Health Calls

Laudate Deum and the Urgent Call to Climate Action

Episode Summary

Pope Francis recently released his new apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum, calling for a renewed sense of urgency in combatting climate change. As he cites overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is facing a climate crisis that is caused by human activity, how should Catholic health care best respond to this urgent Apostolic exhortation?

Episode Notes

Pope Francis recently released his new apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum, calling for a renewed sense of urgency in combatting climate change. As he cites overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is facing a climate crisis that is caused by human activity, how should Catholic health care best respond to this urgent Apostolic exhortation?

Indu Spugnardi, Director of Advocacy and Resource Development for CHA, and Fr. Daniel Horan, Professor of Philosophy, Religious Studies and Theology at St. Mary's College and Director of the Center for the Study of Spirituality, join the show to discuss the new apostolic exhortation and Fr. Daniel’s coverage of the release for the National Catholic Reporter. Fr. Daniel discusses our relationship to the world around us, the document’s inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi, and having hope for the future.


Read Laudate Deum at the Vatican's official website

Read Fr. Daniel’s column on Laudate Deum at the National Catholic Reporter

Visit CHA's Environment page for more resources

Sign up for the Laudato Si' Action Platform

Episode Transcription

Brian Reardon (00:00):

Hello again, Indu. How are you?

Indu Spugnardi (00:02):

Great, Brian. Glad to be here with you today.

Brian Reardon (00:04):

Yeah, good to have you back. We talked a couple of episodes about environmental sustainability and we're going to talk again about that in this episode. So I'm happy you're back with us. To provide a little bit of context, we're going to talk about ate Deum, so are you ready to have that conversation?

Indu Spugnardi (00:21):


Brian Reardon (00:27):

This is Health Calls, the podcast of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. I'm your host, Brian Reardon, and it's mentioned. Joining me is Indu Spugnardi. She's director of advocacy and resource development at CHA. And again, Indu, it's great to have you with us. And in just a moment, we're going to be joined by Father Daniel Horan. He's a theologian and professor of philosophy, religious studies and theology at the Center for the Study of Spirituality at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame. We look forward to having Dan with us in just a moment, but Indu, as we always do, we like to start off just getting a little context on this. So we've talked in the last couple of episodes about environmental sustainability as it pertains to health care. We talked to a couple of our members and so we've been providing sort of different perspectives on health care. We started this three-part series during the season of creation, and then just last week, Pope Francis had a new document, I guess it's called a Boy that's a mouthful, apostolic exhortation entitled Laudate Deum. We're going to talk about that in just a minute with Dan, but it's been actually eight years since Pope Francis published Laudato Si for some reason that was able to roll off the tongue a little bit easier. And Laudato Si was his encyclical letter. Can you just to remind us into what was Laudato Si all about?

Indu Spugnardi (01:50):

Oh, I'm happy to give a reminder. It's such a wonderful encyclical. Many people refer to Laudato Si as the environmental encyclical, and it's true that throughout Laudato Si, Pope Francis addresses the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. He discusses climate change and the destruction of our natural world, but he also connects these issues to social and political challenges, such as the decline in the quality of human life, the breakdown of society and global inequality. Pope Francis in Lattoi explains that all these challenges, environmental and social are symptoms of broken human relationships, broken human relationships with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself. And he calls us to make sure that solutions to these challenges must be rooted in restoring these relationships. And also in lato, Pope Francis presents a very key concept that's critical to guiding our actions, and that is integral ecology. Integral ecology calls on us to see all these challenges as interconnected and that solutions are demand, an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. So that's just a quick recap of some of the messages from Laudato Si.

Brian Reardon (03:15):

Now, and that's helpful just to again, set a foundation. So again, earlier this month, Pope Francis published, I'm going to try this again, an apostolic exhortation again, it was entitled Laudate Deum. So Indu, just real quickly, what's new or different about this document, and I guess could we consider it maybe being a sequel to Laudato Si?

