CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING: ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP

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Earlier this month, Bishop Ryan P. Jimenez announced that Social Justice Commission of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa would publish articles that share Catholic social teachings on several issues that are of interest and concern to voters and candidates alike as the November 2018 elections approach. These articles are not meant to direct voters to vote for any particular candidate or platform. Rather, as Bishop Ryan wrote, these articles are intended to help the faithful “carefully discern the issues affecting our community and to use your conscience in examining these issues”. What follows is the second of such articles.

by the Social Justice Commission, Diocese of Chalan Kanoa and Mount Carmel School’s Introduction to Media Communications students

In Brief

  • We must take care of God’s creation.
  • Since the environment is shared by all, caring for the environment must include caring for everyone, especially the poor.
  • The environment is getting worse and we must do something about it.
  • Leaders, businesses, and citizens can and must change laws, practices, and behaviors in order to protect the environment.

At Length

The Catholic Church brings a distinct perspective to the discussion of environmental questions, by lifting up the moral dimensions of these issues and the needs of the most vulnerable among us. This unique contribution is rooted in Catholic teaching calling us to care for creation and for “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:40). Our Creed also reminds us that everything on earth is created by God, and is thus sacred.

This care and respect for nature forms the foundation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches us that we “must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 339). The Catechism also teaches that the “use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2415).

In this respect, the Catechism offers guidance for individuals, business, and governments. For individuals, the Catechism notes that we should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also “in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2404, citing Gaudium et Spes, no. 69 § 1). Similarly, those “responsible for business enterprises are responsible to society for the economic and ecological effects of their operations” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2432; cf. Centesimus Annus, no. 37). The Catechism also notes that individuals and business “who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2405). Lastly, the Catechism also recognizes that “political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2406; cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 71 §4; Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 42; Centesimus Annus, nos. 42, 48).

It is based on these teachings that many popes have lamented the state of the environment. In his 1971 apostolic letter, Octogesima Adveniens, Pope Paul VI wrote, “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation. Not only is the material environment becoming a permanent menace – pollution and refuse, new illness and absolute destructive capacity – but the human framework is no longer under man’s control, thus creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable. This is a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire human family” (No. 21). In his 1990 Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II wrote, “The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution. Often, the interests of production prevail over concern for the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution or environmental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductionist vision which at times leads to a genuine contempt for man” (No.7). And in his 2009 encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “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” (No. 51).

More recently, in his 2015 encyclical letter, Laudato Si, Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis summarizes his predecessor’s concerns with a simple challenge: “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change” (202).

With these Church teachings and exhortations from the Vatican, how, then, can we, as citizens, change? More importantly, what can we do? In its 2015 “Caring for God’s Creation”, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers four concrete steps the faithful can take:

  1. Encourage lawmakers to improve and update public transportation options. When effective and far-reaching public transportation systems are in place, fewer cars clog the roads to emit greenhouse gases and air-polluting contaminants.
  2. Join local efforts of groups working with elected officials and community leaders to explore ways your local community can do business and reduce harmful emissions.
  3. Organize or participate in local Earth Day celebrations to raise awareness of the challenges of climate change.
  4. Pay attention to legislation going before the legislature that concern climate, emissions, or energy policies. Urge legislators to remember that people who live in poverty may suffer the most from climate change and that legislative measures should include provisions that address disproportionate economic impacts.

As we do these things, we can build a new hope for humanity and our home. As Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si, “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (13).

Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2002, second edition Libreria Editrice Vaticana-United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. Used with permission. All rights reserved

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