Someday soon, Pope Francis will issue his encyclical on climate change, or sustainability or global warming, or whatever he ends up calling it. Many have already decided to oppose it, and, indeed, are taking to the blogs to criticize the whole idea, sight unseen.
Now, the Bear thinks the encyclical is likely to be the same bunk we've been seeing for it seems like forever from the Left. But this time, it isn't coming from the secular Left. It is coming from Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome. And that, friends, makes a difference.
But no, it doesn't, some may reply. Encyclicals are not infallible!
It is true that encyclicals are not infallible per se. They might as well be, in some cases, however. Humanae Vitae was a virtual restatement of the Church's continual teaching on the matters it touched. It was built on prior infallible teachings.
But more to the point, infallible or not, Catholics are not free to mock, dispute and disregard an encyclical. In fact, we're required to get on board with it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 892 says this:
Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.
Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 236). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.
In other words, the Pope is given divine assistance to so exercise his ordinary magisterium in such a way so as to help the faithful understand issues of faith and morals.
So, what does this "religious assent" look like? The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium shows the answer:
This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.
Lumen Gentium 25.
Now, any scientific claims need not be adopted, since they are not matters of faith or morals. But what about moral conclusions flowing from bogus scientific conclusions? They may not be infallible, but they deserve the reverence of religious assent.
Until we actually have a chance to study the document, we don't know how it is framed. These comments are provisional. Faithful Catholics are going to have to be very careful. Of course, it does not help that, on his part, Pope Francis has undermined the trust of a large minority of Catholics through his mishandling of the Synod on the Family, his eccentricities, and his insults. "Religious assent" may be hard to come by.