Summary of Laudate Deum

On 4 October, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis published an apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum (Praise God). This is a summary of that document.

On 4 October, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis published an apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum (Praise God). This is a summary of that document.

Pre-amble (1-4)

Pope Francis reminds us that St. Francis exclaimed “Praise God for all His creatures” and that Jesus had a sensitivity towards the natural world, as shown by comments such as: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (Mt 6:28-29). Pope Francis then notes that it is eight years since he published his encyclical Laudato si and that he believes that there has been insufficient action. He states that ecological concerns are intimately connected to the dignity of human life and that our care for each other and care for creation are bound together. Pope Francis describes climate change as a “structural sin”[1].

Section One: The Global Climate Crisis (5-19)

Pope Francis summarises developments in the world’s temperature path. He is careful not to link particular weather events to global warming but suggests that the general trend is undeniable. He expresses fear of what will happen if we reach 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees of warming. He rejects the idea that the current changes are part of natural fluctuations or that intermittent cold periods are evidence against global warming. He states that global warming is not the fault of the poor having too many children – the emissions of the rich per person are vastly greater than those of the poor.

Temperature rises are more rapid than could be caused by natural variation and they are being caused by human activity. The crisis is not of interest to the great economic powers, but the vast majority of scientists support this consensus position. Pope Francis says that he feels it necessary to make these points because of the “dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church” (14)

Pope Francis mentions that many changes that have happened are irreversible and that we barely have time to prevent even more tragic damage. He then states that certain “apocalyptic diagnoses may well appear scarcely reasonable or insufficiently grounded” but that this does not mean we should ignore the possibility that we are approaching a tipping point as changes in the environment lead to further changes that exacerbate the situation. Pope Francis recognises the marvels of progress whilst reminding us that “What is being asked of us is nothing other than a certain responsibility for the legacy we will leave behind, once we pass from this world” (18).

Section Two: A Growing Technocratic Paradigm (20-33)

Pope Francis begins by criticising the technological paradigm through which, it is argued, truth and goodness and limitless resources flow from technological developments.[2] The development of artificial intelligence feeds the ideas underlying the technocratic paradigm. Pope Francis notes that the resources which are necessary for technological instruments (lithium etc) are not themselves limitless. Not only must we recognise this physical reality of scarcity, we must detach ourselves from the philosophy that anything that is not human is there to be exploited and appreciate and cherish the gifts of nature.

Pope Francis warns about the risks arising from technical capacity and the economic resources to use that capacity becoming excessively concentrated.[3]

The exhortation then points out that not all increases in technical capability represent true progress. Pope Francis points to the development of technologies that can eliminate human beings on a vast scale. The development of technology has not been accompanied by a corresponding development of human responsibility, values and conscience. We have some superficial mechanisms, Pope Francis states, but have not developed the ethics, culture or spirituality capable of setting limits and teaching self-restraint in the use of technology.

Human persons are part of nature. Because of our ability to reason, we are capable of looking at the planet not from without but from within. And we can, indeed, enrich and shape our environments. But we can also destroy them.

When projects (for example mining projects) take place in areas where there are large numbers of people with limited resources, methods are used to “market” these projects to the people, with mentions of economic growth, employment etc. Often, however, such projects create great damage, including to the environment, and the interests of those affected are ignored. This arises because of the desire for maximum economic gain at minimum cost with illusory promises being made without any real concern for the poor. We cannot be guided just by economics in these decisions, we must ask ourselves questions such as: “What is the meaning of my life? What is the meaning of my time on this earth? And what is the ultimate meaning of all my work and effort?” (33)

Section Three: The Weakness of International Politics (34-43)

In this section, Pope Francis restates and clarifies his message in Fratelli tutti. He states that efforts have to be renewed to promote international co-operation. Importantly, he states that this should be through multilateral international action and not necessarily through an international political authority with legal personality. Multilateral international bodies must have real authority to achieve certain goals. Pope Francis calls for new initiatives rather than simply persevering with old ones. Again, reflecting Fratelli tutti, he emphasises the importance of subsidiarity in this process, whereby civil society groups can achieve what international political authorities cannot achieve (or should not attempt to achieve). He mentions the Ottawa Process for the elimination of anti-personnel mines as an example of success in this area.

The exhortation mentions globalisation positively in that it is suggested that it can promote cultural integration and knowledge exchange that can lead to civil society movements developing from the bottom up which could influence action on climate change. Such movements can support one another and put pressure on the sources of power.

The dignity of the human person must always come first, and ethics must prevail over local or contingent interests.

We should not reject political mechanisms but recognise that other emerging forces can achieve important results in the resolution of concrete problems.

