June 18th, 2015: In his Encyclical, “Laudato Sii (Praise be): on the care of the common home”, to be released on June 18th, Pope Francis will call for a rethink of the dominant neo-liberal economic model in the light the environment crisis. His Holiness will powerfully challenge consumerism, and will throw the full weight of his moral authority behind scientists and environmentalists as an advocate for urgent action to curb global emissions. In doing so, he presents a challenge for governments of wealthy countries, but the Australian Government more than most.

“Australian Catholics will now be demanding more action from their government,” said Professor Neil Ormerod, a Catholic spokesperson for the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), which has a number of large organisational Catholic members. “If our parliamentary leaders are to listen to Pope Francis, they would urgently act to reduce the domestic use and export of coal and gas, and scale up support for renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. They would end the perverse subsidies provided to extractive industries.”

In the encyclical, the pontiff will directly challenge wealthy countries to assist poor countries in their development of energy from renewable sources. He will call for a reduction in humanity’s demand for highly polluting coal, oil and gas, and for enforceable international agreements to deal with a range of environmental crises.

He will challenge the supremacy of endless growth and advocate for a moderation of consumption and a fair redistribution of wealth, including access to energy. Such teaching resonates with statements from leaders of other faith-based authorities such as those of the Dalai Lama.

Encyclicals are the most authoritative form of teaching for Catholics, second only to infallible statements. Pope Francis’ unprecedented popularity will turbo-charge its influence. It will now be regarded by many as official Church support for the view that global warming is real and largely human-caused.

As a kind of “state of the nation” teaching, the encyclical are likely to largely silence dissenting clerical voices on climate science such as those of Cardinal George Pell. The question is, will it be accepted by Catholics in the Parliament including the Prime Minister, in a government which is under increasing pressure from international critics.

“As I read it, the Prime Minister has a choice,” said Ormerod. “As a Catholic, he can listen to Pope Francis who is the spiritual leader of his faith tradition or, alternatively, he can continue to operate as an ally to extractive industries.”

“At root, this is a choice between caring for Creation and protecting vested interests,” Ormerod said.