26 September 2015, The Tablet

Pope is developing Church teaching on environment and capital punishment

by Christopher Lamb in New York

The spokesman for the Holy See has said that Pope Francis is developing Catholic teaching in the areas of the environment and capital punishment, two issues that he has spoken on during his visit to the United States. 

During a briefing with journalists yesterday Fr Federico Lombardi was asked by The Tablet whether the Pope’s statement in his speech to the United Nations - where he talked of the “right of the environment” - and his calling for the abolishment of the death penalty was a development of teaching. 

Fr Lombardi characterised the remarks on the environment as a “new expression” adding “there is something new there, yes.” He added the Pope’s remarks in this area were developing Catholic social teaching.  

The spokesman stressed, however, that the philosophy of rights is complicated and that the Pope was not putting forward a new technical definition of them. 

“It must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist,” Francis said in his speech to the UN and the environment in of itself “entails ethical limits” which humans need to respect. 


This follows his encyclical Laudato Si’  which called for Christians to move from seeing themselves as having “dominion” over creation or simply being stewards: it argued that Christ is “intimately present” in the created world. 

But with his statement that the environment had a “right”, he took this teaching a step further. 

On capital punishment, which Pope Francis called for an end to in his speech to congress on Thursday, Fr Lombardi confirmed this was also a development of doctrine. 

The catechism states that the death penalty can be used if the guilt of an individual has been determined and “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against an unjust aggressor.”

But Francis has spoken out against not just capital punishment and on the plane from Cuba to the United States described life imprisonment as like “dying every day.” 

Fr Lombardi said he had heard the Pope speak out against life sentences and that "maybe he will also deepen this expression in the future." 

Today the Pope travels to Philadelphia which will include a visit to the city’s largest prison, the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. He arrives in the city to mark the World Meeting of Families. 

Throughout his visit to the US Francis has sought to stress that all life is sacred, from conception until death. 

The destruction of the planet, the Pope stressed to the United Nations, is closely linked with the exclusion of the weak and vulnerable. 

“Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity,” he said. 

The Pope explained: “The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.”

Francis paid tribute to the work of the UN, this year celebrating its 70th anniversary, stressing the importance of international law and co-operation. 

UN staff scramble to record the visit of Pope FrancisUN staff scramble to record the visit of Pope Francis (PA)


However, he also called for reform and for a fairer distribution of power within the organisation and a rejection of an “all powerful elite.” International power is heavily concentrated in the UN security council which is made up of just 15 countries. 

Pope Francis urged the UN to reflect on how to face the world’s problems that threaten the “common home” of humanity. These include human trafficking, the drugs trade, child exploitation, nuclear weapons, war and the persecution of Christians and other minorities.

But he warned world leaders to resist the temptation of “declaration nominalism” whereby they simply issue condemnations and that what was needed were “critical and global decisions.” 

Following his speech to the UN he visited Ground Zero and took part in a multi-faith religious service. 

In the afternoon he visited children and immigrant families at Our Lady Queen of Angels School, in East Harlem, and, amidst tight security, drove though Central Park. He finished the day by saying Mass in Madison Square Garden in front of 25,000 people. 

In that homily he urged the Church to “go out” to “meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be.” 



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