Central Themes in Recent Catholic Teaching on the Environment

 — Apr. 8, 20138 avril 2013

CCCB commission releases document about recent church teachings on the environment

A new Canadian Catholic bishops’ document summarizing themes of recent church teaching on the environment is an urgent cry for action, says Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

“Recent church teaching and papal statements are clearly telling us that the way we are living is not sustainable,” said Bolen, one of the bishops on the Canadian bishops’ Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, which released the new resource April 8 entitled “Building a New Culture: Central Themes in Recent Church Teaching on the Environment.”

“Care of the environment is a growing area of concern for the Church and for all human beings, and in fact the Church has been speaking about this – and in particular, recent popes have been speaking about this – not only with regularity, but with passion,” said Bolen.

“That urgent concern for the environment is the premise and the starting point of this document and of the papal statements that it draws upon.”

Bolen noted that it is important to understand the genre of the document.  Rather than addressing specific government policies, it lays out guiding principles for Catholic engagement on such issues.

“The bishops are trying to foster a mature church, where educated, passionately committed, well-informed laity will take the lead in addressing these critical issues of the day.”

For those who believe the environmental crisis is not the Church’s concern, the document will hopefully serve as a wake up call, encouraging them to become responsibly engaged, he said.

“Yet it does so not by entering into debate about particular strategies, but by setting forth a vision. It makes clear that for Catholics, the care of the environment is part of a larger vision,” Bolen explained.

“We want to situate the environmental issue within this vast vision of what we are called to on this earth,” he said, describing how the new document makes connections between different areas of moral responsibility for Christians.

“It makes connections between care for the environment and economic issues,” he explained. “It makes connections between environmental responsibility and concern with human beings, especially those in greatest need: especially the poor and the marginalized. It makes connections between environmental work and the promotion of dignity of all human beings, and protection of human life from conception to natural death. And it challenges the Catholic community to make those connections as we address environmental concerns or as we engage in other work for the common good.”

It is a holistic model of social engagement that places each issue within the broad vision of the common good, inspired by Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God, and “by the notion that we are in a covenantal relationship with all of creation (as we hear in Genesis 9: 9-10) as well as with all human beings,” he stressed.

In the past decade, the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops (CCCB) social affairs commission has released two pastoral letters addressing the “Christian ecological imperative” (2003) and “Our Relationship with the Environment: The Need for Conversion” (2008). The newly released document from the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace is described as a resource, offering an overview of Church teaching.

“The unique contribution of this document is to say: these are the principles we would invite you to draw on as you go forth and engage in this issue and as you take action,” said Bolen.

The new document highlights teaching by John Paul II and Benedict XVI “who both spoke very strongly and wisely on this subject,” Bolen said.

Some of the materials presented in the document are ecumenical in nature, coming from common declarations of John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. “I think that those ecumenical quotations are important, because our Catholic commitment to the environment and to the larger common good is shared in a very special way with other Christian communities,” said Bolen. “This is an area where it is exceedingly important that we act together,”

The document distills eight foundational themes from recent papal teaching on the environment: human beings are creatures made in God’s image; creation has an intrinsic order; human ecology and its relationship to environmental ecology; responsible stewardship; care for the environment is a moral issue; solidarity; creation and spirituality; and responses to current environmental problems.

Within those themes, the document affirms that there is a significant environmental crisis, that this is an urgent situation, and that human beings must change their behaviour to become faithful stewards of God’s sacred creation, described Bolen.

“It is critiquing our society’s preoccupation with short term economic interests and the selfish quest for pleasure or profit,” he said.

In the words of John Paul II, quoted in the document: “I encourage public authorities and all men and women of good will to question themselves about their daily attitudes and decisions, which should not be dictated by an unlimited and unrestrained quest for material goods without regard for the surrounding in which we live, and which should be capable of responding to the basic needs of present and future generations. This attention constitutes an essential dimension of solidarity between generations.”

Responses to current environmental problems cited by the bishops include: the urgent need for action; a need for policy development to protect the environment against selfish interests, whether corporate or individual; and a need for international cooperation and policies that go beyond borders.

The document also states that the costs of implementing policies to address environmental problems should “lie primarily with the states who bear responsibility for the problem in the first place and not with those states who are its victims and who represent the poorest populations.”

The message from the bishops also calls on those in developed nations to reduce their consumption of goods. The document cites a message for the World Day of Peace 2010 in which Benedict XVI stated: “Natural resources should be used in such a way that immediate benefits do not have a negative impact on living creatures, human and not, present and future; that the protection of private property does not conflict with the universal destination of goods; that human activity does not compromise the fruitfulness of the earth, for the benefit of people now and in the future.”

