Going green: Covering Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical

Three days after his election, Pope Francis explained that one reason he chose his name was to honor St. Francis of Assisi, “the man who loves and protects creation.”

This month (June 2015) he will back up that statement with an authoritative document, called an encyclical, on the environment, the first pope to dedicate an encyclical to the theme of ecology.

The title is “Laudato Si,” or “Praise Be,” and it is drawn from one of his namesake’s most famous hymns of praise, “Canticle of the Creatures.” This is Pope Francis’ second encyclical, but the first that is the product of his own initiative. An encyclical on the topic of faith, published in June 2013, a few months after Francis’ election, effectively completed a document that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI left unfinished when he resigned.

An encyclical is one of the most authoritative statements a pope can make, though it is not an infallible declaration and does not necessarily define doctrine. (See this May 20, 2015, story in U.S. Catholic by Daniel DiLeo on levels of church teaching and authority related to encyclicals.)

Still, “Laudato Sii” will make the environment and climate change a front-burner issue for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Given that global warming is such a critical and controversial topic, Francis’ encyclical could help shape the religious narrative on these issues.

The Catholic Church, environmentalists and many ecology activists have high hopes for the reach of this encyclical because of the pope’s great popularity. But others say the pope’s approach is misguided for its acceptance of climate change as man-made. Still others object to the Catholic Church’s linking of creation care with social justice and care for the poor — those usually the most impacted by polluted rivers, smoggy air and rising tides.

What will the encyclical include? How much effect will it have inside the church? Will it have any influence outside the borders of Catholicism? What effect will the encyclical have as he prepares for a visit to the U.S. that will include stops at the United Nations and Congress?

This edition of ReligionLink aims to help reporters tackle those questions before and after the encyclical’s publication.


  • June 18, 2015 — Pope Francis is expected to deliver “Laudato Sii,” his first encyclical on the environment.
  • Sept. 23 — Francis will visit the White House and meet with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
  • Sept. 24 — The pope will address a joint session of Congress.
  • Sept. 25 — Pope Francis will speak before the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Sept. 26 and 27 — Pope Francis will attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
  • December — The United Nations will hold talks in Paris on climate change and other environmental issues.


What to expect:

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana has been the pope’s point man on environmental issues and has contributed to the encyclical. Turkson has spoken of “integral ecology” — the idea that the Earth faces many environmental crises that are linked to each other (threatened food supply, polluted air, deforestation, etc.) and to humanity. Turkson’s integral ecology has four main points:

  • All people are called to be protectors of the environment.
  • Care for the environment is a virtue.
  • Humanity must care for what it cherishes and reveres.
  • A new global solidarity is vital to the common good.

Pope Francis has discussed the environment in several speeches, addresses and sermons before this encyclical. In a July 5, 2014, address at an Italian university, he likened environmental degradation to “a sin.”

Catholic Climate Covenant has a page of statements on climate change and the environment made by several Catholic bodies and organizations.

Other popes have tackled climate change and the environment, including:

  • Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — His 2009 encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” touched on climate change but did not focus on it. He made the Vatican the first carbon-neutral state through solar panels and the purchase of carbon offsets. In 2011, he spoke supportively of the United Nations’ climate change meeting in South Africa, and in 2010, he called climate change a threat to “human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development.” At his retirement, The Guardian dubbed him “the first green pontiff.”
  • St. John Paul II — In his 1990 World Day of Peace message, he linked poverty, injustice and war to an “ecological crisis.” He repeated the message in his 1999 World Day of Peace message.
  • Pope Paul VI — In 1971, he issued an “apostolic letter” in which he wrote, “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also been concerned with environmental issues:

  • June 2001 — The USCCB issued a statement on global climate change that reframed it from a science issue to a moral one.
  • November 1991 — The USCCB issued “Renewing the Earth,” a pastoral statement that framed environmentalism as creation care and a moral responsibility.
  • 1981 — The USCCB published “Reflections on the Energy Crisis,” which recognized climate change as man-made and framed it as a moral issue for the church.

News stories:


  • Watch a recording of “Pope Francis and the Environment: Why His New Climate Encyclical Matters,” a panel held by the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology in April 2015.
  • Watch or read a speech given by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who is working with Pope Francis on the encyclical, at an international conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on climate change and stewardship in April 2015.


  • Read a statement of the attendees of an April 2015 climate conference at the Vatican on the necessity for religious leaders and communities to address “human-induced climate change” and more.


