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Produced on World Refugee Day -- on the occasion of publication of reports on the world refugee crisis and an Environment Encyclical by Pope Francis
What is to be expected from the simultaneous publication of reports of UNHCR (Global Trends Report: World at War, 18 June 2015), of Amnesty International (World leaders' neglect of refugees condemns millions to death and despair, 15 June 2015), and of a Papal Encyclical on the Environment (Laudato Si' on Care of Our Common Home, 18 June 2015)?
Much emphasis is currently placed on the morality of a short-term solution of ensuring that current refugees are received by developed countries, notably those in Europe. Nothing is said of the expected numbers of refugees which can be predicted for the following years, or the decades thereafter. Considerable tensions are being engendered in developed countries as a result of this influx.
The Pope has emphasized a duty of care and the need for a transformation of hearts and minds to respond to the crisis. Prior to publication of the Encyclical, the consistency of that position was explored in an argument proposing that the Vatican issue passports to refugees and that refugees be settled in St Peter's Square, in Catholic institutions around Europe, and in Catholic families supportive of the Papal position on unconstrained population growth (Issuance of Vatican Passports to Trans-Mediterranean Immigrants: a modest proposal worthy of the 21st Century? 2015).
The following section summarizes the world refugee crisis in order to frame commentary on arguments of the Papal Encyclical in two subsequent sections.
Commentary on the UNHCR annual report (Global Trends Report: World at War, 18 June 2015) by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres was summarized in points such as the following (Worldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase, UNHCR, 18 June 2015):
In the report released by Amnesty International (The Global Refugee Crisis: a conspiracy of neglect, 2015), the following points were made in a summary by Salil Shetty (World leaders' neglect of refugees condemns millions to death and despair, 15 June 2015):
|Heated talks between EU leaders regarding Mediterranean migrants
(The Guardian, 26 June 2015)
|The national leaders of Europe have engaged in one of their most bitter rows in years over how to respond to the influx of refugees from across the Mediterranean after they scrapped plans for a quota system to share out the resettlement. The meeting descended into name-calling and recrimination as the leaders fought over a modest scheme to share the intake of 60,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers between their countries over two years.
|No discussion of what happens with the influx thereafter
The comments below relate to specific sections of the Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis (Laudato Si' on Care of Our Common Home, 18 June 2015). Emphasis has been added, where appropriate.
To what extent is the Pope conscious that the reference "to each us" (in the following introductory article) should naturally include the leadership of the Catholic Church?
8. Patriarch Bartholomew [of the Eastern Orthodox Church] has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for "inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage", we are called to acknowledge "our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation".... He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: "For human beings... to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life -- these are sins"....For "to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God"...
To what extent does the "change of humanity" (in the following article) require new thinking on the part of the leadership of the Catholic Church? To what extent should the emphasis of the Church on unrestrained reproduction under any circumstances constitute a crime against the world, a sin against ourselves, and a sin against God?
9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which "entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God's world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion"...
To what extent does the Church policy of unrestrained reproduction ensure unnecessary suffering -- a perversion of the form of sacrifice for which the Encyclical calls? To what extent does population increase constitute a major factor in increasing the collective level of consumption -- in questionable complicity with those seeking unchecked economic growth as a source of profitability?
The Encyclical introduces its discussion of the "roots" of the present situation as follows:
15. It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church's social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the present situation, so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes....
Despite its quest for the "deepest causes", the Encyclical explicitly sets aside as irrelevant and misguided any concern with reduction of the birth rate:
50. Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of "reproductive health". Yet "while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development".... To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.
There is no recognition that global and national governance is extremely problematic, notably with respect to inequalities, imbalances and distribution of resources to the most needy. Under such circumstances it might be assumed, as in the case of any family, that it would be prudent to avoid encouraging any increase in the number of mouths to be fed when the future source of that food is far from evident. Failure to do so is to increase the probability of suffering, starvation and premature mortality.
Again it might be asked to what extent the following article applies in particular to the Catholic Church itself. Indeed, should we not pause and consider this?
101. It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this?...
In failing to address the ever increasing pressures on global governance -- exacerbated in every sector by unrestrained population growth -- the following concluding article is correct in ways which are not the intention of the Encyclical.
109. ...We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.
The Encyclical is most valuable as a further instance of fruitless blame-gaming. It is an exercise in avoiding recognition of the "deepest roots" of the current crisis in systemic terms, most notably with regard to the feasibility of remedial action in strategic terms, purportedly informed by the best of scientific analysis in a joint report from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (Climate Change and The Common Good: a statement of the problem and the demand for transformative solutions, 2015). It could however be considered as intellectually dishonest, especially in positioning the Catholic Church as lacking any complicity whatsoever in sustaining the pattern of suffering for so long, and into the foreseeable future, as may be variously argued.
