With just days to go before the release of Pope Francis’s highly anticipated encyclical on the environment, a draft copy has suddenly appeared on the Internet.
Here are 12 things to know and share . . .
1) What are the basic facts about this encyclical?
An encyclical is a teaching document issued by the pope. Encyclicals are among the more solemn and thus more authoritative papal documents.
This one is called Laudato Si (“Be praised”)—a line from the Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi.
It is Pope Francis’s second encyclical. His first was Lumen Fidei, which was largely drafted by his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Laudato Si is thus the first encyclical prepared entirely at Pope Francis’s initiative.
It is devoted to ecology and related themes, and it is scheduled to be released on Thursday, June 18th.
2) Who leaked it?
Veteran Italian journalist Sandro Magister leaked it on the web page of his newspaper, L’Espresso.
For reasons explained below, we will not be quoting from the document, though since it is already all over the Internet and has now become part of this story, we will link Magister’s original story, which includes a pdf of the document in Italian.
Magister’s original story is here.
3) What was the Vatican’s reaction?
The Holy See Press Office quickly issued a statement that said:
An Italian text of a draft of the Pope’s Encyclical “Laudato Si’” has been published. Please note that it is not the final text, and that the rules of the Embargo remain in place. We ask journalists to respect professional standards, which call for waiting for the official publication of the final text.
4) What is “the Embargo”?
This refers to a journalistic practice in which advance copies of texts are made available to journalists and others to enable them to prepare commentary in advance of the public release of a document.
The practice of letting them see advance copies of texts allows them to read them, digest them, and provide more accurate reporting and commentary than if they got the text at the time of its official release and had to read and report in haste.
Or that’s the theory.
Prior to the official release, such advance copies are said to be “embargoed,” meaning that reporters, etc., are not to publish things based on them until the time the document is officially released, at which point the embargo is lifted.
Movie reviews work the same way: Critics are frequently invited to advance screenings or sent “screener copies” so that they can have their movie reviews prepared by the day the movie is released, as a service to the public. They are not usually supposed to publish their reviews before the day of release, though.
5) Is breaking an embargo considered bad?
You bet. It’s a breech of trust with the people who gave you the embargoed text.
I’ve had embargoed texts of various documents any number of times (even years before the final text was released), and I’ve never broken an embargo.
I was shocked to learn that a respected Vaticanista (i.e., journalist covering the Vatican) like Sandro Magister had leaked this one.
Even if he thought he was leaking a pre-final version of the text (which is not clear from his original story), it’s an astonishing breech of journalistic ethics, and his name will likely be mud at the Vatican for some time.
6) How did Magister get the text?
This is unknown at present. In his article, he refers to the text having a “troubled” history and alludes to the first copies that the Vatican publishing house made having been pulped (destroyed) because of various places where they needed to be corrected.
It is possible that someone rescued one of the copies meant to be pulped and gave it to Magister. If so, he may have gotten it from a lower level person, such as a worker tasked with arranging for the copies to be pulped.
On the other hand, they could have come from someone higher placed.
If Magister’s text came from the batch that was pulped then that could explain why the Vatican Press Office said that it wasn’t the final version.
On the other hand, Magister may have been given a copy from a different batch, after some corrections were made. In any event, the Holy See Press Office says it isn’t the final copy.
7) How different will the final version be?
There is no way to know until Thursday.
Assuming that Magister is correct that a batch was pulped, this may have been due to nothing more than typos that needed to be corrected.
It is not at all uncommon for publishers to pulp runs of a publication that have typos which are caught at the last minute, assuming that the typos are significant enough. In my own experience with publishers, I’ve seen it done.
On the other hand, there may be more than typo fixes. This could happen, for example, if Pope Francis asked for certain editorial changes to be made and then, in the editorial process, these fell through the cracks and their absence was caught only at the last minute.
8) Why was the text leaked?
Without knowing who leaked it, there is no way to tell.
If it was a janitor who plucked a copy from a batch that were on their way to be shredded, it may simply have been that he knew Magister would be interested in a scoop and he wanted to be part of an exciting story (or possibly even be paid for his efforts).
Such an employee may not have read the text and there may be no larger agenda on his part.
On the other hand, if a person of higher stature leaked it—someone who had been entrusted with working on the text and read the content of the document—then there might be a deliberate intention to undermine the encyclical and its message.
9) How could the leak undermine the encyclical?
Part of the point of having an official release, with a press conference and everything, is to create on opportunity to get the document off on the best footing.
The media hops on it all at once, creating something of a saturation effect in different news channels, and the Holy See has the chance—via the press conference and associated materials given out to the press—to frame the story its way.
For a text to appear early can let some of the air out of the official release, and it can allow the text to be framed in ways contrary to the spin that the Holy See wants put on it.
In this case, because we have a pre-final draft, it will also cause attention to zero-in on the changes that were made between this draft and the final one, which may cause people to speculate about why those changes were made and what significance they might have (if they’re just typos or edits that were accidentally omitted and later caught: not much).
Further, this event raises the specter of the VatiLeaks scandal, in which Benedict XVI’s own butler was funneling private Vatican documents to the press as part of his own agenda.
This event raises the question of whether there are additional leakers—or new leakers—who are in some way seeking to undermine Pope Francis.
10) Does the encyclical say anything supporting the idea of manmade global warming?
Yeah, but we knew it would, anyway. Previous statements coming out of the Holy See had made that clear. We didn’t need the leak to tell us that.
I won’t quote from the leaked version, but since it is out there and people are commenting on it, I can report that this isn’t a huge theme in the document.
A machine translation of the Italian original clocks in at around 42,000 English words. Of those, the word “warming” occurs four times, and the phrase “climate change” occurs 14 times.
So it’s not a huge theme. The vast bulk of the document is devoted to other things.
11) Does the encyclical oblige Catholics to believe in manmade global warming?
I’ll have more to say about this once the final, official, English version is out, but the short answer is no.
The idea that the planet is getting warmer and the idea that we are responsible for that are both empirical propositions that belong to the domain of science.
As a result, they are matters of science and not of faith.
There is even a place in the draft (no. 188), where Pope Francis makes the point that the Church does not pretend to settle scientific questions.
The Church has the responsibility to urge appropriate responses to what the best science available has to say on matters impacting mankind and the world under man’s care, and Pope Francis thinks that present science is sufficiently in favor of manmade global warming to urge cuts in greenhouse gasses, but if you think that the best science points in a different direction, you are not bound in faith to believe a particular scientific viewpoint.
12) Is the encyclical critical of the secular environmentalism that we hear so much about in the media today?
Yes. Again, not quoting it and keeping things at the level of general themes, the draft document is expressly critical of aspects of environmental ideologies that are incompatible with the Christian Faith.
This includes ideologies that would reject the unique place of mankind in creation.
The draft criticizes anti-human and pro-abortion ideologies, which often go hand-in-hand with secular environmentalism.