A disconcerting document like the Instrumentum Laboris for the Amazon Synod can only be understood as the outcome of the constant growth of an ecologist current in the Church, which had its official recognition and therefore elevation to doctrine in the encyclical Laudato Si (2015).
The turning point represented by the encyclical on the environment goes far beyond paying attention to our “common home”. In fact, it takes a distance from traditional Catholic anthropology to include social and political categories rooted in social Darwinism. Laudato Si echoes the Earth Charter, a declaration of fundamental ethical principles that emanates from a project developed at the United Nations. In it, man loses his centrality in Creation and becomes part of a “community of life” in which he has equal dignity with animals and plants. This is a fundamentally pantheistic vision such that the Encyclical’s due reference to Christian Revelation seems merely juxtaposed to religious conceptions that have a very different root.
In Catholicism, harmony in Creation comes from a correct relationship of man with his surrounding environment and with God, summarized in the formula “nature is for man, but man is for God.” In other words, man’s correct relationship with nature is a consequence of his recognition of belonging to God, to whom one is responsible for the way one uses the gifts of nature and relates with other men. This is exactly the vision that lies beneath the much misunderstood and instrumentalized Canticle of Creatures of St. Francis.
Although Laudato Si explicitly criticizes the “biocentrism” typical of the so-called “deep ecology,” the strong and justified criticism of modern anthropocentrism does not reaffirm the traditional Catholic vision. This is so much so that the experience of Benedictine monasticism, dismissed with a joke, is in fact history’s greatest example of the meaning of a correct relationship with nature that comes from “Quaerere Deum“: by living his life in search of God, man collaborates in the work of Creation by making nature blossom around him. Instead, the encyclical proposes primitive and aboriginal communities (No. 146) as a model of harmony between man and nature, a vision as idyllic as it is unreal. The Instrumentum Laboris takes this exaltation of indigenous cultures to extreme consequences.
This approach is not surprising considering that a decisive contribution to the writing of Laudato Si came from the former Brazilian Franciscan friar Leonardo Boff, the principal exponent of liberation theology already condemned in the 1980s by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Boff has lived in an ecological reserve since the 1990s and, in addition to his academic and writing activities, he has supported the main ecological and Marxist movements in Latin America. He himself disclosed that Pope Francis called him and said he wanted to read all his books as an aid to write Laudato Si.
His influence is more than evident, as is, for example, the acritical assumption of environmental catastrophism – climatic, but not only – as the foundation to establish what the Pope has called “ecological conversion”. It is the first time that a social and political analysis questionable by its very nature and subject to corrections becomes the foundation of a magisterial act. This is the same approach we find in the Instrumentum Laboris.
Another fundamental turning point in Laudato Si is the adoption of the concept of “sustainable development”, which the previous pontificates had always rejected. Indeed, it is too superficially believed that “sustainability” refers simply to the inclusion of respect for the environment among the criteria to evaluate economic, social and political initiatives. Instead, sustainability is a much broader concept affirmed in UN circles in the 1980s, which results from an atheistic and materialistic conception. The basis of the concept of sustainability is a negative vision of man as a disturbing element for the global ecosystem: for this reason, global environmental policies tend to limit man’s impact both quantitatively and qualitatively. As a result, you must have birth control in poor countries, put the brakes on development, and promote de-industrialization in rich countries.
In Laudato Si we find a strong accentuation of the second aspect but a rejection of the methods of birth control in principle. Now if one assumes the principles underlying a global conception of the man-nature relationship as good but refuse to adopt their practical consequences, this becomes pure moralism bound to completely surrender sooner or later. In other words, if we accept as a fact that human presence and activity is harmful to the environment and puts the very survival of the planet at risk if we continue to launch alarms about the coming catastrophe and claim we are on the brink of the precipice, we must sooner or later accept emergency measures to stop human activity such as contraception. Likewise, if one considers aboriginal culture a model of harmony, the consequence can only be appreciation for animist religions and condemnation of evangelization, which in fact clearly appears in the Instrumentum Laboris.
Therefore, at stake is not so much the care for the environment – which is obviously a duty – nor measures to save the Amazon forest (assuming this is a specific task of the Church). There is much more: the very content of the Catholic faith. For this reason, it is important for the bishops to become aware of it and begin by rejecting the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod on the Amazon.
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