Doing or founding global bioethics? 4 – The global and integral ecology of Pope Francis


The theme of “global bioethics” has recently entered the debate promoted by the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAL) with the General Assembly of 25-27 June 2018, which was solemnly opened by an extensive speech by Pope Francis on the occasion of 25th anniversary of its establishment (cf. letter Humana communitas). The theme of “global bioethics” obviously had as its background the encyclical Laudato si’, which implies a widening of the boundaries of “traditional bioethics” to the themes of human and non-human life, and of the different contexts in which persons and “non-persons” live.

In our reflection on the epistemological problem to be addressed in the foundation of global bioethics, we are particularly interested in reading and studying the chap. 4 of the encyclical letter Laudato si’ by Pope Francis (24.05.2015) entitled an integral ecology (LS, no. 137-162). In the text of this important chapter, the Pope proposes his own paradigm of reading, interpreting and solving current ecological problems, and no longer, as we have seen and done so far, of bioethical, biomedical or biotechnological problems, dilemmas within a global or universal bioethics, a planetary ethics or a global ethos. In his argumentative path, the pontiff starts from the integral reality [1.] – Nature (natural systems or ecosystems) and society (social systems), and from the global, integral and global crisis (the current and important socio-social environmental problems); then it proposes an integral approach [2.] – taking care of the whole person (human, cultural and everyday ecology) and of all persons (the economic and social ecology), and, again, taking care of the nature (environmental ecology) as a “common home” (the common good) for the family of present and future peoples (justice between generations); finally, it offers integral and integrative solutions [3.] – which consider the interactions between natural systems, and between these and social systems on the basis of two fundamental ethical principles: the common good and justice between generations.

According to the Pope, ecology must be an integral approach (a theoretical-practical science) that takes into consideration the human, social and environmental dimensions, which function, interact and interpenetrate each other in the same time and space (our planet Earth: “Our common home”, “a beautiful mother”, “a sister”), to seek “together” concrete and integral solutions to the complex and global socio-environmental crisis. The fact that “everything is connected”, that is, the natural environment and society, pushes us to integrate both dimensions into “a wider vision of reality” (LS, n. 138). On the basis of this broad and integrative vision of the socio-environmental reality, complementary socio-ecological approaches must be developed, always considered as “ecology”: environmental (a particular relationship between nature and the society that inhabits it), economic (the interaction between ecosystems and between social systems), social, cultural (safeguarding and protecting “a historical, artistic and cultural heritage”, equally threatened, together with “natural heritage”), of daily and human life (originally and directly linked with: human life and dignity, sexuality and the family, the problems and sufferings of the poor and excluded, the anthropological, ethical and spiritual roots of socio-environmental problems).

As indeed for all the Popes mentioned in the encyclical, the particular attention and concern for human life, the person, the family and for the most abandoned, excluded and poor, for Pope Francis, is the greatest and the priceless common good of humanity and authentic human ecology. At the same time, the care of our mother, sister, and earthly home is the absolutely necessary (sine qua non) condition for all approaches, which are truly integral and respectful, is the urgent and effective, community and personal. Pope Francis in his reflective and argumentative journey has not limited only to proposing an integral ecology like his ethical-moral paradigm from a theoretical point of view (see-analyze-illuminate-propose) with a beautiful and pitiful appeal: “Do well, brothers and sisters, to our mother and sister earth!!!,” but above all, it presents it inseparably with a paradigm of orientation and action through dialogue in international, national and local politics, the dialogue between politics and economy, between religions and sciences, and transparency in decision-making processes (LS, no. 163-201). To this is added a great, long and very complex work of “ecological education and spirituality” as a common and personal awareness and determination of a possible integral educational-spiritual process in order to produce “ecological conversion” (LS, no. 202-245).

In other words, Pope Francis recognizes the original, foundational, active and inseparable bond of being (knowing with living) acting in an integral, global and holistic way. The vision of Pope Francis, like that of his great patron Saint Francis of Assisi, heavenly patron of ecology and ecology lovers (cf. John Paul II – 29.11.1979) is, therefore: realistic and contemplative-spiritual; analytical-critical, but also synthetic, educational and formative; integral, global and holistic, but also particular, concrete and personal; anthropological, but not anthropocentric; ecological, but not biocentric or ecocentric (cf. Comments to the encyclical Laudato si’ by P. Stefani, R. Rusconi, S. Natoli, G. Notarstefano, A. Scola, D. Sorrentino, 2015).

Fr. Edmund Kowalski, CSsR

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