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Will a Catholic Way of Being Green be the Focus of a New Papal Encyclical Letter?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
5/4/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We should begin with the teaching of the Church as we exercise prudential judgment in evaluating this entire area of legitimate concern, as we do in other important areas. I eagerly await this letter from Pope Francis of Rome on a Catholic Way of being green.

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 wellspring of teaching in the Church on our relationship to the gift of God's creation and our responsibility to receive it, protect it and share it. The concern I have about some of the arguments concerning global warming or climate change 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 recent popes have articulated a vision of what they have called a human ecology. It is a great term which should be adopted by all Christians who seek to enter into the public discourse on this vital topic. I suggest that Catholics, who truly want to inform their own thinking on this often controversial topic of climate change, spend some time prayerfully reading and reflecting on the insights of their own Church before embracing the increasingly loaded language of the climate change debate.

The recent popes have articulated a vision of what they have called a human ecology. It is a great term which should be adopted by all Christians who seek to enter into the public discourse on this vital topic. I suggest that Catholics, who truly want to inform their own thinking on this often controversial topic of climate change, spend some time prayerfully reading and reflecting on the insights of their own Church before embracing the increasingly loaded language of the climate change debate.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - The rumors now seem to be more than rumors. Reliable sources indicate that Pope Francis is preparing his newest contribution in writing, perhaps an encyclical letter, on the topic of the environment, and our obligations to receive creation as both gift and trust.

At the beginning of the year, Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office, confirmed that the Pope had begun the work. What is clear is that Pope Francis will continue to develop the teaching trajectory of his friend and predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict.

The upcoming letter will focus on many themes. They will most certainly include creation as a gift that is given to us by the Creator, our call as stewards of that gift, and our obligations in solidarity to one another. 

In his message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace in 2014, entitled Fraternity as the Foundation and Pathway to Peace, Francis offered these insightful words which indicate where his thought on this vital topic is gravitating:

Fraternity helps to preserve and cultivate nature. The human family has received from the Creator a common gift: nature. The Christian view of creation includes a positive judgment about the legitimacy of interventions on nature if these are meant to be beneficial and are performed responsibly, that is to say, by acknowledging the "grammar" inscribed in nature and by wisely using resources for the benefit of all, with respect for the beauty, finality and usefulness of every living being and its place in the ecosystem.

Father Lombardi said in an interview for Vatican Radio that the Holy father "intends to put particular emphasis on the theme of "human ecology," a phrase used by Pope Benedict to describe not only how people must defend and respect nature but how the nature of the person - masculine and feminine as created by God - must also be defended."

This affirmation is consistent with a theme which I have often addressed, there is a Catholic Way of being green.

Our obligation to live out a proper stewardship of the environment is grounded in our obligation to - and solidarity with - one another. It begins with the understanding that we have been given to one another as gifts. In addition, creation is a gift, entrusted to us together as a human community. That brings with it responsibilities, which we must find a way to share, for the true common good.

In a letter on the environment released on January 1, 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict explained: There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person."

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.

With his characteristic clarity, Benedict XVI encouraged a proper approach to creation and exposed the dangers within certain streams of contemporary environmentalism. So too will his successor, Francis.

In fact, such an approach is consistent with the very name he chose for his pontificate. Despite efforts to romanticize his namesake's love for creation, it too was rooted in this kind of integrated Catholic Vision on creation as a gift and the dignity of the human person. It was rooted in a human ecology.

Over the last two years, Catholic Online has published a series of articles which purported to offer a kind of point/counterpoint on the controversial topic of climate change or global warming. I did not write any of them. I do not share much of the alarm sounded over climate change, even in some of those articles written by a colleague.  In fact, I disagree with much of what I believe was an overreaction to climate change.

However, I do believe we have an obligation to care for the creation - which we have abused. It is a part of our Baptismal obligation and our call to discipleship.  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 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 wellspring of teaching in the Church on our relationship to the gift of God's creation and our responsibility to receive it, protect it and share it. The concern I have about some of the arguments concerning global warming or climate change 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.

In addition to affirming our obligations as stewards of the gift of creation, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church warns about such 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 what has been called the 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.

We need a Catholic Environmental vision which is pro-life, pro-person, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-peace and fundamentally relational. 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.

The recent popes have articulated a vision of what they have called a human ecology. It is a great term which should be adopted by all Christians who seek to enter into the public discourse on this vital topic.
 
I suggest that Catholics, who truly want to inform their own thinking on this often controversial topic of climate change, spend some time prayerfully reading and reflecting on the insights of their own Church before embracing the increasingly loaded language of the climate change debate.

We should begin with the teaching of the Church as we exercise prudential judgment in evaluating this entire area of legitimate concern, as we do in other important areas.  I eagerly await this letter from Pope Francis of Rome on a Catholic Way of being green. 

---


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