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By Deacon Keith Fournier

4/16/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Global warming or climate change is one of those areas where the exercise of prudential judgment can find good Catholics and other Christians differing with one another. When we do, we should do so with charity.

Catholics should live a way of life which understands our place with one another in the world which God created for all of us to care for, steward and share. We need a human ecology, a relational environmentalism, a Catholic way of being green. The most recent debate concerning global warming invites us to continue to develop such an approach, together. It also calls for the charity in truth and respect which should characterize healthy debate between Catholics and other Christians. 


Highlights

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/16/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Green

Keywords: Green, global warming, climate change, environmentalism, human ecology, ecology, Benedict XVI, stewardship, Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic online) - We recently published a series of articles which offered a point/counterpoint on the controversial topic of climate change or global warming. I did not write any of them. As the Editor in Chief of Catholic Online, I allowed a robust debate to ensue in our comment section.

However, what is called global warming or climate change is one of those areas where the exercise of prudential judgment can find good Catholics and other Christians differing with one another. When we do, we should do so with charity.

The responses have now prompted me to address the subject of Catholics and environmental concerns in general. This is not the first time I have written on the issue. The Catholic Church has been green for a lot longer than any modern environmental movement.

We are called to what I call a relational environmentalism; one of stewardship with the earth which God has made and entrusted to us to care for and to share. For those eager to understand Catholic teaching on this vital topic, we should always begin with scripture and tradition.

We have a well of teaching in the Church on our relationship to the gift of God's creation. The concern I have about some of the arguments concerning global warming is that they promote one more charged right vs. left political food fight. Sadly, they too often use sometimes conflicting scientific data as fodder for the fight. We are not first political conservatives or liberals, we are first, last and all in between, Catholic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a structure for the study of our obligation to be good stewards of the gift of creation under the theme of Creation in its Index. Every Catholic who writes on this subject should be familiar with these sections, along with other Church documents. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops recently released a helpful document entitled Building a New Culture - Central Themes in Recent Church Teaching on the Environment.

The St Kateri Teckawitha Conservation Center is an excellent virtual clearing house of solid magisterial teaching concerning our obligations as stewards of the gift of creation.  The body of Catholic social teaching concerning this topic is catalogued in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church

In addition to affirming our obligations as stewards of the gift of creation, the Compendium also issues cautions about a misguided approach. For example in paragraph # 463 we read, 'A correct understanding of the environment prevents the utilitarian reduction of nature to a mere object to be manipulated and exploited.'

'At the same time, it must not absolutize nature and place it above the dignity of the human person himself. In this latter case, one can go so far as to divinize nature or the earth, as can readily be seen in certain ecological movements that seek to gain an internationally guaranteed institutional status for their beliefs.'

'The Magisterium finds the motivation for its opposition to a concept of the environment based on ecocentrism and on biocentrism in the fact that "it is being proposed that the ontological and axiological difference between men and other living beings be eliminated, since the biosphere is considered a biotic unity of undifferentiated value. Thus man's superior responsibility can be eliminated in favor of an egalitarian consideration of the 'dignity' of all living beings'.

Some in the current green movement have lost their way. The most obvious example is the inherent contradiction of worrying about polluting the atmosphere with toxic chemicals while at the same time supporting making toxic chemicals available to be ingested by mothers, including girls, in order to kill the children in their womb. We need a new way of being green, a Catholic way.

On June 9, 2011, then Pope Benedict XVI received the credential letters of six new ambassadors to the Holy See. He gave a speech addressing them.  In his speech the Pope sounded a theme which is common in his locutions and writings; he spoke of a Human Ecology. 

He recalled the 'innumerable tragedies that have affected nature, technology, and the peoples" that year and suggested that "the States should reflect together on the short term future of the planet, on our responsibilities regarding our life and technology'.

He said 'Human ecology is an imperative. Adopting a lifestyle that respects our environment and supports the research and use of clean energies that preserve the patrimony of creation and that are safe for human beings should be given political and economic priority'.

He called for a 'change in mentality' in order to 'quickly arrive at a global lifestyle that respects the covenant between humanity and nature, without which the human family risks disappearing.' He said that 'every government must commit themselves to protecting nature and assisting it to carry out its essential role in the survival of humanity.'

Then, he addressed technology saying, 'It is also helpful to ask ourselves about the appropriate role of technology because believing it is the exclusive agent of progress or happiness carries a reification of humanity that leads to blindness and misery. ... Technology that dominates human beings deprives them of their humanity. The pride that it generates has created an impossible economism in our societies as well as a hedonism that subjectively and selfishly regulates behavior.  The debilitation of the primacy of the human person provokes a loss of the meaning of life'.

The Pope Emeritus noted 'it is urgent that we match technology with a strong ethical dimension. ... Technology should help nature develop along the lines envisioned by the Creator. In working together, the researcher and the scientist adhere to God's plan that desired humanity as the apex and the administrator of creation. Solutions based on this principle will protect human life and its vulnerability, as well as the rights of the present and future generations'.

