Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, the leader of a million Catholics in Central and Northern California, offered a spirited defense Thursday of Pope Francis’ call for less consumerism and a redistribution of resources to help save the planet from the effects of climate change.
“The throwaway society is indicted by the Holy Father as a foolish culture of death that has made the markets the ultimate arbiters of the worth of people,” Soto told a group of students, teachers and media at St. Francis High School in Sacramento. “We throw away things and we throw away people. He talks about overpopulation and said we can’t exclude people in order to make the world more comfortable.
“The problem is not too many people,” Soto said. “There is too much waste as well as too much human potential wasted.”
Pope Francis – named after St. Francis, considered by many to be the world’s first environmentalist – broke new ground with his 106-page papal encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be to You, My Lord,” a policy statement acknowledging the scientific reality of global warming and steps people can take to “care for our common home.”
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His remarks are particularly timely in California, where the drought has challenged all stakeholders “to create a harmony of resources, ingenuity and solidarity that can cradle all of God’s children,” said Soto, praising Sacramento’s farm-to-fork movement as a way to maximize resources and eliminate waste.
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who considers the theory of human-caused global warming a hoax, called the pope a Marxist earlier this week after the encyclical leaked out: “Here you have a papal encyclical about how the rich nations of the world are destroying the planet with global warming and need to give even more money to poor nations ... this is right out of the Democratic Party playbook.”
Pope Francis has already come under fire from conservatives for his more accepting views on gays – he famously remarked, “who am I to judge?” – and his compassion for migrants seeking better lives, including those who die at sea when they are refused entry to new nations.
Soto said he’s aware of the controversy over the pope’s new directions but “there’s never a bad time to bring in the moral authority of the church” to address war, the economy, labor, technology and any other issues affecting the life of the planet. “We don’t own the earth and, the earth has been entrusted to us,” Soto said.
After a news conference in which he praised St. Francis High School’s use of solar panels and other technologies designed to conserve resources, Soto visited a pre-algebra summer school class of 20 entering freshmen. He joked that he couldn’t help them with quadratic equations, then said he had seen the effects of climate change firsthand. “I was visiting a bishop out on a Pacific Island and he was struggling to move his people to a new spot because their island was disappearing due to rising seas,” Soto said.
The class unanimously agreed on the reality of global warming. Elizabeth Brown, 14, asked, “What exactly is the pope calling us to do?”
Soto encouraged them to conserve water, rely more on renewable resources, use less fossil fuel and recycle paper.
Soto said he’s aware skeptics remain – including Catholics who take exception to the pope’s remarks. But he said if everybody doesn’t learn how to work together to be good stewards of the planet, “we’re going to lose everything.”