Ignoring the pope: when Catholics fear ecology

Photo: M.Mazur/www.thepapalvisit.org.uk

A November 9th story by the Catholic News Agency, “US bishop links environmental justice with pro-life cause,” has resulted in dozens of reader comments, many of which lambaste the bishops and anyone else who seeks to suggest that ecology and human life have a connection.

The comments may surprise readers of this blog, who routinely find here information about how and why the Church has and continues to speak of ecological matters. And when I say “the Church,” I mean not a mere pontifical commission or a handful of episcopal councils. I refer mostly to Benedict XVI, who has been about as clear on this matter as one can.

But as seen from the comments in the CNA story, many Catholics object to placing ecology in the realm of Church teachings—especially as a teaching about life.

Here’s a sampling of what readers shared:

Carlos writes: “Poor bishop! He needs our prayers since he can't distinguish between political correctness and the Catholic faith. Consequently, I can't accept his statements as he presented them.”

JFK writes: “Does it occur to no one but me that if one does not have life at the onset, none of these other "seamless garment" issues matter more than a single drop of rain in a hurricane? A bishop is supposed to teach (on faith and morals, presumably), sanctify, and govern his flock. With statements like this being put forth, my soul is not significantly edified or sanctified. Luckily, his statement does not fall into the realm of governance.”

TMbrune writes “Sorry I can't see the connection.............Saving babies can't be equated with taking care of the environment.   It seems to me that the church needs to worry more about aborted babies and less of the environment.   The government is already driving all of us nuts with all the regulations., making it harder for small business to survive.  They have to cut down on hiring to use use the money to implement the regulations.”

And Schreib notes “I think that the Bishops should worry more about the salvation of souls.  They seem to more worried about social justice issues. The term social justice has a communist tone to it.  Bishops should speack [sic] the truth and evangelize.”

I am more than a little taken aback by the uncharitable vitriol and, yes, ignorance on the part of so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t know where to begin to answer such statements. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did add my two cents by noting Benedict XVI’s statement in the masthead of this blog.

For anyone who doubts the place of ecology in the Church’s defense of life—and its ability to evangelize truly by engaging an issue of the day—I suggest they skim through this portion of the Holy Father’s third encyclical, from which the masthead quote comes:
The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its life-style, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences[122]. What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new life-styles “in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments”[123]. Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment, just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society. Nature, especially in our time, is so integrated into the dynamics of society and culture that by now it hardly constitutes an independent variable. Desertification and the decline in productivity in some agricultural areas are also the result of impoverishment and underdevelopment among their inhabitants. When incentives are offered for their economic and cultural development, nature itself is protected. Moreover, how many natural resources are squandered by wars!Peace in and among peoples would also provide greater protection for nature.The hoarding of resources, especially water, can generate serious conflicts among the peoples involved. Peaceful agreement about the use of resources can protect nature and, at the same time, the well-being of the societies concerned. 
The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when “human ecology”[124is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits. Just as human virtues are interrelated, such that the weakening of one places others at risk, so the ecological system is based on respect for a plan that affects both the health of society and its good relationship with nature. 
In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.

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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.