A heated exchange regarding global warming and magisterial teaching between a top Vatican official and various other presenters ended a December 3 Acton Institute conference in Rome. Argentinean Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, a close advisor to Pope Francis and the Chancellor of both the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences stressed that the pope’s declarations on the gravity of global warming as expressed in the encyclical Laudato Si’ are magisterial teaching equivalent to the teaching that abortion is sinful.
Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, the founder of Ignatius Press who obtained his doctorate in theology under Joseph Ratzinger prior to his elevation to the pontificate, told LifeSiteNews, “Neither the pope nor Bishop Sorondo can speak on a matter of science with any binding authority, so to use the word ‘magisterium’ in both cases is equivocal at best, and ignorant in any case.” Fr. Fessio added, “To equate a papal position on abortion with a position on global warming is worse than wrong; it is an embarrassment for the Church.”
The conference, “In Dialogue with Laudato Si’: Can Free Markets Help Us Care for Our Common Home?” was held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross with over 200 attendees including members of the media, professors, and students of the Pontifical Universities.
The controversy was sparked when in his address Bishop Sorondo spoke of “global warming” saying that in Laudato Si “for the first time in the Magisterium” Pope Francis “denounces the scientifically identifiable causes of this evil, declaring that: ‘a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.’” He repeated the point later, saying, “faith and reason, philosophical knowledge and scientific knowledge, are brought together for the first time in the pontifical Magisterium in Laudato Si’.”
These points were contradicted in the presentation by Acton Institute founder and President Father Robert Sirico who said it is “important to underscore the distinction between the theological dimension of Laudato si’ and its empirical, scientific, and economic claims.” He explained, “The Church does not claim to speak with the same authority on matters of economics and science… as it does when pronouncing on matters of faith and morals.”
Quoting the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine to support his point, Fr. Sirico said: “Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic or social order; the purpose he assigned to her was a religious one. . . . This means that the Church does not intervene in technical questions with her social doctrine, nor does she propose or establish systems or models of social organization. This is not part of the mission entrusted to her by Christ” (CCSD 68).
Father Joseph Fessio: “To equate a papal position on abortion with a position on global warming is worse than wrong; it is an embarrassment for the Church.”