The systemic weaknesses in the argument can be clustered as follows (with relevant literature in the documents cited):
The refugee crisis is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century, but the response of the international community has been a shameful failure. We need a radical overhaul of policy and practice to create a coherent and comprehensive global strategy.... The international community has failed to provide [refugees], or the humanitarian agencies supporting refugees with sufficient resources... The current refugee crisis will not be solved unless the international community recognizes that it is a global problem that requires states to significantly step up international cooperation
Curiously the international community does not "exist". It has no legal basis, if that is the primary criterion -- whether or not de facto existence can be claimed or assumed. There is no "concrete proof" of its existence which could be accepted in a conventional legal process or through application of any conventional scientific method. Deploring the failure to act of a "non-existent" entity then merits careful thought. Whether framed in terms of a duty to rescue, or as a failure to provide assistance to a person in need, the capacity to indict the international community for crimes against humanity through some sort of class action suit is clearly extremely limited (Christa Rottensteiner, The Denial of Humanitarian Assistance as a Crime under International Law, International Review of the Red Cross, 835, September 1999). In legal terms any action by a "non-existent" international community might then be considered comparable with an Act of God, recalling an exploration of the possibility of legal action against his religious representatives (The Man Who Sued God, 2001).
There is great irony to the fact that current controversy regarding arguments with respect to the existence of God can be understood to be as questionable as those with respect to the existence of the "United States" or "Israel" -- whether framed in scientific, legal, historical or theological terms (John V. Whitbeck, The State of Palestine Exists, The Huffington Post, 1 September 2013). As a focus for hope, belief in the existence of the international community, and its capacity to act, increasingly resembles belief in God (however deprecated), as promoted by the Catholic Church -- now so complicit in violent conflict.
Systemic negligence: elephants in the human living room: The subtitle of this commentary asked the question as to whether the Encyclical was a convenient means of concealing criminal systemic negligence. The argument draws attention to inadequacies in its systemic preoccupation with the environment. Clearly the focus on climate change and refugees invites approval from sectors to which the Catholic Church would wish to appeal to a greater degree. It is less evident whether it is only incidentally that this appeal will serve to conceal its systemic inadequacies.
The focus here on a systemic perspective is appropriate for an Environment Encyclical in which frequent reference is made to "system" and "ecosystem". The question is how the adequacy of that perspective is to be assessed in systemic terms. The points above highlight indications of its inadequacy which presumably would be contested -- whether or not they are a reason for caution in any appreciation of the framework proposed. More specifically the issue is whether these are an indication of negligence, whether deliberate or inadvertent. Using the classic metaphor, is there an unacknowledged elephant in the room (as framed by the Encyclical) to which attention should be drawn, as argued separately (Climate Change and the Elephant in the Living Room: in quest of an endangered species, 2008).
In his commentary on the Encyclical, John Vidal, suggests that there are two such elephants:
But for all the papal encyclical's reliance on peer-reviewed science and state of the art environmental analysis, there is only one brief mention by Pope Francis of the massive population growth that has overwhelmed many countries in the past 50 years as a direct result of Catholic teaching. And there are just 11 mentions of women. These two whopping elephants in the Basilica of St Peter throw some doubt on whether the encyclical is really a radical analysis of the state of the world intended to speak to everyone, as Francis has said he wants it to be, or is aimed at the upper echelons of a divided church in need of fresh teachings.
The Vatican has never fully grasped that women are the world's greatest asset for development and environmental protection, or that having 90 million extra mouths a year to feed, almost all in the world's poorer countries, inevitably puts nature and poor countries' resources under immense extra pressure (Pope's climate change encyclical glosses over role of population growth, The Guardian, 19 June 2015).
As succinctly stated by Lawrence M. Krauss with regard to the Encyclical:
It's beautifully presented and sounds good in principle. However, his biblical analysis leads to the false conclusion that contraception and population control are not appropriate strategies to help a planet with limited resources... A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level in which all humans have adequate food, water, medicine and security. Moreover, as this pope should particularly appreciate, the environmental problems that overpopulation creates also disproportionately afflict those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited... The problem with basing a public policy framework on outmoded ideas that predate modern science and medicine is that one inevitably proposes bad policies. (Ideology Subsumes Empiricism in Pope's Climate Encyclical, Scientific American, 18 June 2015)
Inhibition of dialogue: Would systemic inadequacies result in the Encyclical being framed as naive, even if it clearly demonstrates a degree of responsiveness to current issues? More questionable is whether the manner in which the Catholic Church is positioned by the Encyclical implies that many have lessons to learn from the authority it claims for its insights. In its call for new dialogue amongst all parties, will many then see the Encyclical as having already ignored perspectives that they represent and value? How would the proposed dialogue create room for such perspectives -- especially if there is already an elephant there?