Catholic organizations with an environmental focus

  • Catholic Climate Covenant

    Catholic Climate Covenant is an umbrella environmental and climate change advocacy organization that includes multiple Catholic organizations, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It organizes public letters to policymakers on environmental topics and provides training on lobbying.

  • Catholic Conservation Center

    The Catholic Conservation Center is a website based in New York that offers Catholics ways to connect Roman Catholic teaching to environmental causes. Contact site founder Bill Jacobs.

  • Environmental Justice Program

    The Environmental Justice Program, a program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, educates and motivates Catholics to a deeper reverence and respect for God’s creation and encourages Catholics to address environmental problems, especially as they affect poor and vulnerable people. The program serves as a resource for Catholic dioceses and state Catholic conferences, and through them Catholic parishes. Contact through the website.

  • Franciscan Action Network

    The Franciscan Action Network is a Washington, D.C.-based grassroots network of Franciscan clergy and “Franciscan-hearted” laypeople who focus on peacemaking, climate care, social justice and poverty, among other issues. Patrick Carolan is executive director.

    Rhett Engelking is director of FAN’s “Earth Care” project. Contact [email protected].

    Contact: 202-527-7575.
  • Global Catholic Climate Movement

    Global Catholic Climate Movement is an international organization that helps coordinate the work of more than 650 smaller Catholic groups and congregations concerned about the environment and climate change. They describe Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, as their founding document.

Other religion-based organizations with an environmental focus

  • A Rocha

    A Rocha is an international Christian organization working to care for the environment. The organization has projects in many countries around the world. The organization’s U.S. office is in Fredericksburg, Texas.

    Contact: +44 (0)300 770 1346.
  • Alliance of Religions and Conservation

    The Alliance of Religions and Conservation is an international secular organization that works to help religious bodies develop environmental stewardship programs. It’s based in Bath, England.

  • Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies

    The Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies defines its mission as promoting “knowledge of the Creation with biblical principles for the purpose of bringing the Christian community and the general public to a better understanding of the Creator and the stewardship of God’s Creation.” It conducts programs to promote Christian environmental stewardship through academic and community programs, outreach and retreats. The institute maintains campuses in Michigan, Washington state, Costa Rica and India. Fred Van Dyke is executive director.

  • Bread for the World

    Bread for the World is the largest faith-based advocacy movement against hunger, a collective of Christian groups. It posts hunger facts and figures. It is based in Washington, D.C.

    Asma Lateef (English), David Beckmann (English and Spanish), and Jose Garcia (English and Spanish) can address how the encyclical might effect world food supplies. Contact Chris Ford, media relations manager.

  • Buddhist Peace Fellowship

    The Buddhist Peace Fellowship works for peace from diverse Buddhist perspectives. It’s based in Berkeley, Calif. Dawn Haney and Katie Loncke are co-directors.

    One of the fellowship’s main areas of work is the environment, which it approaches from a social justice point of view.

  • Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology

    The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology wants to establish religion and ecology as an area of study and research in universities, colleges, seminaries and other religiously affiliated institutions. The forum arose out of a series of conferences on the world’s religions and ecology hosted by the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions.

    In April, forum members took part in a panel at Yale on the forthcoming encyclical and why it matters.

Religious environmental organizations overseas

  • AIDRom

    AIDRom is a project of the Ecumenical Association of the Churches of Romania that encourages member churches to promote environmental protection, ecological education and sustainable development. Members include the Orthodox Church, the Reformed Church, the German Lutheran Church, the Synodo-Presbyterial Church of AC and the Armenian Orthodox Church. It is based in Bucharest, Romania.

  • Australian Religious Response to Climate Change

    The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change is a multifaith organization of Australians committed to taking action on climate change through policy and advocacy. It is based in Sydney. The contact person is secretary Miriam Pepper.

    Contact: 02 9252 5200.
  • Conservation Foundation

    The Conservation Foundation is a secular environmental organization in London that works with the Church of England on environmental issues and programs. One project focuses on educating local bishops in how their congregations can be greener. Contact David Shreeve, executive director.

  • European Christian Environmental Network

    The European Christian Environmental Network is a church network promoting cooperation in caring for creation. The network is based in Brussels.

International and national sources

Papal supporters and critics


  • Patrick N. Allitt

    Patrick N. Allitt is a professor of American history at Emory University in Atlanta. In his book Religion in America Since 1945: A History, he looks at the role religion has played in public school education. He is also an expert on religion and environmentalism and is author of the book A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism. He has also written about American Catholics and the environment.

  • Steven Bouma-Prediger

    Steven Bouma-Prediger is the author of For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care. He is a professor of religion at Hope College in Holland, Mich., where he leads the environmental studies program.