Indu Spugnardi (03:35):

Oh, yes. I think it's very fair to describe it as a follow-up to Laudato Si. I think Pope Francis even said that himself. I would say what is different is that the sense of urgency for action is even greater. Pope Francis cites overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is causing climate change and that we're pushing the earth towards a breaking point. He also very clearly calls out forces both within the church and outside it that are impeding progress. So these scientific and political messages have been called out by some as being new or different, but they definitely echo messages in Laudato Si. See?

Brian Reardon (04:14):

Yeah, and I think now I want to bring in, again, I'll reintroduce him. Father Daniel Horan, he's a professor of philosophy, religious studies and theology at the Center for the Study of Spirituality at St. Mary's College of Notre Dame. So Dan, it's great to have you with us. You recently wrote about the release of Laudate Deum for the National Catholic Reporter. Great article. If folks who are listening haven't read that, we'll have a link to that on our podcast page under this episode. But Dan, you compared the Pope's message of Lata Deum to Greta Thunberg. The message she made back in 2019 when she said basically our house is on fire. And I think you compared that to saying there was really a great sense of urgency in this document. Can you share a little more about that?

Fr. Daniel Horan (04:58):

Absolutely. Let me just also say it's great to be with you, Brian and Indu as well. So thank you for having me. Yeah, I was struck right from the outset of this new apostolic exhortation that Pope Francis, as Indu said earlier, Laudato Si conveys a sense of urgency. He has this awareness that what's happening is more than just an optional consideration or just some sort of occasional or maybe mild shift in climate temperature and its impacts, and more importantly, our role in those changes. But what we see eight years later in Laudate Deum is, as you rightly said, and I shared in my column, I think a reflection of the urgency that Greta Thunberg really kind of conveyed, which is this is happening now and we're seeing the consequences at a scale that we haven't yet before. And it's devastating. We don't have time to pretend that this isn't a human affected reality, and we can't, that this isn't affecting every person and the more than human world. So plant life ecosystems, other animals and the rest in ways that are really not just novel, but are becoming increasingly dangerous.

Brian Reardon (06:15):

And particularly since this past summer. I know we set some record temperatures, even the month of September, I think globally was set new records, yet there's still voices out there that just, and again, whether it's political, we don't need to get into the debate about why there is this sort of sector that continues to deny the reality of that. But I think the other thing you highlight in your article is that the Pope goes right after it and says, these deniers, they shouldn't be treating this climate in a dismissive way. What is it about Pope Francis' message to these dissenting voices that was most striking to you, Dan?

Fr. Daniel Horan (06:54):

I think it's the fact that he's not really interested in a conversation about human impacts on climate. In fact, in paragraph 11 of this exhortation, he says in the first sentence, it is no longer possible to doubt the human or philanthropic origin of climate change. And so he doesn't really use the term climate deniers. And I think partly because he doesn't want to engage or sort of bait, as you said, a political conversation or confrontation, but he's very clear, he's very positive in articulating that we just can't deny this. We have to accept this as fact. The vast majority of scientists and experts globally are on the same page about this. So now in the face of what is a crisis, what is an emergency, what are we going to do about it? That's the question he's most concerned with. And we see that in the chapters that follow that paragraph where he really draws from the best of climate science and the reports from the United Nations and elsewhere to give clear evidence, a clear case for why this is of absolute urgency.

Brian Reardon (08:01):

And as someone who is a theologian, I think it's always interesting the way the church, and you see this a lot, is that science, the foundation of science and faith are very compatible. So from a theological perspective, how does this really, I guess, support address the fundamental teachings of Christianity?

