High-ranking cardinal rebukes Pope Francis on climate change encyclical

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is not much noted for open dissent, but Pope Francis has run into serious flak from a member of the College of Cardinals.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Cardinal George Pell has publicly criticised Pope Francis' decision to place climate change at the top of the Catholic Church's agenda.

Cardinal Pell, a well-known climate change skeptic, told the Financial Times the church had "no particular expertise in science".

"The church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters," he said,

"We believe in the autonomy of science."

I am neither Catholic nor a theologian, but even I know that the concept of papal infallibility is limited to ecclesiastical matters, so the pope’s remarks on climate change do not carry such authority.

Every member of the College of Cardinals is a significant figure, but Cardinal Pell is a standout.  Previously archbishop of Sydney, and before that of Melbourne, he was made a cardinal in 2003, while serving in Sydney.  On February 24 last year, he was named “Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy,” a new office created by Pope Francis, which in Vatican-speak means that he is chief financial officer of the Holy See and Vatican City, reporting directly to the pope.  As the National Catholic Reporter explained:

Pope Francis has approved a set of sweeping moves to reorganize the financial and administrative structures of the Catholic church's central bureaucracy, creating a new central office with wide control particularly of economic issues, the Vatican announced Monday.

Sydney Cardinal George Pell will head the new office, known as the Secretariat for the Economy. Announcing the news in a statement, the Vatican said Pell would have "authority of all the economic and administrative activity within the Holy See and the Vatican City State."

John L. Allen, Jr. of the Boston Globe explains further:

Calling the new department a “Secretariat” underlines its importance, since there’s only one other outfit in the Vatican with that name, the Secretariat of State, and by tradition it’s the big kid on the block in terms of wielding power. (snip)

Yet at the same time, Francis also knows that in the status-conscious world of the Vatican, people won’t think he’s serious about something unless he puts a heavy-hitter cleric in charge of it. He certainly accomplished that with Pell, a former Australian Rules Football player who once seemed destined to go pro before entering the priesthood.

Pell, who stands almost 6’3”, still retains a good deal of that rugged mentality. For those who know him, he’s like a linebacker in a cassock – a tough, no-nonsense guy not likely to be cowed by Vatican mandarins who resent the intrusion on their prerogatives.

Cardinal Pell, the man expected to stand up to reluctant officials in the Vatican who opposed financial reform, is also standing up to the man who gave him his current high-ranking job.

I suppose that this will play out in private.  But if not, it could be one heckuva battle.  When Pope Francis elevated this cardinal to the top level of the Vatican hierarchy, I doubt he expected this much independence.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is not much noted for open dissent, but Pope Francis has run into serious flak from a member of the College of Cardinals.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Cardinal George Pell has publicly criticised Pope Francis' decision to place climate change at the top of the Catholic Church's agenda.

Cardinal Pell, a well-known climate change skeptic, told the Financial Times the church had "no particular expertise in science".

"The church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters," he said,

"We believe in the autonomy of science."

I am neither Catholic nor a theologian, but even I know that the concept of papal infallibility is limited to ecclesiastical matters, so the pope’s remarks on climate change do not carry such authority.

Every member of the College of Cardinals is a significant figure, but Cardinal Pell is a standout.  Previously archbishop of Sydney, and before that of Melbourne, he was made a cardinal in 2003, while serving in Sydney.  On February 24 last year, he was named “Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy,” a new office created by Pope Francis, which in Vatican-speak means that he is chief financial officer of the Holy See and Vatican City, reporting directly to the pope.  As the National Catholic Reporter explained:

Pope Francis has approved a set of sweeping moves to reorganize the financial and administrative structures of the Catholic church's central bureaucracy, creating a new central office with wide control particularly of economic issues, the Vatican announced Monday.

Sydney Cardinal George Pell will head the new office, known as the Secretariat for the Economy. Announcing the news in a statement, the Vatican said Pell would have "authority of all the economic and administrative activity within the Holy See and the Vatican City State."

John L. Allen, Jr. of the Boston Globe explains further:

Calling the new department a “Secretariat” underlines its importance, since there’s only one other outfit in the Vatican with that name, the Secretariat of State, and by tradition it’s the big kid on the block in terms of wielding power. (snip)

Yet at the same time, Francis also knows that in the status-conscious world of the Vatican, people won’t think he’s serious about something unless he puts a heavy-hitter cleric in charge of it. He certainly accomplished that with Pell, a former Australian Rules Football player who once seemed destined to go pro before entering the priesthood.

Pell, who stands almost 6’3”, still retains a good deal of that rugged mentality. For those who know him, he’s like a linebacker in a cassock – a tough, no-nonsense guy not likely to be cowed by Vatican mandarins who resent the intrusion on their prerogatives.

Cardinal Pell, the man expected to stand up to reluctant officials in the Vatican who opposed financial reform, is also standing up to the man who gave him his current high-ranking job.

I suppose that this will play out in private.  But if not, it could be one heckuva battle.  When Pope Francis elevated this cardinal to the top level of the Vatican hierarchy, I doubt he expected this much independence.