  • David Cloutier

    David Cloutier is on the theology faculty at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., where he teaches courses on moral theology, Catholic social ethics, and marriage and sexual ethics. He is the author of Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Faith and Love, Reason and God’s Story: An Introduction to Catholic Sexual Ethics.

  • Margaret Farley

    Margaret Farley is professor emerita of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School. Her scholarship and research includes ethical methodology, medical ethics, sexual ethics, social ethics, historical theological ethics, ethics and spirituality, justice and HIV/AIDS. In April 2015, she took part in a panel discussion hosted by the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies titled “Pope Francis and the Environment: Why His New Climate Encyclical Matters.” She is the author of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (2006).

  • Randolph Haluza-DeLay

    Randolph Haluza-DeLay is associate professor of sociology at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta. His research mainly focuses on environmental social movements. He is co-editor of the 2013 book How the World’s Religions are Responding to Climate Change: Social Scientific Investigations.

  • Neil Ormerod

    Neil Ormerod is a professor of theology at Australian Catholic University in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. He is director of its Centre for Catholic Thought and Practice. Anticipating Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, he called it “a landmark in Catholic social teaching.”

    Contact: +612 9701 4062.
  • Christiana Peppard

    Christiana Peppard is an assistant professor of theology, science and ethics at Fordham University in New York City. Her focus is on clean water and ideas of nature and man. She is the author of Just Water: Theology, Ethics and the Global Water Crisis and teaches classes on human nature and Darwin, theology and science, American religiosity, religion and ecology, environmental ethics, and faith and critical reason.

  • Jame Schaefer

    Jame Schaefer is an associate professor of theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee. She specializes in the intersection of Christian, and especially Catholic, theology and the sciences, including environmental science.

  • Lisa Sideris

    Lisa Sideris is an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. Her research interests include religion and nature; environmental and animal ethics; science and religion; evolution controversies; religion and bioethic; and environmental history and literature. She wrote Environmental Ethics, Ecological Theology and Natural Selection, which looks at Christian environmental ethics and its relationship to Darwinian theory.

  • Sarah McFarland Taylor

    Sarah McFarland Taylor is an associate professor of religion at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is the author of Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology, about the growing number and strength of environmentally activist Roman Catholic nuns. She is at work on Green Convergence: Religion, Environment and Popular Culture and has also written about creation spirituality; the Gaian, or Earth-based, Mass; the idea of the eco-church; and the general “greening” of religion in America. She teaches several courses on religion and ecology.

  • Tobias Winwright

    Tobias Winwright serves as an associate professor of health care ethics and is an associate professor of theological ethics at St. Louis University. He is a Roman Catholic moral theologian who has co-authored After the Smoke Clears: The Just War Tradition and Post War Justice, and he edited Green Discipleship: Catholic Theological Ethics and the Environment.

  • Mary Evelyn Tucker

    Mary Evelyn Tucker is a senior lecturer and research scholar at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Divinity School and department of religious studies. She also directs the Forum on Religion and Ecology with her husband, John Grim.

    She spoke on a panel at Yale in April 2015 about the encyclical and why it matters.

  • Rachel Hart Winter

    Rachel Hart Winter is the director of the Siena Center at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. Her research focuses on Catholic ecological ethics, particularly on access to clean water as a fundamental human right. Contact via Tina Weinheimer, assistant director of public relations and communications for the university.

Papal experts

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • M. Shawn Copeland

    M. Shawn Copeland is a professor of theology at Boston College. She researches theological and philosophical anthropology and political theology, as well as African and African-derived religious and cultural experience and African-American intellectual history. She teaches courses on theology and the body, political theology and black theology.

    She spoke with National Catholic Reporter about her expectations of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical.

  • Dan DiLeo

    Dan DiLeo is project manager for Catholic Climate Covenant. He helped coordinate the publication of “Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI’s Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States” and is a doctoral student in theological ethics at Boston College. Contact via Catholic Climate Covenant’s Washington office.

  • Crystal Spring

    Crystal Spring is a mission of the Kentucky Dominican Sisters that works to educate the public on such topics as organic gardening, cooking, ecology, cosmology, spiritual reflection, ecofeminism and creative arts. Crystal Spring operates the Religious Lands Conservancy Project, which helps communities of Catholic women protect their land. It is based in Plainville, Mass.

  • Genesis Farm

    Genesis Farm is a project of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, N.J. It combines spirituality, education and sustainable agriculture to promote human and ecological health and to foster a feeling of mutuality with nature. It is based in Blairstown, N.J.

