Local Catholics react to Pope Francis' encyclical letter

Hannah Grover The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — In the first chapter of the biblical Book of Genesis, God, having created the Earth, gives it to humans and tells them that they have dominion over all animals.

How humans treat the Earth was the topic of Pope Francis' encyclical letter released earlier this month.

The more than 180-page letter, titled "Laudato Si," which means "Praise Be to You," was dated May 24, but released June 18. It is Pope Francis' second encyclical letter and addressed not only Catholics, but the entire human population.

The controversial letter, which calls for a global discussion about climate change, has gained attention from both the religious and secular crowds. The document likely raised some eyebrows among Catholics in San Juan County, where the economy is largely based on the extraction of fossil fuels.

Father Timothy Farrell, the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Farmington, said he had not read the entire letter when he was contacted on Tuesday and referred comment to the Diocese of Gallup. Other local priests could not be reached for comment by Saturday.

But in an emailed statement sent to The Daily Times, Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup, which encompasses Farmington, wrote, "One of the central points of Pope Francis' encyclical harkens back to the beginning of the Bible, where in Genesis, God entrusts men to be stewards of His creation. Creation is not ours — rather we are entrusted with the gift of creation, and we must treat it as a gift. As stewards of the earth, we must be conscious as to what we hand on to future generations. In the encyclical, Pope Francis asks the poignant question: 'What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?' He is inviting everyone to a conversation as to how we might best take care of 'our common home'."

Part of this caring for "our common home" is reducing emissions, Pope Francis wrote. In the letter, he said "the use of highly polluting fossil fuels — especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay."

That section of the letter was where state Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington — a Catholic and chairman of the state House's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee — disagreed with the pope.

"I think he's got his facts wrong," Strickler said.

He disagrees that climate change is caused by humans and cited a cold period in the 1970s when people were concerned with global cooling.

Strickler also pointed out the human dependency on fossil fuels.

"Everybody wants to turn on their lights on demand," he said.

Strickler said renewable energy technology currently is not at a point where it can be used to replace fossil fuels.

While Strickler disagreed with the pope on fossil fuels and the cause of climate change, he said the encyclical hasn't shaken his faith.

"It's not dogma," he said about the letter. "It's just an opinion."

He said he agreed with other topics addressed in the letter, such as the need for clean air and clean water, and the sanctity of human life.

Suzanne Hammons, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Gallup, said the letter was not a call for Catholics not to work in coal-, oil- and gas-related industries. Instead, she said the letter is meant to encourage people to live more sustainable lives.

She said the letter does not represent official church policy, but rather reiterates what other church officials have said in the past.

"I don't think it's anything that people haven't heard," Hammons said.

She said Pope Francis also brought up other issues.

"It kind of ties in exactly with what the church has always taught," she said.

One of those issues is population control, especially abortion.

"The church has always taught that abortion is a grave evil," Hammons said.

Pope Francis linked the environmental condition with a decline in the human condition.

"When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected," he wrote in the encyclical letter.

While the pope did not offer solutions, he encouraged people to make changes in their lifestyle to help reduce the severity of climate change.

"Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning," Pope Francis wrote. "We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or to our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us."

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.