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Lecture considers integral ecology in “Laudato Si”

| Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On Monday night at Geddes Hall, Fordham University professor of theology Christiana Peppard delivered a lecture entitled “Integral Ecology: Pope Francis, Ethical Pluralism and the Planet,” which focused on Pope Francis’s May encyclical “Laudato Si.” The talk was the seventh annual installment of the Reverend Bernie Clark, C.S.C., Lecture on Catholic Social Tradition and was sponsored by Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns.

Peppard began the lecture with a brief overview of papal encyclicals and their impact, especially in the last century. She said while many commentators have reacted to the pope’s new encyclical as if it were a revolutionary and completely new strain of thought in the Catholic Church,“Laudato Si” actually builds on much of the work of other popes, such as Pope Benedict XVI’s writing on human ecology.

“It’s important to note that all constructive endeavors are referential or in some way aggregate,” Peppard said.

However, Peppard said Pope Francis drew on sources from outside of other papal encyclicals, including theology, philosophy and environmental science. In particular, Peppard said the influence of liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, who has written extensively on the relationship between environmental destruction and the exploitation of the poor, was clear. 

According to Peppard,“Laudato Si” focuses on how ecological degradation, such as climate change and the acidification of oceans, are related to social problems like poverty and oppression, a relationship described by the term “integral ecology.”

At the heart of this concept of integral ecology, Peppard said, is a vision of social justice that espouses the rights the of marginalized who are victimized both economically and environmentally. This idea originates from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on integral development which asserted that egalitarian concerns must accompany the drive for economic growth, Peppard said. However, Peppard said the Pope’s writing on integral ecology is paradoxically new and traditional.

“In a sense, this is new for a pope to be saying, to be taking ecology and particularly the environment as a catalyst for his reflections, but in a sense it’s also very old and even in some sense Augustinian,” Peppard said.

“Laudato Si” is committed to the fundamental tenets of Catholic social teaching, Peppard said, because it focuses on the common good.

“The pope is trying to articulate what it means to have well-ordered loves that conduce to the good of the whole and of all people and the planet, now and in the future, to have our desires, decisions, our choices, our actions all be oriented towards the good,” Peppard said.

Despite Pope Francis’s dedication to traditional Catholic thought, Peppard said, his style is distinct because it reconciles incorporates and many viewpoints that seem to conflict.

“Classically, the response of the Church has been to assert universalism and unity to gloss over the fissures and the difficulties of evidence and differences,” Peppard said.

However, Peppard said Pope Francis rebels against this tendency.

“The pope is radically unfrightened by the plurality of epistemologies, the multiple ways of knowing and assessing and experiencing the world,” Peppard said.

Peppard said this approach does not delegitimize the primacy of Christ’s teachings, but rather complements them.

“For him, yes, Christ is at the center, but this does not preclude other forms of knowledge such as contemporary science and the diversity of experiences that people have on this changing planet,” Peppard said.

Ultimately, Peppard said, Pope Francis simultaneously builds on the rich tradition of the Catholic Church and charts a new, audacious path with “Laudato Si.”

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