Why Male Clerics Promote Papal Teaching on Abortion & Contraception But Not on Climate Change

Patriarchy climate change

Why is it that under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI Roman Catholics heard no end of sermons about the evils of contraception and abortion? And yet today we’ve heard hardly a pulpit peep about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change – published fully nine months ago. On the contrary, chanceries throughout the country (including the Lexington diocese) have been scrambling to sweep Laudato Si’ under the sanctuary carpet.

Could it be that Pope Francis has touched on an issue that lays moral burdens on men, their businesses and pocketbooks, and not primarily on women? The latter, of course, bear the main burden of unwanted pregnancies. So the all-male clergy has found itself courageously outspoken in defending human life, the “personhood” of fetuses (based on medieval science), and in prohibiting contraception rationalized on a similarly grounded morality of “natural law.” So, papal pronouncements about such questions are definitive, infallible, and universally binding (on women!).

Meanwhile, Laudato Si’ challenges the patriarchal economic system of capitalism, the coal and oil industries, Wall Street, and the one percent. Good Catholic men are up to their necks in all of that. So are bishops and the clergy in general.

So, the “pro-life” hierarchy hastens to distance itself from its infallible leader. They do so even though Francis claims to defend life in ways that far surpass concerns about sperm, eggs, zygotes, fetuses, and stem cell research. He’s defending the future of the planet and the human race!

An example of such double-standard is provided by the Lexington diocese’s Discovering Laudato Si’: a Small Group Discussion Guide. It not only softens Pope Francis’ teaching about climate; it actually contradicts them. For instance:

  • Pope Francis says that the issue of human caused climate change has been settled by the vast majority of climate scientists. The diocesan guide says “The debate will probably not be resolved anytime soon.”
  • Pope Francis writes that addressing the issue is “urgent” and must be confronted “here and now.” The diocesan booklet affirms that we are not called to “rush headlong into the fray. . . We have been given time to reflect, to absorb, to be transformed.” The Church’s slow response, it says, has precedent and purpose.
  • Pope Francis spends the preponderance of his encyclical addressing the structural causes of climate chaos including the unbridled market, the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and even specific issues such as carbon trading. Yet the diocesan booklet says that it is not yet time for “larger responses.” In the meantime, we are told, “Pope Francis has given us many little tasks we can begin right away.” Basically they are to reduce, recycle, reuse.
  • Pope Francis celebrates climate change activists and their organizations. He quotes approvingly from their Earth Charter, recommends boycotts, and employs the language of “climate debt” borrowed from those resisting mining operations in Latin America. Yet Discovering Laudato Si’ discourages such organizing. “Fortunately,” it says, “the Pope is not calling us to ecological crusade.” Joining movements, it adds, is worse than doing nothing.

While all this hesitancy and caution in defense of LIFE writ large? Why the endless chatter about moral obligations primarily directed at women?

Might it be that a pope has finally said something that threatens patriarchy?

As they say, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be the eighth sacrament.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “Why Male Clerics Promote Papal Teaching on Abortion & Contraception But Not on Climate Change”

  1. I think there’s probably much sad truth in what you have written here Mike. Which is great because it will help us distinguish more clearly what needs to change.

    And thankfully it’s not the “patri-” (i.e. the fatherness/the maleness) that is irredeemable but only the ‘archy’ (the rule for self). And lets not forget there are women too who prioritize economics, power, privilege, ego and success in this physical life above that values you are promoting, who bolster their (fairly willing to start with) menfolk in to do the dilution, subterfuge, and other dirty work.

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    1. You’re spot-on, John. We are all victims of patriarchy — men, women, and children. Sadly, in order to “make it” under such circumstances women must conform as well and even at times present themselves as more patriarchal than men. I think of the world’s women presidents. Having a woman president hasn’t so far meant kinder, gentler or more enlightened policy. For election’s sake, they’ve had to pretend to be more tough and warlike than men. And they’ve often succeeded in convincing the public and in carrying out corresponding policies. As Pope Francis points out, the whole socio-economic system needs to change.

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