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In the years of his still-young papacy, Pope Francis has often spoken and written about ecological responsibility, addressing both the Catholic and global communities in his exhortations on environmental matters. In June of 2015, he released his most extensive exposition on these issues in his encyclical letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.In this wide-ranging encyclical, Pope Francis expressed a fascinating paradox with respect to law and ecology. On the one hand, Laudato Si’ contains a stunningly enthusiastic endorsement of a strong local, national and, in particular, international legal system empowered to impose strict environmental and economic controls as a way to foster ecological improvement. This proposes an indispensable and expanded role for a robust, binding, and, even, intrusive legal framework to address environmental issues. On the other hand, Laudato Si’ also includes a profound, nearly desperate plea for personal conversion, arguing that this is the only way to foster enduring and proper relationships between God, each other, and creation — relationships that form the indispensable and critical foundation for responsible ecological stewardship. This tension about, and ambivalence toward, the role, vel non, of law and legal authority is worth exploring in any attempt to articulate a Christian vision of the role of the state in protecting natural resources and applying law to the resolution of environmental problems. This paper analyzes Laudato Si’s proposed Christian vision of the limits on and promise of law as an instrument to advance peace with Creator, creation and each other. Although the focus of the paper is immediately directed toward Laudato Si’, it is more broadly an inquiry into an age-old question for all: what is the promise and what is the peril of relying on law as a means to accomplishing a goal, and what are the limitations of law that must be respected. The paper begins with a discussion of Pope Francis’ seeming enthusiasm for reliance on the legal regime for environmental protection. It then explores the opposite side of this coin: the need for personal conversion and responsibility as the approach to living in harmony with Creator, creation, and each other. Finally, the paper will focus on a concept that Pope Francis calls “social love.” Although Laudato Si’ does not flesh this out too deeply, this concept has the potential to be a bridge between personal conversion and force of law.



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