A moral obligation: devout Catholics must defend the environment

Tue, May 23rd 2017 02:00 pm
Holy Family Social Justice Committee

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently urged our politicians not to abandon our commitment to the 2016 Paris Treaty on reducing pollution.
Despite their leadership, are we Catholics sufficiently concerned about God's creation, including the environment?

How many popes have to speak out against pollution and global warming before Catholics believe it's a significant Catholic and life issue? Francis devoted an encyclical to it, the two prior popes addressed it in encyclicals, and even back to Blessed Paul VI in major addresses. Encyclicals are developed with lengthy consultation with other bishops and Church-theologians, referencing the Bible and past teachings of the Church, so as to insure continuity. We Catholics have an obligation to obey and among the various Church teachings, Encyclicals require one of the highest degrees of assent.

Children, born and unborn, elderly and poor count in our concerns for being exposed to polluted air, water and soil, drought, floods and methane poisoning. All of us suffer, but those just mentioned are most endangered, suffer and a significant number die.

Future generations will be even more threatened. Don't we have an obligation to the children of the future?

Most bishops' confraternities internationally and religious orders: Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, Carmelites, Sisters of Mercy for instance, have spoken out, as have about 97 percent of scientists.

Yet some of us latch on to "lone wolf" critics (speaking for themselves without consultation and assent of a recognized group). We don't seem to listen to the popes or bishops, but instead to those with an axe to grind, and those few scientists who deny that problems are contributed to by humans and industry.

If you're inclined to dismiss Pope Francis (although educated in the sciences), because "he's too liberal," it was Pope Benedict XVI, who hired, some seven years ago, 32 top scientists to develop the Vatican's position on the environment. They concluded unequivocally that global warming was real, contributed to by man's actions and required immediate attention.

Pope Benedict proposed "eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment." He asked us to recognize that "the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior."

Before him St. John Paul II in his Encyclical "The Redeemer of Man" from 1979, warned that human beings frequently seem "to see no other meaning to their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption." He called for a "global ecological conversion" in "On the Beginning of the New Millennium" in 2001.

In 1971, Blessed Paul VI referred to ecological deterioration as "a tragic consequence of unchecked human activity. Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of the degradation." At the United Nations, he warned about an "ecological catastrophe under the effective explosions of industrial civilization," and stressed "the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity."

The Catechism, 1994, under St. John Paul II, states: "The Seventh Commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation ... destined for the common good of past, present and future humanity." "Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute. It is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbors, including generations to come."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said, "The effects of climate change are borne by the most vulnerable people ... at home (and) the world ... As Catholics our faith calls us to care for all of God's creation, especially the 'least of these' (Mt. 25:40)."

The USCCB addressed U.S. Congress, stating, "We oppose legislation (and riders) designed to reverse efforts to implement a national standard to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants." Also, "We recommend that the United States provide new U.S. funding for the Green Climate Fund that will help poor and vulnerable people in developing countries to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change."

Wegmans, General Electric, Alcoa and many other major businesses are significantly involved in solutions. They're finding it financially as well as socially rewarding, as well as 33 states, who've pushed renewable energies.

Will we accept our Catholic leaders' teachings? Or will we rationalize, based on the "lone wolf" rumblings, that doing something about pollution and global warming is too hard, too costly and not really a "pro-life" or Catholic issue?

Robert E. Golden, chair of Holy Family Social Justice Committee; served on Bishop Edward U. Kmiec's Justice and Peace Commission, and chair of a President Reagan health advisory committee.   

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