3.4.4 Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis

Back to 3.4.3

Unit 3 Contents



At the very start of this unit was a quotation from Benedict XVI: “The environment must be seen as God’s gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations.”

This came from his Message for the 2010 World Day of Peace (#2). Especially during the first half of his eight-year papacy, Benedict made several statements on ecological issues, to the extent that some have dubbed him the Green Pope.  Here is a short reading from the US magazine Newsweek on this theme.



Reading (2pp)

Daniel Stone, ‘The Green Pope’, Newsweek, 17 April 2008


You will have noticed that this article refers back to Pope John Paul II’s 1990 Message, which you read just now.  It seems to have become a tradition that popes address ecological issues in their annual World Day of Peace messages; Benedict XVI did so in 2007 (##8-9), 2008 (##7-8) – the latter published just a few months before that Newsweek article – and 2010.  We turn to the last of these in moment.

Pope Benedict did so also in his third encyclical in 2009, Caritas in Veritate (##48-52), which is mainly about economics, business and international development.  (In this module, some of this encyclical is studied in Unit 5.)

In Caritas in Veritate the Pope said that it is necessary to reject a view which,

aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a ‘grammar’ which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation (#48).

This reference to a ‘grammar’ in nature is Benedict’s way of speaking about what Pope John Paul referred to also, in his 1990 Message: “there is an order in the universe which must be respected, and [which]… the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve… for the well-being of future generations” (#15, quoted in 3.4.2 ‘Response to Exercise’).

Benedict XVI’s fullest statement on ecological responsibility is the 2010 World Day of Peace Message, entitled ‘If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation’.  This is the next reading.  It more or less forms a summary of everything you have studied in secs 3 and 4 of this unit.

You will see that the Pope presents much of what he says here in terms of the main principles of CST which Unit 2 introduced.  He refers to:

      • ‘solidarity’ (##7-8 and elsewhere)
      • ‘the universal destination of goods’ (#8)
      • ‘the common good’ (#9)
      • ‘integral human development’ (##9-10)
      • ‘subsidiarity’ (#11)
      • ‘the natural moral law’ (#12)
      • ‘the dignity of the human person’ (##12-13).

Therefore this piece of writing will be much easier to understand in light of study done so far for this module than it might otherwise be.


Reading (10pp)

Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Peace, 2010:

If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation




In what ways, if any, does Benedict go further in this statement than his predecessor did in the 1990 Message for the World Day of Peace?

Was it necessary for him to go further, or is the task required more a matter of calling people to repent and to ‘ecological conversion’?  What do you think?


Benedict XVI’s totally unexpected resignation in early 2013 led to the election of a pope who, for the first time ever, took the name Francis.  This marked the beginning a papacy which already includes a stronger emphasis on ecological issues than that of his predecessor.  Francis explained his choice of name to journalists a few days after his election: he said that, when it became clear in the conclave that he had been elected Pope, the Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes “embraced me and kissed me and said: ‘Don’t forget the poor’… and that struck me… the poor… Immediately I thought of St Francis of Assisi. Francis was a man of peace, a man of poverty, a man who loved and protected creation.”1

In Francis’s inauguration mass a few days later, which took place on the feast of St Joseph, the Husband of Mary, the Pope spoke about what it means to be a ‘protector’:

The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us…  In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!2

It could hardly be clearer that ecological protection was at the centre of Pope Francis’s concern at the very start.  Since then he has addressed this issue a number of times, most fully in his General Audience to pilgrims in Rome on 5th June 2013.  He reflected then on what it means that God made humans “to till and keep” the garden in which God placed them, according to Gen. 2.  If you have time, read this short address.


Optional reading (2pp)

Pope Francis, General Audience, St Peter’s Square, 5 June 2013


Much more significantly, the Vatican confirmed early in 2014 that Pope Francis has begun to prepare an encyclical addressing ecological protection.  The work on this was described as being in its early stages and there has been (at Mar. 2014) no indication on when this will be published.3

If and when this appears, it will be fascinating to assess the extent to which Pope Francis develops the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI that we have studied in this part of the unit.

We shall now move on to an assessment of what we have found in CST on ecological protection and some arguments about how it might need to develop.  In the course of this we consider possible reasons for why there has not been an encyclical on this subject previously.



End of 3.4.4


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  1. ‘Pope Francis reveals why he chose his name’, Catholic Herald, 16 Mar. 2013, accessible (24 Mar. 2014) at http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/03/16/pope-francis-reveals-why-he-chose-name/ 

  2. Homily of Pope Francis, Saint Peter’s Square, 19 Mar. 2013, accessible (25 Mar. 2014) at www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130319_omelia-inizio-pontificato_en.html 

  3. See Philip Pullella, ‘Pope preparing major statement on ecology’, Reuters, 25 Jan. 2014, accessible (24 Mar. 2014) at http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/01/25/pope-environment-idINDEEA0O01820140125