Fr. Daniel Horan (08:25):

Yeah, I really appreciate that question, Brian, because there have been some people, even those fairly receptive to the Pope's most recent magisterial teaching here, and have said that actually at times because he relies so heavily in conveying the scientific reports and evidence that this reads as almost like a policy paper rather than a theological teaching. And I think what's important to remember is that as you and Indu talked about earlier, that this really does build on, it is a supplement or an addendum to Laudato Si, which itself is deeply theological, scriptural and spiritual. But I mean, one of the things at the heart of Pope or addressing basic Christian teachings here is the fundamental goodness of creation. And that we are interconnected. So very regularly throughout Laudato Si and now in Laudate Deum, he points to Genesis one and Genesis two, and he says, in these creation narratives, these creation stories, we are so tempted at times, and I'm paraphrasing here in kind of broad strokes, but we're so tempted as a species to think just of ourselves.


So we zone in, zoom into when humans appear at any point in the story and we neglect the rest of the kind of interconnectedness of God's creation. And we forget that it's not just humanity that is created good, but as Genesis one, verse 31 says, that all of creation God says is very good. And then in Genesis two, the fact that all of creation is created haah and Hebrew from the dust of the earth, that we are all bound together in what St. Francis of Assisi would call this common home, our sister Mother Earth. And so I think the fact that Pope Francis reiterates the inherent goodness of all creation, that we are interconnected, Indu mentioned the phrase that is very near and dear to Pope Francis' heart, this notion of integral ecology, which he himself summarizes in the simple expression. All is connected or everything is connected. And I think what we see here is that we don't go this alone either as species, as an individual, as nation states, that we're tied to one another and that is part of God's plan for salvation history and how we relate to one another.

Brian Reardon (10:31):

And do you think, as you were talking here, it struck me that, and I'm sitting in a studio, I'm looking at a screen, I'm looking at notes. We are. So now it just seems like with advances in technology so disconnected from nature, do you think that that's another sort of reason there may be skepticism or just again, dismissiveness about the impact on the environment because maybe we as humans are not spending enough time integrating with nature around us that we've got our noses and screens all the time. Do you think that could be a factor in this?

Fr. Daniel Horan (11:05):

Absolutely. I really love the example because I imagine many of the folks who are listening to this podcast are perhaps on a lunch break or in their car or sitting in front of a screen themselves. And so we all have this experience in the 21st century. And Pope Francis, on the one hand, like his predecessors, Benedict 16th and John Paul II, Pope Francis respects technological advancement. He thinks technology, he thinks media and communications media in particular can be very good, but his predecessors as well, he's critical. And he calls out, as it were, what he names the technocratic paradigm, this way of thinking that centers sort of technological advancement without kind of ethical reflection as is inherently the direction we should be moving in at all times. And that itself, going back to the Industrial revolution of the 19th century onward, this has been a major cause of human influenced climate change and ecological devastation. I also think that this idea that we've convinced ourselves as human beings, that we are not part of nature as it were, we talk about going into nature, I need to go out into creation. And we forget that our very biological processes, our ability to maintain our sort of status quo of healthiness is determined by an interrelationship with other creatures. I think of the so-called good bacteria in our GI tracts. We can't even eat our own breakfast without the assistance of other creatures in an interrelated way. And so I think that is true. I don't think we think of ourselves as part of that integral ecology that the Pope talks about, and that leads to these devastating consequences.

Brian Reardon (12:46):

And of course, St. Francis of Assisi, I've got to say my favorite saint, I was blessed to have about 15 years of Franciscan formation working for a health system, Hospital Sisters Health System. So I learned a lot about St. Francis and the Franciscan movement as particularly as it relates to that interconnectedness with nature and obviously the mechanical of the sun and all that. But I thought it was interesting in your article, you made the argument that actually the document might've been improved a little bit in the tradition of St. Francis. Can you share more about that?

Fr. Daniel Horan (13:20):

I'd be happy to. This is where I put on my stereotypical Franciscan habit as it were, and say that Pope Francis is so inspired by Francis of Assisi. He took his papal name from Francis of Assisi. He released this latest exhortation on the Feast of St. Francis. Both this text and Laudato Si are infused with Franciscan spirituality and theology and the inspiration of that great poverello, the poor one from Assisi. But the way I used to talk about Lato si over these past eight years is from a theological perspective, something of what I might call a liminal text. When we think about different ways of relating to the more than human world or asking the question, what role do human beings have in God's community of creation, we could think in three general categories, what's often been called the Dominion Model, which views human beings as sovereigns, God makes the world gives it to us, we can do with it as we please Pope Francis in Laudato Si, paragraph 67 dismisses that and says, that's not an authentic reading of Genesis. That's not a Christian way of understanding.


