Pope Francis is the undisputed, spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church. And most of us Catholics respect his moral authority in spiritual matters because few of us have the training or the time to study and contemplate spiritual matters. For most of us, working and living consume almost all our time whereas for Pope Francis, living IS the study of all things spiritual. When he speaks of our relationship with God, he speaks with authority. When he issues an encyclical on a spiritual topic, he is infallible.
For this, I admire him.
However, Pope Francis is NOT a scientist. And, though he is an expert on God and how we should conduct our spiritual lives, many of us believe that we know as much, if not more, on some issues than he does.
For example, I would say that there are many of us who have a better handle on daily living than he does. After all, we live IN the world and must deal with earning a living, raising our children, and maintaining our personal relationships with our spouses, family and friends. Many of us are more familiar with subjects such as sewing, or computers, or sports than he is. More people understand astronomy or business than he does. And, there are even more who understand farming or plumbing or carpentry than he does. He is NOT an expert in many areas of life.
And, because we know more than Pope Francis on some of these subjects, it truly bothers me that there are rumors he intends to write an encyclical, an infallible document, on the subject of global warming. Although he has company if he believes in this, there are many, many scientists who disagree with that theory. And, because the science is NOT settled, despite what President Obama opined, it is dangerous for Pope Francis to write a one-sided opinion and expect Catholics to accept his beliefs when they know them to be false. While his motives might be good, it is unwise, if not arrogant, for Pope Francis to believe that he knows enough science to dictate what Catholics should believe and how we must act on the issue of global warming.
By positing an erroneous theory as true, he will lose the aura of authority he now possesses as Pope. If he tries to insist that all of us believe his theory about a scientific issue like global warming, and a crowd of scientists dispute his theory, the Pope loses even the moral authority that is his due as Pope. If he maintains that there is global warming and it can be demonstrated that he is wrong, it will be much easier to question whether he is correct about spiritual matters.
In short, by stepping outside the circle of the Church and spiritual issues, he is exposing himself, the Church, and future Popes, to proof that he does NOT know everything. And, once proven wrong, many Catholics will begin to question his right to expound even on spiritual issues.
There have been other Popes in other times who have tried to force their flocks in secular areas, rather than leading them toward God. In eras when Catholics were illiterate, Popes could easily direct, and even force, people to act and speak in accordance with Church teachings. However, in today’s world, where most of us can not only read and write, but think about matters which affect our lives, it is much more difficult for a Pope to insist that he alone knows everything.
So, maybe the Pope should stay “home”, and deal with religious issues, as he was elected to do. He was not elected King over us. He was elected Pope, or shepherd. When he “steps out” into areas where we all have knowledge and some of us are true experts, he is no longer infallible. He is just another man trying to force his own beliefs upon others.