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ND Expert David Lantigua on Pope Francis’ forthcoming ‘Laudate Deum’: ‘Destruction of the planet inevitably leads to degradation of human dignity’

University of Notre Dame associate professor of theology David Lantigua, the William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Co-Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, anticipates that “Laudate Deum” will be an exhortation calling for a more urgent response to the climate crisis and offering bold proposals to address the accelerated climate change evident in recent events and environmental trends — including the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, hotter and more acidic oceans, rampant wildfires and extreme weather conditions.
David Lantigua Headshot
David Lantigua

On Oct. 4 (Wednesday), Pope Francis will release “Laudate Deum” — which means “Praise God” — an ecology document intended to follow up on his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.”

University of Notre Dame associate professor of theology David Lantigua, the William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Co-Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, anticipates that “Laudate Deum” will be an exhortation calling for a more urgent response to the climate crisis and offering bold proposals to address the accelerated climate change evident in recent events and environmental trends — including the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, hotter and more acidic oceans, rampant wildfires and extreme weather conditions.

“Similar to ‘Laudato Si’,’ Francis’ letter will be both prophetic and hortatory, at once challenging and encouraging, raising questions to prompt a change of direction — though perhaps with a tinge of apocalypticism given the alarming prospects of a climate catastrophe,” Lantigua said. “What are world leaders, specific countries and transnational corporations, especially Christians among them, doing and not doing to urgently address this global crisis?

“The Vatican, for its part, is committed to becoming the world’s first carbon neutral state by 2050, a project begun under the so-called ‘Green Pope,’ Benedict XVI, with the installation of solar panels atop Paul VI Audience Hall. But will it be too little, too late?”

Since “Laudate Deum” is part two of an existing social document, Lantigua expects it to delve further into what Catholic social teaching considers “directives for action” (or concrete actions) on a macro- and microscale because of the gravity and magnitude of the crisis.

Such directives may not be well received in the United States, he stated.

“Under the current political culture in the U.S. affecting American Catholicism, the exhortation will undoubtedly draw more backlash — even vehement opposition — from those who criticize Pope Francis and the social magisterium for weighing into political, economic and scientific matters that exceed the Church’s spiritual and moral competency,” he said.

In keeping with “Laudato Si’” and the writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Lantigua anticipates more discussion about sins against God’s creation — or ecological sins — with particular attention to the poor and excluded of society as the most vulnerable amid the crisis, including those who sometimes become climate refugees forced to migrate.

“Francis also speaks about a war that is being waged against the planet,” he said. “Certain industries relying on natural resource extraction (even for alternative technologies like lithium batteries) and deforestation for agribusiness may receive greater attention for their consequences of destroying biodiversity, creating pollution and violating cultural and political self-determination, especially among original and Indigenous peoples.

“The chief problem, as ‘Laudato Si’’ so clearly delineated, is the dominance of the monocultural mindset under the technocratic paradigm that abides by the logic of maximum efficiency and profit for the few versus sustainability and the common good for the dispossessed and the environment. Destruction of the planet inevitably leads to degradation of human dignity.”


“To praise God, people must have gratitude for creation and learn to listen more deeply to the grammar inscribed in a nature that speaks, and now screams, out to us. We believe Notre Dame can and should be a leader in this endeavor to transform higher education and, consequently, culture.”


That “Laudate Deum” is expected to be an apostolic exhortation, rather than an encyclical like “Laudato Si’,” is an important distinction with respect to its audience and its focus, Lantigua noted.

“First and foremost, it will be directed toward the global Church,” he said. “Of course, this potential narrowing contrasts with ‘Laudato Si’,’ which was read by religious and nonreligious people, ethicists and scientists, theorists, activists and policymakers alike.

“However, the narrowing should not be seen in parochial terms. Given the widespread appeal of ‘Laudato Si’’ across the world and the debilitating planetary effects of the ecological crisis, Pope Francis is likely to proclaim his message to a broader audience beyond the Christian faith community, as he did in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on ‘The Beloved Amazon’ (2020). There is already a large captive audience for the new document.”

The new document’s release date on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4, coincides with the conclusion of the Season of Creation but also the beginning of the month-long Synod on Synodality.

The latter event, Lantigua said, explores the process of renewing the Church through listening, dialogue and participation of the wider faithful, signaling the fruitful path of implementing the teachings of “Laudato Si’” at the local and regional levels.

“Notably, St. Francis is both the pope’s namesake and the patron saint of the environment, and his life and teachings have been a focal point for the pope’s previous social documents, ‘Laudato Si’’ and ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (2020) on human fraternity,” Lantigua said. “We expect to hear more in ‘Laudate Deum’ about this favorite saint of the pope.”

Another possible facet of “Laudate Deum” that is more encouraging and inspiring, Lantigua said, and that also echoes Patriarch Bartholomew and Catholic social teaching, is the spiritual call for ecological conversion — or an urgent plea for a major lifestyle transformation among individuals and peoples.

“This is not only a matter of changing social and institutional structures and policies to reflect deeper care for creation through renewed politics, but opening ourselves to a new way of life — a new culture,” he said, “one that values serious moderation and integral development rather than luxury and individual wealth accumulation, or solidarity and respect for dignity over competition and self-advancement.”

Pope Francis has promoted a culture of living well that receives creation as a gift from the Creator, not a commodity to use irresponsibly or throw away, Lantigua added. Pope Francis has also recognized the growing importance of ecumenical, interreligious and Indigenous wisdom for reimagining a more sustainable future open to subsequent generations.

“These underappreciated traditional sources of wisdom in our modern, technologically driven world provide an anchor for reorienting the purpose of education away from material success and toward a new horizon for an ecological education focused on the flourishing of ourselves, our communities, and God’s creation,” he said.

“To praise God, people must have gratitude for creation and learn to listen more deeply to the grammar inscribed in a nature that speaks, and now screams, out to us. We believe Notre Dame can and should be a leader in this endeavor to transform higher education and, consequently, culture.”

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