But then there've been these two other approaches. The most popular today is called stewardship, which understands human beings having a special role in creation, that we are to care for creation because it doesn't belong to us, but to God, and that we are at the caretakers, the stewards of it. Then there's been this third approach that's found in scripture. It's found in many saints and mystics over Christian history. And St. Francis of Assisi is probably the most well known, and that's this kinship or community of creation model. And at the heart of this is a recognition you mentioned St. Francis' Canticle of the Creatures. St. Francis calls these non-human elements of creation, brother and sister and mother, and he doesn't do this sort of poetically or romantically or with this sort of escapism ideal. Instead, he sees this as very real. I mentioned that good bacteria in our GI tracts that help regulate our metabolism and all of this.


Well, St. Francis recognized that we as human beings are in intimate relationship with our surroundings with the rest of creation, and that all of creation comes from the same single divine source, which is God, our loving God. And so this idea that we should be caring for the more than human world, not because we are hired hands or stewards or gardeners or caretakers, but because we're part of the very family of God's creation. That's what I mean when I say this. Spirituality out of the Franciscan tradition, Francis of Assisi was very, very aware of this. I think the scientific community has highlighted this as well, right? We recognize the ways in which we rely on the rest of creation. It takes care of us, as it were. And yet we may be thinking of the Luke parable of the prodigal son. Maybe we are the ones who take and take and take and to kind of squander rather than contribute to a kind of holistic and healthy and mutual family of creation or community. And so I think there's room still. I was hoping to see more of that in this follow-up to lato. See, but it doesn't take away from any of the urgency, the insight, the challenge and the call that the Holy Father has presented here.

Brian Reardon (16:31):

No, and I think the environmental connectivity for those of us in health care so important because we know every social determinant of health, there's usually some relation to, if it's food insecurity, it's about access to fresh produce. If you just look at the environment around us and how we treat nature, and particularly in our urban environments, and the lack of access all contributes to poor health. So I think from more practical standpoint, for those of us who work in Catholic health care, we see it not only the spiritual connectivity, but also really the health factors of having an environment that's not only sustainable, but thriving. So I guess when it comes to health care leaders, that's going to be a lot of people listening to this podcast. We've talked in the past, we've had many episodes actually, about what we're doing to address environmental sustainability, to protect our planet as health care providers. Do you have any, any words of wisdom or advice you'd give to folks listening to this podcast about what they can do if they're working in health care to really make a meaningful difference?

Fr. Daniel Horan (17:36):

Well, I'll begin with a qualification. I joke with my friends in medical and health care professions that I'm a doctor but not a physician. So I want to qualify that from the outset.

Brian Reardon (17:46):

No, I want your perspective as a theologian maybe.

Fr. Daniel Horan (17:48):

Exactly. So I think actually I would suggest three things that the health care community can think of in particular with this question. And the first is really to think about the intersection of these health care challenges, some of which you've already named, and the shifting dynamic of our environment of climate. As you mentioned, 2023 experts tell us is the hottest summer in recorded history. And I think what we're going to see, of course, are these shifting dynamics of how on the individual level, but also on the communal level, we're suffering physically and more than physically as a result of that. And so thinking about being proactive and creating resources, creating means of response to those shifting changes is an ethical issue, right? It's a moral imperative. I think the second thing might be thinking about investment strategies. I don't serve on any of the boards of health care systems, but I do serve on several academic and university boards of trustees.