    Contact: 908-362-6735.
  • Beth Norcross

    Beth Norcross is an adjunct faculty member in eco-theology and eco-spirituality at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. She co-founded the Green Seminary Initiative and has developed several Earth-centered educational resources for congregations and individuals.

  • Michael Peppard

    Michael Peppard is an assistant professor at Fordham University in New York City.

    He has commented on Pope Francis’ previous statements about the environment and the church.

In the South

  • Alex Mikulich

    Alex Mikulich is an assistant professor of Catholic social thought at the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University in New Orleans. He is a Roman Catholic theologian and social ethicist who focuses on race. He is a contributing author to The Scandal of White Complicity in U.S. Hyper-incarceration: A Nonviolent Spirituality of White Resistance.

    He spoke with National Catholic Reporter about his expectations of the encyclical.

  • Michael Pasquier

    Michael Pasquier is an associate professor of philosophy and religion at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he specializes in the history of religion and culture in the U.S. He teaches courses on religion and cinema, religion in Louisiana and religion in Southern culture, as well as a course on American Catholicism.

    Recently, he’s been studying the relationship between Louisiana’s coastal areas, which have faced many environmental challenges, and the religion of its residents.

  • Bron Raymond Taylor

    Bron Raymond Taylor is a religion professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he helped to launch a graduate program in religion and nature. Taylor was also instrumental in the formation of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture and served as its first president from 2006-2009. He is considered a leading scholar on religion and nature, and his books include (as editor) the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature and (as author) Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future.


  • Daniel Scheid

    Daniel Scheid is an assistant professor of theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He teaches classes on Christian social ethics.

    He spoke of his expectations of the encyclical with National Catholic Reporter.

In the Midwest

  • Center for Earth Spirituality

    The Center for Earth Spirituality is a ministry of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, Minn. The center promotes awareness and ways of living that support the interdependence of all life. Contact is Lisa Coons.

  • Franciscan Earth Literacy Center

    The Franciscan Earth Literacy Center is an organization committed to promoting sustainability and a healthy relationship with the environment. It is a mission of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Charity and is based in Tiffin, Ohio.

  • Paula Gonzalez

    Sister Paula Gonzalez is a member of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati who has been involved in energy and environmental issues since the 1970s. A former biology professor, she regularly gives talks on eco-spirituality and related topics. She was instrumental in establishing EarthConnection, a nonprofit environmental learning center in Cincinnati.

  • Michaela Farm

    Michaela Farm is a project of the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Ind. It promotes the respectful use of resources, sustainability, gratitude, hospitality and caring. The sisters and staff work with farm animals and grow food for a nearby food bank.

  • Vincent J. Miller

    Vincent J. Miller is a professor of Catholic theology at the University of Dayton. Miller is an expert on religion and politics and the Catholic Church’s role in politics and public policy.

  • Ronald Pagnucco

    Ronald Pagnucco is an associate professor of peace studies at College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. His research interests include the connection between religion, politics and peace.

    He spoke with National Catholic Reporter about his expectations of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical.

  • Robin Globus Veldman

    Robin Globus Veldman is a visiting scholar at Texas A&M University. She studies the relationship between religion and the environment, with a focus on American evangelicalism.

In the West

  • Environmental Ministries of Southern California

    Environmental Ministries of Southern California is based in San Diego and works with local congregations to highlight the spiritual and religious aspects of environmental issues through outreach, political advocacy, networking and programs. Contact the Rev. Peter Moore-Kochlacs.

  • Monastery of St. Gertrude

    The Monastery of St. Gertrude is run by the Benedictine Sisters of Idaho. They adopted a “philosophy of land use” for their 1,400 acres, part of the homeland of the Nez Perce Native American people. Their philosophy calls the sisters to care for land that was entrusted to them by God, to live harmoniously with the rest of creation and to promote reverential and responsible stewardship. They adopt an environmentally friendly lifestyle, participate in ecological healing efforts, educate themselves about ecology, balance ecological land management with profitable land use and maintain a spirit of reverence and an environment of peace. The monastery is in Cottonwood, Idaho.

  • Andrew Szasz

    Andrew Szasz is professor and chair of sociology at the University of California-Santa Cruz. He is co-author of the book How the World’s Religions Are Responding to Climate Change.

  • Whidbey Institute for Earth, Spirit and the Human Future

    The Whidbey Institute for Earth, Spirit and the Human Future is an interreligious organization and a distinctive learning and retreat center committed to providing diverse educational offerings that contribute to positive spiritual, ecological and cultural transformation. It is based in Clinton, Wash., on Whidbey Island.