Old forms of diplomacy do not seem to be working. Nevertheless, they have an important part to play and should not just be cast aside. They need to reconfigure themselves so that they can be more effective.

The complexity of our world means that a new framework for effective co-operation is required to address public health, environmental, social and cultural challenges including to consolidate respect for human rights. Procedures put in place decades ago do not seem to be effective and new mechanisms for taking and enforcing decisions will be necessary. “In this framework, there would necessarily be required spaces for conversation, consultation, arbitration, conflict resolution and supervision[…]” (43)

Section Four: Climate Conferences: Progress and Failures (44-52)

Pope Francis notes the climate conferences (COPs) that have taken place. Some have been a success, such as Kyoto (1997). However, the agreements have not been implemented. Discussions at such conferences can revolve round reductions in emissions, adaptation, and compensation to poorer countries. At various COPs, there have also been discussions about compensation for loss and damage (that is, compensation to poorer countries in respect of damage caused by past and current actions – something different from assistance with adaptation).

The 2015 COP (Paris) is also noted as a success, but it is mentioned that there are no enforcement mechanisms and there is quite a lot of latitude when it comes to meeting obligations. The 2022 COP (Sharm El Sheikh) was overshadowed by the invasion of Ukraine which caused an energy crisis and led many countries to prioritise securing energy supplies even if these were carbon-intensive supplies. There was further progress on loss and damage, but no concrete mechanism for enforcement.

Progress is inhibited by countries putting their national interest above the global common good. There are no real suitable mechanisms for oversight, periodic review and enforcement.

Section Five: What to Expect from COP 28 in Dubai (53-60)

It is noted that the next COP will take place in a fossil fuel producing country and that many new projects are being planned there. But we cannot say there is nothing to hope for as that would be suicidal and expose humanity to the worst impacts of climate change.

If human beings can overcome their petty interests, we could have a decisive acceleration of transition with effective commitments and monitoring. This COP could be a change of direction, thus showing that past efforts were worthwhile. Alternatively, it might be a disappointment and jeopardise any good that has been done so far.

Progress has been made towards an increase in clean energy, but it has not been decisive enough. Past actions in relation to, for example, the ozone layer have shown that where, there is a will, we can be successful. Appearing to be concerned is not enough! We must move beyond that.

Though we should not reject technical remedies as such, we cannot simply seek a technical remedy to each individual problem: that is to paper over the cracks. Ecological problems are all connected, and they are also connected to other human and social problems on a number of levels. If groups negatively portrayed as being radicalised attract attention at climate conferences, it is because they are filling a vacuum – all of us should be involved in exerting a healthy pressure, realising that the future of our children is at stake.

COP 28, if it is to provide hope, must lead to energy transition targets that are efficient, obligatory and readily monitored. We must be able to count on the commitment of all. Pope Francis states: “To the powerful, I can only repeat this question: ‘What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power, only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?’” (60)

Section Six: Spiritual Motivations (61-73)

Pope Francis addresses an important comment to Catholics and those of other faiths: “authentic faith not only gives strength to the human heart, but also transforms life, transfigures our goals and sheds light on our relationship to others and with creation as a whole.” (61)

God proclaimed that everything He created was good. Human persons must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria that exist amongst the creatures of this world. The universe shows the inexhaustible richness of God and nature is imbued with his radiance. It should therefore not be a matter of indifference to us when creatures disappear. Jesus Himself often stopped to contemplate the beauty of nature and invites us to be attentive to that beauty. God unites us to all his creatures whereas the technocratic paradigm can isolate us from the world around us.

The human person has a unique and central value amongst God’s creatures, but life is incomprehensible and unsustainable without other creatures to which we are linked with unseen bonds. We should not think of human persons as omnipotent or limitless. Instead, we should have a humbler and more fruitful vision of ourselves.

Everyone is asked to make the world more beautiful, though Pope Francis also mentions that the most effective solutions will come from political solutions at the national and international level. However, not only does every little bit help, there are no lasting changes without cultural changes and no cultural changes without personal changes. Our actions, Pope Francis notes, are bringing about transformation. Linking this to 61, mentioned above, authentic faith should change lives and this, in turn, should change culture.

Pope Francis ends by stating: “’Praise God’ is the title of this letter. For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies.”


[1] Structural sin can be described as a situation rooted in individual sin but where culpability for particular actions is limited as a result of the social conditions arising from accumulation of individual sin.

[2] By implication, it could be said, that this paradigm suggests that we can rely on technological developments to solve problems such as climate change.

[3] It is not exactly clear to what this refers but it could, for example, relate to the concentration of technology, political power and economic resources within the governments of certain states and/or big tech companies.