And this is a question that we're concerned with as well. How do we as major institutions, major employers, major investors, think about environmentally responsible investment? So I think that's an important thing. The last thing I would think about or suggest and encourage those involved in health care to think about is the intersections of the physical, the psychological, and spiritual health. And I think one of the things that oftentimes gets pushed to the wayside when we think about the immediate and acute needs that arise from climate change and its impacts is the spiritual aspect of this, that people are feeling hopeless. People are feeling or maybe are shutting down altogether. There's a sense of indifference or apathy. And Pope Francis talks about this in his encyclical Laudato Si about how indifference can be such a tremendous problem. So are there ways in which the health care community can be more proactive in thinking about providing care for the whole person? And I know when it comes to Catholic health institutions that this is always already something on the forefront, but what role does shifting climate crisis shifting environmental changes? What role does this play in our thinking about providing holistic care? I think those are things that are really worth thinking about, especially at this time.

Brian Reardon (20:10):

Great perspective. Well, with a couple of moments we have left, I want to bring Indu back. Indu, anything that you want to reflect on or ask Dan?

Indu Spugnardi (20:18):

I'm just blown away. Such a great analysis of Laudate Deum and what's happening in terms of the environment. I did have a question you referenced that Pope Francis asked us not to give up hope. There are a lot of challenges we're facing. What do you see here in the US and in the Catholic community as something that really excites you in terms of our work towards being better stewards? I would use the term to taking care of or addressing this issue, something that you've seen that's just really exciting or inspiring to you? Because I feel that's what gives people hope, is that when they see meaningful change.

Fr. Daniel Horan (20:59):

Yeah, I really appreciate that question because as one of my colleagues said in a conversation, a faculty conversation some weeks back, it can feel at times that all we talk about is doom and gloom. And so where is the hope, right? I would say two things. One comes right from the document itself, and that's something Pope Francis says in paragraph 70, for those who want to look it up. He says that every little bit helps, and I think that's really freeing for a lot of people, right? When we can feel the doom and gloom, we can feel the kind of magnitude of the challenge before us, the scale of devastation and destruction. We can just shut down, but we can do something. And I think that's an important message. The second thing I would say about both the church and the us, but I'd say more broadly, our society in the US that is a source of hope for me is this current generation of high school and college students. A lot of my students here at St. Mary's and Notre Dame and Holy Cross College and beyond.


That is Gen Z. I mean, this generation really inspires me. They in particular have every reason in the world to despair and to be hopeless. They did very little to contribute to this world that they have been born into, and yet this is what we are going to leave behind to them, right? This is the challenge that they have not asked for and they're going to have to deal with. And yet they recognize like Pope Francis, the urgency of the moment. I would say that collectively as a generation, they are not kind of dwelling and navel gazing and getting stuck as it were in the challenge, but trying to do something. They're organizing, they're communicating, they're thinking, they're not giving up. And so I for one, want to follow their lead. I want them to be the ones who are encouraging us older generations to do something constructive and to hear and heeded the word of Pope Francis, every little bit helps. Let's do something. Let's begin somewhere.

Brian Reardon (22:49):

Great perspective, Dan. Thank you. Well, Indu, I appreciate you joining the conversation and helping with the last three episodes now in the environment. I think these have all been really great conversations about what our members are doing, what our impact is globally, and now a nice theological perspective on Laudate Deum. So Father Daniel Horan, again, he's a philosophy, religious studies and theology professor at the Center for the Study of Spirituality at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana. Thank you so much for being with us and sharing your perspective.

Fr. Daniel Horan (23:23):

It's my pleasure. Thank you very much to you, Brian and Indu for having me.

Brian Reardon (23:26):

And for Indu Spugnardi. She's again, director of advocacy and resource development at the Catholic Health Association. I'm Brian Reardon, the host of Health Calls, which is a podcast of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. You can listen to and download Health Calls on all of your favorite podcast streaming services. And of course, you can access it from our website, This episode, as all of them, are produced by Josh Matejka from CHA and engineered by Brian Hartmann here at Clayton Studios in St. Louis. Thanks for listening.