Will it be _Humanae Vitae_ or _Mater et Magistra_?

In 1961, when Pope St. John XXIII issued his social justice encyclical Mater et Magistra, Garry Wills, then of National Review, and later author of Papal Sins (a book that perpetuates calumniation of Pope Pius XII in the name of promoting contraception), utteinfamous “Mater, si; Magisra, no” to William F. Buckley, Jr., who quoted it in his own column. In his spiritual autobiography, Nearer, My God, WFB expresses regret for the quotation.

The alleged “dissent” from the “Right” in the Church usually comes in matters of positive law. In Veritatis Splendor, Pope St. John Paul II says that negative law (“negative law”) is always absolute, but application of positive law (“thou shalt”) is relative. Nevertheless, the quote about dissent from the seemingly socialist Mater et Magistra (even though many of its suggestions have since been implemented and are now considered hallmarks of capitalism) has been dragged out both every time a “conservative” questions a Pope and every time a conservative challenges a liberal’s “dissent.”

Even Ralph McInerny traces the popularity of Wills’ assertion to the massive dissent that accompanied Humanae Vitae seven years later, and, though seemingly divided in the US political spectrum, there is certainly a connection–after all, as already noted, Wills opposed HV, as well.

Since the beginning of Pope Francis’s papacy, though many on both “sides” of the spectrum have insisted he is a radically new kind of pope, I have been struck by the parallels to Paul VI and the early John Paul II. I have said repeatedly that he will have his _Humanae Vitae_ moment.

It may be the Synod on the Family, or it may be his upcoming encyclical on “Global Warming.” The Left has been salivating about this announced encyclical for months–the “National Catholic Fishwraps'” Michael Sean Winters argued several months ago that “stopping global warming” must be a greater political priority than abortion because the possible passive death of all life on earth is supposedly a worse evil than the active and intentional slaughter of millions.

Now, as a conservationist conservative, I don’t see why anyone who believes in the Natural Law, preserving the status quo or economic efficiency should see a conflict between political conservatism and conservation of natural resources. I have always argued that the environment is one of the issues where liberals are right in principle but not practice, and where Republicans could get a lot of support if they just adjusted to promoting a localist, subsidiarist approach contra the Democrats’ use of environmentalism as an excuse for socialism.

That said, I hope the Holy Father does not take a definitive stance on “man-made Global Warming,” since, as Robert George is being lampooned as a hypocrite for pointing out, that is a science issue, not a theology issue. Centuries from now, if Global Warming turns out to be the hoax many of us think it is, Pope Francis risks this being ranked with Galileo and Columbus as one of the many times the Church allegedly was “against science.”

One of the memories I retain most vividly from elementary school is the picture from my second grade social studies book (1984-1985) of how, by the time we were in our thirties, we’d all be wearing gas masks and protective gear because of the acid rain an nuclear fallout. When I was in high school, I learned the chemical formulae that made acid rain inevitable. I did a science fair project on testing the pH of rain and various bodies of water in my town. I found little evidence of acid rain, and that same semester, a study was published saying the same thing.

Then people started talking about “Global Warming.” 20 years later, the climate is more or less the same, if not more like it was in the 80s to begin with. “Global Warming” has become “Climate change,” and there are debates over “man made” versus a matter of natural cycles–a theory I read in the late 90s. We hear from politicians, journalists and celebrities that the “science is settled,” that the “scientific community” is in agreement and the scientists who question “man made global warming” are unscrupulous, unreliable quacks. On the other hand, there are scientists, including a co-founder of The Weather Channel, speaking ut that it’s a hoax and that scientists have their careers threatened. It’s all based on mathematical models that leave out other factors, and there is little empirical evidence for it.

Does that make it OK to continue despoiling nature? By no means, but the Catholic Church risks humiliation if she gets on Al Gore’s bandwagon.

Either way, the way lines are drawn up, this encyclical will elicit the response of either Materi or HV.

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