04 November 2021, The Tablet

Pope Francis tells a new story

Pope Francis tells a new story

Francis has ‘recast the natural world as an expression of God’s gift of self’
Photo: CNS/L’osservtore Romano


The Pope is not at COP26. But as humanity faces its greatest existential crisis, he is transforming the way Catholics think of their place in Creation

What did Laudato Si’ do? Did Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical, now six years old, mobilise global church institutions to disinvest from fossil fuels, capture carbon and turn their roofs photovoltaic? Did it create the momentum for world leaders to deliver the historic 1.5 degree pledge at COP21 in Paris in December 2015, which remains the global benchmark, even now, for COP26 in Glasgow? Did it melt the ice between ­science and religion? Did it reframe relations between rich and poor countries in terms of an “ecological debt” owed by the former to the latter? Did it offer our troubled age a distinctive Catholic vision – “integral ecology” – of common political and social action, comparable to the way that a century ago “integral humanism” paved the path to post-war Christian democracy?

The answer is, of course, that it did all of these things, yet how far is still too soon to measure. It is too soon to judge the impact of history’s fattest, most read and most talked about social encyclical. But not too soon, I suggest, to make this claim: that in helping humanity face its greatest existential crisis, Laudato Si’ performed a huge shift in the thinking and outlook of the Catholic Church. And that this shift reshaped modern theology.

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