There was nothing new in his words. They comported with what he had written and said since he assuming his office. However, some Press reports focused on his encouragement of clean energy. In some instances the reports implied the Pope had somehow joined the Green movement. I thought back to 2009 when he sent a letter to participants in the World Day of Peace entitled If You Want to Cultivate Peace, protect creation.

In fact, he referred to that 2009 letter in his 2011 address. However, the Press explicitly reported the address as some kind of papal conversion to a green ideology. A Reuters report bore the headline Pope Goes Green. Benedict simply reaffirmed the Catholic understanding of our relationship with the goods of the earth and our call to stewardship of the planet which has been given to us by the Creator as a gift. Here are some salient excerpts from that 2009 letter:

'Without belief in the true God our efforts are in ultimately fruitless, in fact not only fruitless, but they bear poisonous fruit if the Church's magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things.'

'In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the dignity of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man's salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms.'

The media reports tried to fit the Pope's letter into a simplistic green template. They also demonstrated the reporters had not read the actual letter. In that letter, and in his address to those ambassadors, the Pope repeated themes developed in his Encyclical Letter entitled Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). Those themes are a part of Catholic Social teaching. They are found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and have their roots in the Bible and the Christian Tradition.

His Holiness Benedict XVI called for an integral human development which recognizes the centrality of the human person and the primacy of our relationships with one another in family and society. He underscored the truth that creation is a gift, given to human persons by a God of love who entrusts us with responsibility for one another - and therefore for the goods which promote our human flourishing. We all have a responsibility for one another. We need to live together as good stewards of creation, recognizing the need first for a human ecology.

Here is another excerpt from the 2009 letter: 'The Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction. The degradation of nature is closely linked to the cultural models shaping human coexistence: consequently, when 'human ecology' is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits'.

'Young people cannot be asked to respect the environment if they are not helped, within families and society as a whole, to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics. Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others.'

'Hence I readily encourage efforts to promote a greater sense of ecological responsibility which, as I indicated in my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate,(Charity in Truth) would safeguard an authentic human ecology and thus forcefully reaffirm the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one is trained in love of neighbor and respect for nature. There is a need to safeguard the human patrimony of society. This patrimony of values originates in and is part of the natural moral law, which is the foundation of respect for the human person and creation.'

Benedict XVI presented a Catholic Environmental vision; one which is pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-peace and fundamentally relational. That is what we should present, build upon and espouse as well. We are to receive one another as gifts. We must never use human persons as objects. We should receive creation as a gift, our common home, to be shared with one another, and not as an object of use. He articulated a vision for a human ecology which can promote a path to authentic peace.

He concluded his 2009 letter with these words, 'The Church, for her part, is concerned that the question be approached in a balanced way, with respect for the "grammar" which the Creator has inscribed in his handiwork by giving man the role of a steward and administrator with responsibility over creation, a role which man must certainly not abuse, but also one which he may not abdicate. In the same way, the opposite position, which would absolutize technology and human power, results in a grave assault not only on nature, but also on human dignity itself.

'If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation. In the light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to the Church's Tradition, Christians have their own contribution to make.'

'They contemplate the cosmos and its marvels in light of the creative work of the Father and the redemptive work of Christ, who by his death and resurrection has reconciled with God "all things, whether on earth or in heaven" (Col 1:20). Christ, crucified and risen, has bestowed his Spirit of holiness upon mankind, to guide the course of history in anticipation of that day when, with the glorious return of the Savior, there will be "new heavens and a new earth" (2 Pet 3:13), in which justice and peace will dwell forever'.

'Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all.'

'May this be clear to world leaders and to those at every level who are concerned for the future of humanity: the protection of creation and peacemaking are profoundly linked! For this reason, I invite all believers to raise a fervent prayer to God, the all-powerful Creator and the Father of mercies, so that all men and women may take to heart the urgent appeal: If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation'

One of the accurate reports on the Pope's 2009 letter came from Giuliano Ferrara, the director of the Italian daily Il Foglio who wrote 'The Pope denounces the ecological crisis but does not belong to the church of Al Gore. Benedict XVI in no way denies human abuse of nature. He notes that he does not share the 'the environmentalist religion or environmentalism as a religion'. The Pope has another faith, based on the transcendence of a God that creates man in his image and likeness to entrust nature to him. He has, evidently, no need for replacement beliefs, of ideologies feigned as science.'

Catholics should live a way of life which understands our place with one another in the world which God created for all of us to care for, steward and share. We need a human ecology, a relational environmentalism, a Catholic way of being green. The most recent debate concerning global warming invites us to continue to develop such an approach, together. It also calls for the charity in truth and respect which should characterize healthy debate between Catholics and other Christians. 

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


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