Pope Francis Evandro Inetti/ZumaPress

Reconsidering Man’s Dominion

Pope Francis’s historical encyclical on the environment has received considerable media attention for its uncompromising call for action on climate change. Less noted has been the fact that it also contains the strongest statement against harming animals ever made by a pope in a document as authoritative as an encyclical.

PRINCETON – In May, Pope Francis released his historic encyclical, Laudatio Si, or “Praise Be.” He chose his papal name, he explains in the text, because he considers St. Francis of Assisi to be “the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically.” His namesake showed that concern for nature is inseparable from justice for the poor, social commitment, and peace within oneself.

The encyclical’s title refers to the Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis’s song of praise to God for all creation – the foremost expression of environmental holism within the Roman Catholic tradition. Yet the Canticle’s praise for “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon”has seemed so close to nature-worship that some have doubted whether it could ever be included in mainstream Catholic thinking.

Those doubts have now been laid to rest. Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, began to turn the Church’s attention toward the need for environmental sustainability. Francis has taken this process much further.

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