The challenge is how to enable dialogue with those holding contrasting views -- a challenge the Encyclical fails to address in seeking a consensus which may not only be illusory (as conventionally understood) but may well also be inappropriate in systemic terms (in the light of higher orders of cybernetics). Ironically the self-reflexivity of the latter may be highly relevant to the spiritual insights which the Encyclical promotes through the language of theology. There is a further irony in that the preoccupation with "climate change" can be explored as a valuable metaphor for the "change of climate" of discourse promoted by the Encyclical (Climate of Change Misrepresented as Climate Change: insights from metaphorical confusion, 2008).
It could be readily assumed (and denied) that the Holy See is currently deploying its resources to ensure that minimal mention is made of overpopulation at the forthcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (Paris, 2015). This perhaps be in exchange for the support provided by the Environment Encyclical -- thus potentially making a mockery of that event, as before (United Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference: exploring the underside of climate change, 2009).
If the call for change by the Encyclical implies various forms of current entrapment by all, the modalities within which the Catholic Church is itself trapped merit consideration in the light of the adage of policy scientist Geoffrey Vickers: A trap is a function of the nature of the trapped (Freedom in a rocking boat: changing values in an unstable society, 1972). It is in that sense that the Encyclical merits consideration in the light of the adage of Gregory Bateson: We are our own metaphor (1972).
Denial of error: A fruitful preparation for any such dialogue, even a criterion for particpation, would be the capacity to recognize any collective tendency to error (Guidelines for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews, 2006). To what historical errors can the Church now admit, or do some still claim that it is necessarily error-free in systemic terms?
Does the Church consider itself to be necessarily doubt-free with nothing of relevance unknown in relation to the current environmental crisis -- and despite the unknowns admitted by climate scientists, for example? The question is of relevance given the famed recognition of the known unknowns by Donald Rumsfeld, as a key representative of a regime whose possible crimes against humanity are the subject of ongoing legal processes (Unknown Undoing: challenge of incomprehensibility of systemic neglect, 2008).
Could the spirit of the famed papal Syllabus of Errors (1864), focused on those in society at large, be reversed in a healthy exercise in recognizing errors made within the Church? This would be consistent with the Requirement to embrace error, as articulated by Donald N. Michael:
More bluntly, future-responsive societal learning makes it necessary for individuals and organizations to embrace error. It is the only way to ensure a shared self-consciousness about limited theory on the nature of social dynamics, about limited data for testing theory, and hence about our limited ability to control our situation well enough to be successful more often than not (Learning to Plan and Planning to Learn, 1997)
For a Church reputed for its promotion of confession by others to its agents, it is curious that the Church itself has no process for confessing to error. As such it may well constitute a metaphor for humanity in its destruction of its own environment. Institutions are not renowned for their confessions to error -- even when faced with the collapse of the civilization they have enabled. The Church, as is the tendency of humanity, does not admit to error. It deploys its considerable resources to dissociating itself from error, and to blaming others for any unfortunate consequences.
Moral authority? Should the Pope be recognized as the highest moral authority of the world? As argued by Damian Carrington (Will Pope Francis's encyclical become his 'miracle' that saved the planet? The Guardian, 18 June 2015):
... the moral force the pope brings to bear may kindle that most fragile necessity: political will... The pope provides the clearest and loudest moral case yet for action now, firmly rooted in justice for the world's poor... This moral leadership is important, says climate economist Lord Nick Stern, because of "the failure of many heads of state and government around the world to show political leadership"... The woman charged with delivering the global climate deal, the UN's Christiana Figueres is in no doubt of the encyclical's importance: "It will have a major impact. It will speak to the moral imperative of addressing climate change in a timely fashion in order to protect the most vulnerable".
How are such assumptions to be reconciled with the moral implications of the Church's neglected "elephants"? Or with current consideration by the United Nations of the implications of the Catholic Church in crimes against humanity in the case of sexual abuse by clergy (The Catholic church is guilty of crimes against humanity, The Observer, 29 August 2010; International Criminal Court declines to pursue 'crimes against humanity' case against Vatican, National Catholic Reporter, 18 June 2013; Dermot Groome, The Church Abuse Scandal: were crimes against humanity committed? Penn State Law, 2011)? Again, the Church deploys its resources to ensure that any evidence is framed in relation to incidents and individuals, rather than systemically, whilst being complicit systemically in their cover-up and denial.
