In the cartoon, Pope Francis, at prayer, says, “Sooo. That went over like a lead balloon.”

By Martin E. Marty|July 13, 2015

The first cartoon to be sighted in a Sightings sighting after sixteen years is entitled “Encyclical” and drawn by Joe Fournier whose work appears on the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune (June 25, 2015).

In the cartoon, Pope Francis, at prayer, says, “Sooo. That went over like a lead balloon.”

A voice from above, accompanied by sunbeams, responds: “Tell me.”

The Pope: “Not much to tell. I delivered my encyclical on climate change to the world.”

The Voice: “And?”

Pope: “And it got a tepid, cynical, apathetic-at-best reception.”

The Voice: “Hmm. What about my believers?”

The Pope answers: “Those are your believers.”

This cartoon would not receive Sightings space did it not quite accurately capture a major, but not exclusive, response by vocal and visible Catholic believers.

In part, the Encyclical’s “lead balloon” fate resulted from the competition the document and responses to it had to face from the Charleston murders, the Confederacy flag flap, “gay marriage,” Donald Trump, etc.

What kept talk about the Encyclical in the news despite competition from the world of celebrities and sensations? The “tepid, cynical, apathetic” and—let’s admit it, “pathetic” denunciations and distancing by some Catholic presidential candidates.

Such stir was raw meat for hungry politicians and media-folk who devoured it as they tried to trump Trump.

The Encyclical may have been the most potent and promising papal document in decades, and we can be sure we will hear much more about it as Vatican voices work, on its basis, in synods, councils, and conferences. Still, the event leads many commentators to ponder the breadth and depth, the reach and limits, of papal utterances in recent history.

Some Catholic critics of the critics of Laudato Si remind us that for a century Vatican social documents have been repudiated, neglected, misrepresented, or unrecognized, often by precisely the same set of politicians and interest groups who most ostentatiously wear the insignia and bear the banners of papal authority on some other topics which are so familiar that they need no referencing here.

To quote the Pope in the cartoon, those critics or ignorers are the believers. But by now it is time to re-consult the files, electronic and otherwise, to notice that there are other responses than those implied in the Fourier cartoon.

First off, check the many responses that are favorable to the Pope during his Latin American visit, where his references to the dearness, fragility, and human exploitation of “our mother earth” have been applauded. True, a minority there and here in North America, aware that policies based on the pontiff’s prophetic words will be inconveniencing to many, favor the Encyclical’s involvement in “culture war” wars.  

What some of us wish had happened and might still be advocated as a response is that people read the document itself.

Particularly the “believers” in the public policy realm might do some reconsidering if they read the biblically-based, theologically grounded, literarily allusive and rich document. They might find what was obscured in news clips and on the campaign trails.

After (soon) a month of life with the Encyclical, we find ourselves collecting many positive responses, not only by “Catholic action” groups and “Latin Americans” but by editors of mainstream Catholic journals and study-group circles. The more one reads of these, the less heavy is the “Plop!” sound of the lead balloon we heard among the first reactions.

It’s not non-Catholics’ duty to cheer up the Pope, but we can’t resist cheering him on as we watch lighter balloons now rise and fly higher.


To see Joe Fournier’s “Encyclical” cartoon, visit: https://twitter.com/joe4nea.

The Editors. “‘Everything is Connected’: The Challenge & Hope of ‘Laudato Si’” Commonweal Magazine, June 29, 2015. https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/everything-connected.

Jenkins, John I. “The pope’s challenge on global warming.” Chicago Tribune, June 17, 2015, Commentary. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-pope-francis-climate-change-perspec-0618-20150617-story.html.

The Editors. “Mother and Sister Earth.” America: The National Catholic Review, June 6-13, 2015. http://americamagazine.org/issue/mother-and-sister-earth.

Image: Pope Francis greets pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Vatican (Feb. 26, 2014). Credit: giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com.

Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at  www.memarty.com.

To subscribe: (receive Sightings by email every Monday and Thursday) please click here, or visit http://uchicago.us6.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6b2c705bf61d6edb1d5e0549d&id=9e1fd51b8e.

 Managing Editor, Myriam Renaud