The document is also inviting human beings to a stance of wonder before the created world, added Bolen. “This profound wonder is what can motivate us to care properly for the environment, and it also points us to God’s presence in creation.”

As the document states, quoting a 2002 statement from Blessed John Paul II: “Through the human person, spokesman for all creation, all living things praise the Lord. Our breath of life that also presupposes self-knowledge, awareness and freedom becomes the song and prayer of the whole of life that vibrates in the universe.”

Serving on the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) with Bolen are Archbishop Anthony Mancini of the archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth; Bishop François Lapierre, P.M.É., of the diocese of Saint-Hyacinthe; and Bishop Noël Simard, of the diocese of Valleyfield. The document was prepared with help of CCCB support staff, including François Poitras and Patrick Fletcher, and in consultation with a number of theologians and experts, Bolen noted.

The complete document can be found online on the CCCB website: www.cccbpublications.ca or call 1-800-769-1147.


SUMMARY of the document Building a New Culture: Central Themes in Recent Church Teaching on the Environment” released April 8, 2013 by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

1. Human Beings are Creatures Made in God’s Image

Human beings are part of the natural world, yet simultaneously transcend it. There are two key elements here: (1) human beings are creatures, i.e., we are not God. We are therefore not to act with god-like domination over the rest of creation, but rather to recognize that creation comes to us as a gift from our Creator. (2) Unique among creatures, we are created in God’s image, and therefore bear an inestimable dignity.

2. Creation has an Intrinsic Order

The created universe is the fruit of the love of God, which has produced human beings in his image who can recognize the intelligent ordering of creation.  Because of their privileged position in creation, human beings must recognize their responsibility to be guardians of this creation, and to ensure the proper balance of the ecosystems they depend on.

3. “Human Ecology” and its Relationship to Environmental Ecology

If ecology implies a system of relationships and interactions, then we can say that maintaining a proper ecology of our natural environment is only possible when we foster a truly “human ecology,” that is, when we promote human relationships and interactions that respect the dignity of the human person, the common good, and nature. This is because of humanity’s unique place in creation. Central to this human ecology is the right to life of every human being, from conception to natural death.

4. Responsible Stewardship

Nature has attained its fulfillment in human beings, who have received the task of giving thanks for it and caring for it. This care, identified as “subduing” (Gn 1.28) in the Bible, is not domination but rather “responsible stewardship.” As a steward, human beings recognize that the environment does not belong to them but is a gift entrusted to them which demands responsibility in action. Human beings discern the role granted to them by God by exercising their reflexive intelligence and ethical judgment.

5. Care for the Environment is a Moral Issue

Because of the place of human beings in nature, care for the environment is never only an economic or technological issue; it is above all a moral one. Any solutions that attempt to solve environmental problems but are based only on utilitarian factors will not provide authentic solutions. This is because both economic activity and the use of technology are human actions and therefore always contain a moral component. The destruction of our environment is due to a neglect of ecology caused by short-term economic interests and the selfish quest for pleasure or profit, and is therefore ultimately caused by a lack of Gospel values.

6. Solidarity

Because creation has been entrusted to the human race as a whole and not to any one person, group, or nation, both its resources and the responsibility for its care must be shared by all. This implies solidarity between individuals, peoples, and nations, as well as “intergenerational solidarity,” that is, the preservation of the environment for future generations. Also of key importance is our solidarity with the poor, whose ability to access resources is often limited. Since environmental degradation is often related to poverty, solidarity demands that structural forms of poverty be addressed. It also demands that those who use and exploit resources bear the true costs of this use, which must take into account the environmental repercussions on future generations. In summary, solidarity with respect to the environment is based on the requirements of justice and the common good, which is understood to extend not only between those living, but forward, to those not yet born.

7. Creation and Spirituality

The wondrous beauty of creation ought to lead us to recognize within it the artistry of our Creator and to give him praise. The created world is not simply a place to live, or material for our use; it possesses an aesthetic element which can lift our minds to God.

8. Responses to Current Environmental Problems

The Church does not propose or evaluate specific technical solutions to our current environmental problems. Rather, her task is to remind people of the relationship between creation, human beings, and the Creator. Nonetheless, there are certain general principles without which problems cannot be remedied. These include:

Posted: Apr. 8, 2013 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=3590
Categories: News, ResourcesIn this article: bishops, Canada, CCCB, creation, ecology, environment, theology
Transmis : 8 avril 2013 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=3590
Catégorie : News, ResourcesDans cet article : bishops, Canada, CCCB, creation, ecology, environment, theology

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