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In his message to the European Youth Conference earlier this month, Pope Francis called on the assembled young leaders to prioritize environmental stewardship amid the accelerating global climate crisis. He asked for participants to consider cutting back on both fossil fuels and the consumption of meat as part of that commitment.
“There is an urgent need to reduce the consumption not only of fossil fuels but also of so many superfluous things,” he told the delegates, gathered in Prague amid a historic heatwave. “In certain areas of the world, too, it would be appropriate to consume less meat. This too can help save the environment.”
The Pope framed these and other conservation measures as “care for the common home” of all humanity. That phrase also appears in his June 2015 encyclical, Laudato si’, subtitled in English as “On Care for Our Common Home.” In that document he uses his powerful platform to lay out a warning about consumerism and environmental devastation and explicitly discuss the human causes of climate change.
Though he does not specifically discuss eating animals in Laudato si’, he does raise concerns about a collapse of biodiversity and the impacts of climate change on plants and animals as well as humans. He also states that inhumane treatment of animals in general is inconsistent with doctrine. “Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures,” he writes.
In the years since the encyclical, studies have shown that animal agriculture is an even larger source of carbon pollution than previously believed. And the Pope may have gotten a nudge to think about the role of meat after a 2019 campaign headed by youth activist Genesis Butler called on him to personally go vegan for Lent. At the time, he responded warmly, yet noncommittally, to the urging. Writing on the Pope’s behalf, senior priest and Vatican assessor for general affairs Paolo Borgia’s letter to Butler stated, “His Holiness Pope Francis has received your letter, and he has asked me to thank you. He appreciates the concerns about care for the world, our common home.”
The now 15-year-old Butler was pleased to hear of the Pope’s recent message about reducing meat. “He is such an influential voice in the world and many people take what he says really seriously,” she said in a press statement following the Youth Conference. “I was glad he spoke out and I think it’s a step in the right direction.”