One of the popular questions being asked by Catholics and those who like to ask questions of Catholics is essentially this: “Do you agree with Pope Francis on the environment?”
What they typically want to know is whether or not climate change skeptics, deniers, or (whatever else you prefer to call them due to your confirmation bias) who happen to be Catholic are willing to admit that they are taking a view at odds with the one Pope Francis puts forth in Laudato Si.
As it turns out, many of them do reject the view of the anthropogenic role in climate change put forward by Pope Francis, though that’s not particularly important. Despite the fact that I do agree that there are anthropogenic components to climate change and we ought to work hard to mitigate them, I don’t think it’s a fair question to ask. Catholics are not obligated to agree with the scientific or other factual claims made by the Pope or any of his fellow Bishops. The folks who disagree on anthropogenic climate change are not any less faithful to the Catholic Church because of that disagreement. There are also a few Young Earth Creationists in the Catholic Church, and they are no less faithful to the Catholic Church either. I happen to think that they’re very wrong, but they’re not necessarily wrong in a way that would put them in schism or heresy.
The deeper problem with the question being asked is that it’s missing the point being made in the Encyclical, and it’s actually a very good point. I think this passage from the 3rd chapter of the document sums it up well.
“An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”
Pope Francis is seeking to elucidate the human moral obligation which stems from having the right relationship with creation, the kind of relationship in which we are most fully human, the kind of relationship we have when we are deep in relationship with the God who provides us with the meaning of human life. It’s not about the environmental regulations; it’s about relationship.