The Vatican has consistently said that a pope cannot be held accountable for cases of abuse committed by others because priests are employees of individual dioceses around the world and not direct employees of the Vatican. It says the head of the church cannot be compared to the CEO of a company. (Philip Pullella, Pope will have security, immunity by remaining in the Vatican, Reuters, 15 February 2013)
This position can be explored as a form of plausible deniability. It contrasts most curiously with the widely reported interpretation by Joseph Kurtz, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to the Encyclical: It is our marching orders for advocacy (Suzanne Goldenburg, US Catholics ready to follow Pope's 'marching orders' on climate change, The Guardian, 18 June 2005). Kurtz added: He is providing a framework and a moral call as a true moral leader to take seriously the urgency of this matter. The chief executive of the World Resources Institute, interpreted the message as a call to action for world leaders ahead of the Paris climate talks: The pope's message brings moral clarity that the world's leaders must come together to address this urgent human challenge.
The Vatican position also contrasts with the capacity for excommunication provided by canon law -- seemingly not applied in the case of clerical sexual abuse, except as a threat to bishops who failed to cover up such abuse (Antony Barnett, Vatican told bishops to cover up sex abuse, The Observer, 17 August 2003). Consideration of the matter is complicated by a papal initiative immediately prior to release of the Encyclical (Elisabetta Povledo and Laurie Goodstein, Pope Creates Tribunal for Bishop Negligence in Child Sexual Abuse Cases, The New York Times, 10 June 2015). The tribunal is housed in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that polices adherence to church doctrine -- including that relating to birth control and gender inequality.
Moral authority is notably cultivated by the current pattern of canonisation of popes enabling their veneration as saints. The process requires a miracle, to which Carrington's comment refers. The process also requires presentation of a case by a canon lawyer, termed the Devil's Advocate, to argue the case against the sainthood of a candidate in order to uncover any character flaws or misrepresentation of evidence favoring canonisation of an individual.
In systemic terms, it is therefore curious that the Catholic Church has no internal process for questioning its collective moral authority with respect to strategies it promotes which enable the death and suffering of millions -- in the past, at present, and in the foreseeable future. Whereas it has had a judicial procedure, used by the Inquisition, involving individuals being "put to the question", the Church does not recognize any process whereby the assumed spiritual justification of its policies might be "put to the question" -- by a "Devil's Advocate".
Ironically, the process of putting to the question was a euphemism for water torture -- a torture to which humanity (and especially the poor) are to be subjected through rising sea levels. Curiously Church policy with regard to ever increasing population is thus being "put to the question" -- but otherwise. The suffering and fatality will undoubtedly be dubiously reframed as an Act of God in defence of the unquestionable moral authority of the Church in its unquestioning obedience to the "marching orders" of the injunction: Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).
Criminal negligence? How is systemic negligence to be acknowledged? Having effected it, can anyone seriously claim that "business-as-usual" would be affected by the death of millions of refugees?
Rising sea levels, as a consequence of climate change resulting from the increasing intensity of human activity, will be detrimental for three-quarters of the world's poor. Many will suffer. In a special report by the New Scientist, it is noted that:
Whatever we do now, the seas will rise at least 5 metres. Most of Florida and many other low-lying careas and cities around the world are doomed to go under... a rise of 20 metres will soon be unavoidable... much of the rise could happen within the first few centuries. (Michael Le Page, Five Metres and Counting, 13 June 2015)
There is thus the further question as to whether the Encyclical can be considered a reflection of criminal negligence -- now or in the implications of its selective recommendations, as may be interpreted by the future. The current crisis with regard to refugees (and more generally the poverty and violence exacerbating that crisis) focuses attention on the historical responsibility of the Catholic Church in assiduously ensuring that ever more people are engendered within a system for which appropriate forms of governance have yet to be found. This could indeed come to be recognized as a crime against humanity -- given the consequent suffering and fatality at this present time and in the foreseeable future. At what level of fatality would such recognition be appropriate? What is the concrete proof that would be required?
|Papal admission of sin -- or typical contradiction?
(Pope Francis says destroying the environment is a sin)
In a message entitled Show Mercy to our Common Home, Pope Francis has called for urgent action to stop climate change and proposed that caring for the environment be added to traditional Christian works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick... The pontiff used the occasion to revive many of the powerful issues he highlighted a year ago in his provocative encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si', and his latest message seems certain to rankle conservatives. Francis described man's destruction of the environment as a sin and accused mankind of turning the planet into a "polluted wasteland full of debris, desolation and filth". (The Guardian, 2 September 2016; Pope Francis says neglecting the environment is a sin, CBC News, 1 September 2016; Pope calls global warming sin, says protecting creation is work of mercy, Crux, 1 September 2016; Pope Francis says care of environment a new 'work of mercy', RNS, 1 September 2016)
Missing from the pontiff's declaration is the nature of any complicity of the Catholic Church in promoting the unconstrained growth in the world's population (at any cost to the environment) under conditions of inability to govern the production and distribution of resources to those in need -- or to process appropriately the waste the population produces.
Is this a rare example of recognition by the Catholic Church of its own sinfulness -- in ensuring, by the most direct means possible, that the planet becomes a "polluted wasteland full of debris, desolation and filth"?
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