes for the Vatican and their subservient local bishops to “sell” to local politicians that too often protect and subsidize the Catholic hierarchy come “hell or high water”.

The world’s population was about 2 billion in 1930 when Pope Pius XI, the first pope of Francis’ lifetime, unnecessarily banned birth control mainly for self interested geo-political reasons. The world’s population is now 7.3 billion and projected to be 9 billion in 2050, only 35 years from now. It is time for the pope to act responsibly and reasonably to solve this self inflicted papal problem. It is also time for journalists to skip the seemingly moronic adulation of the pope as a climate guru! My God, occasionally serious journalists have wasted their time speculating on the encyclical’s possible title, while millions of women and children still suffer as a result of the pope’s irrational sexual morality positions!

Pope Francis also seems to look to a world government organization and enforceable international agreements as potential solutions that would implement policies aimed at the positive modifications of human activities. The pope’s Big Oil allies must be smiling at this proposal, including the pope’s top economic adviser, former BP Chairman and currently Chairman of Goldman Sachs International. The pope’s recent disregard of the findings, on the Vatican’s worldwide priest child abuse cover-up, of two UN committees (on torture and children) acting under international agreements that the Vatican had agreed to, shows how ineffective reliance on an international government organization and international agreements can be.

Even Big Coal liked the pope’s Climate Encyclical. The World Coal Association (WCA) reportedly highlighted the pope’s emphasis on helping the poor as a crucial part of the fight against climate change. WCA chief executive Benjamin Sporton reportedly told AP that to address the developing needs of poor countries, “we need to have affordable reliable energy, and coal is a key part of achieving that.”

He disagreed with some environmental groups who interpreted the pope as saying fossil fuels need to be phased out, seeing it instead as “a call to address emissions.” The Climate Encyclical says high-polluting technologies based on fossil fuels — “especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas” need to be progressively replaced. But it also says that until renewable energy sources are widely accessible, “it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils to find short-term solutions.”

Sporton reportedly said, “The way I’d interpret that is we need to use the best technology that we have available with the lowest emissions. There are many countries that will continue to use coal in the future so we need to help them use the best coal technology that is available.”

Indeed, with respect to international solutions, the Vatican’s duplicitous arguments about the supremacy of the Vatican’s national sovereignty made in connection with the International Criminal Court’s child abuse cover up case involving ex-pope Benedict and Cardinals Angelo Sodano, Tarcisio Bertone and William Levada would insulate most nations from any international governmental pressure to modify global climate change related activity.

Expectations that a world government will curtail global warming is not a serious proposal and the pope must know that. Papal exhortations to lead a simpler life and a call for richer nations to assist poorer nations in the transition away from fossil fuels sound more like wishful thinking than practical solutions.

Unfortunately, when it comes to proposing readily available remedies for the warming problem, the pope ignores one of the principal underlying causes, not just for global warming, but for other looming ecological disasters. As Jesuit Georgetown Ph.D in bioethics, Robert Lindsay persuasively concludes, the Pope needs to change the climate on contraception !

Reducing population growth would have a substantial positive effect on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. One persuasive scientific analysis indicates that reducing population growth could help achieve 37 percent to 41 percent of the targeted reduction in emissions by the end of the century. This paper also pointed out that “there is a substantial unmet need for family planning and reproductive health services in many countries.”

But a dangerously warming climate is not the only adverse effect resulting from substantial increases in population. A recent study indicated that the majority of the globe’s largest aquifers were rapidly depleting. “The aquifers under the most stress are in poor, densely populated regions, such as northwest India, Pakistan and North Africa” according to the report.

In January of this year, eighteen scientists published a paper in the journal Science, which indicated that human societies had already caused four of nine “planetary boundaries” to be crossed, with the other five under threat. (The four crossed boundaries relate to the extinction rate for plant and animal species, the contamination of oceans through runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus (from fertilizers), climate change resulting from the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and deforestation.) Crossing these boundaries threatens to destroy the stability of our environment and with it, the sustainability of human life (not to mention other forms of life).

Pope Francis needs to follow a right and reasonable approach towards contraception. He needs to listen to voices of reason, like Princeton philosopher, Peter Singer, here, who explains clearly and persuasively why the pope is wrong to promote population growth.

As Professor Singer notes, there is overwhelming evidence to show that a lack of access to contraception is bad for women’s health. Frequent pregnancies, especially in countries without universal modern health care, are associated with high maternal mortality. Moreover,when births are more widely spaced, children do better, both physically and in terms of educational attainment.

The broader reason for promoting family planning, however, is that making it available to all who want it is in the interest of the world’s seven billion people and the generations that, barring disaster, should be able to inhabit the planet for untold millennia to come. And here, the relationship between climate change and birth control needs to be brought into focus.

The key facts about climate change are well-known: Our planet’s atmosphere has already absorbed such a large quantity of human-produced greenhouse gases that global warming is underway, with more extreme heat waves, droughts, and floods than ever before. Arctic sea ice is melting, and rising sea levels are threatening to inundate low-lying densely populated coastal regions in several countries. If rainfall patterns change, hundreds of millions of people could become climate refugees.

Moreover, an overwhelming majority of scientists in the relevant fields believe that the world is on track to exceed the level of global warming at which feedback mechanisms will kick in and climate change will become uncontrollable, with unpredictable and possibly catastrophic consequences.

It is often pointed out that it is the affluent countries that have caused the problem, owing to their higher greenhouse gas emissions over the past two centuries. They continue to have the highest levels of per capita emissions, and they can reduce emissions with the least hardship. There is no doubt that, ethically, the world’s developed countries should be taking the lead in reducing emissions, as Pope Francis fairly notes.

What is not so often mentioned, however, is the extent to which continuing global population growth would undermine the impact of whatever emission reductions affluent countries can be persuaded to make. Pope Francis unfairly avoids facing this issue fully and straightforwardly in the Climate Encyclical.

Four factors influence the level of emissions: economic output per capita; the units of energy used to generate each unit of economic output; greenhouse gases emitted per unit of energy; and total population. A reduction in any three of these factors will be offset by an increase in the fourth. In the “Summary for Policymakers” of its 2014 Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that, globally, economic and population growth continue to be “the most important drivers” of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion. Pope Francis irresponsibly, if not recklessly, avoids the real implications of irresponsible population growth as he urges Catholics, yes, in effect to “breed like rabbits”.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 222 million women in developing countries do not want to have children now, but lack the means to ensure that they do not conceive. Providing them with access to effective contraception would help them plan their lives as they wish, weaken demand for abortion, reduce maternal deaths, give children a better start in life, and contribute to slowing population growth and greenhouse-gas emissions, thus benefiting us all.

Who could oppose such an obvious win-win proposition? The only naysayers are likely those in the grip of a religious ideology that they seek to impose on others, no matter what the consequences for women, children, and the rest of the world, now and for centuries to come.

Pregnant Catholics are always a “win-win” situation for the Catholic hierarchy. If the baby survives and thrives, the “new Catholic” can be expected, after the customary indoctrination that begins at First Confession no later than 7 years old, to donate meekly and often to bishops, and even often to follow obediently in the voting booth the Vatican’s “political instructions”, a key source of the Vatican’s current power and wealth.

The pope should be ashamed about his misleading treatment of population growth in the Climate Encyclical!








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