Progressively worse

From the WikiLeaks drama we remember that the environmental movement has long found a home in anti-Catholic elements of the Left, which is why the Church must get her voice heard

The bizarre and disheartening political drama known at the United States 2016 Presidential Elections continues, and Catholics are caught in the middle. That is, faithful Catholics are caught in the middle. Misinformed and sometimes openly dissident Catholics seem to be using the election for ideological advantage, as they are the ecological movement. Thus Catholic ecologists must make clear that it will only be through the Gospel's consistent life ethic that we human beings can protect nature—in every sense of that word.

This week we learned from emails published in WikiLeaks that John Podesta, who is heading up Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as well as other high-ranking campaign officials have been rather unappreciative of the Church.

The matter is being covered by some news outlets and ignored by others. (My local daily, The Providence Journal, seems unaware of this national story.) The Catholic media has covered it, of course. In fact has a helpful summary of unfolding events. Archbishop Chaput (Philadelphia) has penned an even more helpful response at the National Catholic Register.

But what is all this about? One email chain from the WikiLeaks trove helps explain the growing controversy. This from Sandy Newman, president of Voices for Progress, writing to John Podesta:

There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church. Is contraceptive coverage an issue around which that could happen. The Bishops will undoubtedly continue the fight. Does the Catholic Hospital Association support of the Administration's new policy, together with "the 98%" create an opportunity? Of course, this idea may just reveal my total lack of understanding of the Catholic church, the economic power it can bring to bear against nuns and priests who count on it for their maintenance, etc. Even if the idea isn't crazy, I don't qualify to be involved and I have not thought at all about how one would "plant the seeds of the revolution," or who would plant them. Just wondering . . .

Podesta replies, "We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up." (Note that Christopher Hale, the executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, responded to this here.)

A few cautionary observations

These and other emails show off the general rule that the Left (to use the conventional terminology)—which has long been home for the ecological protection movement—is often at a loss to embrace the fullness of teachings of the Church. In fact, it seems many who hold such ideological persuasions seek to undermine our bishops, who teach and defend the fullness of the Catholic faith, no matter what the social and political currents of the day.

My own experiences have shown me this. I have worked with Catholics in my eco-advocacy role who routinely speak against bishops for defending marriage and the right to life but not necessarily ecological issues. I can understand the desire of some for more bishops to speak out about toxins and issues of clean water and climate change, but it is wrong to criticize bishops for doing their jobs protecting Catholic moral teachings on life and marriage—unless you disagree with such life-affirming teachings, in which case you may wish to drop the word Catholic from your affiliations.

After all, the aim of protecting life on Earth can only happen when we follow both the laws of nature and the natural law. That means we have to teach and defend both. Picking and choosing which universal laws to defend does not a Catholic make, even if we all struggle with this or that teaching in our fallen world.

Many on the Left—especially Progressive elements—resist this link. This resistance fuels their anti-Catholic leanings. In that respect, they’re much like those on the Right who look down on the laws of nature when speaking against eco-protection, most notably climate change.

And so we are reminded in the WikiLeaks email release that a goal of the Progressive movement is bundling eco-protection with anti-life, anti-marriage, and anti-God teachings, which in one way or another are anti-Christian distortions of what was born out of the West’s Christian foundations, the truth of which is now mostly forgotten by people who seek to govern us.

Here we benefit from a bit of B16:

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 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. (Caritas in Veritate, 51, emphasis original.)

Benedict’s unifying words on asserting the responsibility of creation in the public sphere is all the more important in the hyper-anti-Catholic world of the Left. Thus the Church’s presence in the eco-advocacy world is essential so that she can attempt to correct and baptize damaging political ideologies through authentic dialogue and correction. This is what Pope Francis has also been telling us. And one of the reasons he has been saying and acting on such forms of encounter is, I believe, that he understands the hatred of many on the Left (and Right) for Catholic teachings, and he is trying to infiltrate and correct error.

He’s right to take this approach, even if it is fraught with risk. In my capacities as a government regulator, part-time eco-advocate, and a Catholic teacher, I talk to many people (Catholic and non-Catholics) who appreciate the Church’s eco-statements but not those on marriage, abortion, and contraception, etc. But when they speak with me, the abstract reality of “the Church” becomes tangible in my presence before them and in our shared interests. And thus they have to reconsider what it is they think about the Church and her teachings, especially when I connect the dots between ecology and the Church’s moral teachings—when I connect the laws of nature with the natural law.

And, I argue, that is a means for evangelization and catechesis.


We’ll see what the fallout is of the Clinton campaign’s anti-Catholic connections. If the mainstream media has its way, the story will be contained and ignored. But for many of us, what came out of WikiLeaks is hardly surprising. Some of us experience it routinely where we live and work.

And so on we go, keeping close to Christ in the Eucharist and in all the sacraments, trusting in the life-giving presence of the Holy Spirit, and remembering always that God the Father, who created all that is, will be the one that ultimately saves all that is broken and judges all of us who broke it.

Photo: Flicker/Center for American Progress

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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.