A Church divided

Recent eco statements by US bishops, and their reception, highlight divisions in the Church

Where the Triune God brings unity, Satan seeks to sow division.

Few truths better explain the ongoing debates and, yes, hostilities within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

From the indissolubility of marriage to immigration, there are many reasons we are divided—many symptoms to the disease of sin. One of these issues is, of course, environmental protection—which is all I’ll focus on here.

Last Friday, His Excellency, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego gave an impassioned speech at a United States gathering of the World Meeting of Popular Movements. Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter provides his usual in-depth coverage of the event and the talk by Bishop McElroy.

The speech was on a variety of topics—mostly a repudiation of the policies of President Trump, including on the environment. His fiery words fired up many of the faithful and infuriated many others. As it is so often, the real story seems to be found in the comments section—that dreaded online netherworld of hostilities and anonymity that bleeds with the modern-day fractures and wounds of the Body of Christ. In Roewe's story, the comments ran from the vilification of the bishop to his pending beatification.

Also last week came news of a letter issued from the Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico (Chair for the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), the Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, Florida (Chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development), and co-signed by Sean Callahan, the president of the US-based Catholic Relief Services.

The letter was a heartfelt and well-founded plea to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the Trump administration continue sound climate policies and honor existing climate agreements. And this news, too, resulted in often heated commentary from some quarters and joyful reception from others.

It still surprises me, even after all these years on this beat, that there's such a divide when it comes to eco-issues—climate change, in particular. More so, I am at a loss that the debate is not what to do about such issues, but whether they’re issues at all.

“The pope and the bishops are not experts in science,” goes the general criticism. “They should not speak about climate change or other environmental issues.”

Or there’s this:

“The eco movement is a ruse to sneak in anti-life, progressive agendas.”

Okay, there’s good reason to be worried about the latter—which is why the Church must be part of the ongoing conversations about environmental protection.

But as for the former—that questions the competency of our shepherds in matters of science—well, let’s look at the record:

Saint John XXIII was not a nuclear physicist, but he rightly spoke out against nuclear warfare. Pope Paul VI was not an embryologist, but he prophetically condemned crimes against human procreation. And Saint John Paul II was not, and Benedict XVI is not, trained in the natural sciences. Of the three popes that have reigned in the twentieth century, only Pope Francis ranks the in that subject. Nevertheless, all three have spoken out against known environmental harms and have linked them decisively with issues of human life.

"Would any politician dare discuss, on political grounds how diabetes, heart disease, or cancer are defined and detected? They will certainly debate how health care is provided, which is both a moral and political issue. Environmental or rather socio-environmental issues are conceptually the same as medical definitions ...” Dr. Pablo Canziani

“The main issue is that politicians and some citizens politicize issues which are essentially non-political,” Dr. Pablo Canziani told Catholic Ecology earlier today.

Canziani, an Argentinian climate scientist who assisted the then Cardinal Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio with issues of science and environmental protection, added that “[t]hus they attempt to give environmental issues a political essence and not their true essence, [which] after they are identified as a result of scientific and technical research, require moral decisions. How we implement those core decisions is where politics comes in. We can debate whether market-oriented policies, regulations, or a basket of policies can provide the much needed solutions. However both politicians, many environmentalist groups, and some citizens politicize the issues from the very core.”

“The rest of the citizens are befuddled by the debate,” he said, “and the true core issues are lost in the debate. We could compare this with medicine, diagnostics, and surgical procedures. Would any politician dare discuss, on political grounds how diabetes, heart disease, or cancer are defined and detected? They will certainly debate how health care is provided, which is both a moral and political issue. Environmental or rather socio-environmental issues are conceptually the same as medical definitions and diagnostics, but people do not see it that way.”

Canziani makes some good points.

As to why some people see things one way and others differently, a few answers come to mind—and here I’d suggest this post from a while back on the social sciences of perception and understanding.

In any event, as I noted above, my conservative brothers and sisters are often wary of eco issues because for decades it has been the political left that has carried the eco banner. At the same time, the left has supported artificial contraception, same-sex marriage, and abortion. No wonder the political right is concerned.

But again, the life-eco link is rooted deep within revelation and within Church teachings—not simply those of Pope Francis, but his predecessors as well. And yet, many Catholics still resist or dismiss the notion of ecological protection as a matter of concern for the Church.

Why? There has to be something else happening around us that is blinding so many and dividing us all. I am convinced that something else is our ancient enemy, who must be relishing in the turmoil and bitterness of our age.

So consider this the start of a series of posts on ways we can undo all this disunity and discord, besides remaining close to the sacraments, consecrating out efforts to the blessed mother, and praying often to Saint Michael.

For now, on the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, let us pray for our shepherds and all our brothers and sisters, that they, and we, might build up rather than destroy. That we might understand rather than scoff. That we will speak clearly of eternal truths, not sloppily about subjective ones. That we will not trust in our ways, but in the unified will of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

And while we’re at it, let us find comfort in the responsorial psalm of the day, remembering that our foes are not each other, but those fallen angels that prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.