Papal environmentalism: pro-life and pro-marriage

In his Jan. 11 address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI continued to carve out an interesting Catholic position on ecology. The Pope insists that care for creation is a moral obligation that falls on both individuals and governments. His very invocation of “creation,” however, challenges the secular shibboleths that underwrite a lot of contemporary environmental activism.

Here is the money paragraph in the papal address to the diplomats assembled in the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace:

“Twenty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the materialistic and atheistic regimes which had for several decades dominated a part of this continent, it was easy to assess the great harm which an economic system lacking any reference to the truth about man had done not only to the dignity and freedom of individuals and peoples, but to nature itself, by polluting soil, water, and air. The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation. It follows that the protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, in as much as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and comes from God.”

Now, the overlap between orthodox Christians and radical environmentalists may not be what the mathematicians call a “null set;” but I rather doubt that those who qualify on both counts would fill, say, the new Cowboys Stadium. Dubieties on this front harden when, two paragraphs later, the Pope explicitly linked an aroused environmental conscience to the inalienable right-to-life: “…this concern…for the environment should be situated within the larger framework of the great challenges now facing mankind… . [Thus] how can we separate, or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life, including the life of the unborn? It is in man’s respect for himself that his sense of responsibility is shown. As Saint Thomas Aquinas has taught us, man represents all that is most noble in the universe…”

Two paragraphs after that, Benedict tied care for the environment to the defense of marriage rightly understood—another issue that does not, I suspect, loom large on the agenda of Greenpeace:

“…we must remember that the problem of the environment is complex; one might compare it to a multifaceted prism. Creatures differ from one another and can be protected, or endangered, in different ways, as we know from daily experience. One such attack comes from laws or proposals which, in the name of fighting discrimination, strike at the biological basis of the difference between the sexes. I am thinking, for example, of certain countries in Europe, or North and South America…”—that is, countries (or, in our case, states) that have given legal sanction to so-called “same-sex marriage.”

So: according to Benedict XVI, a consistent Catholic environmentalism must include the defense of life from conception until natural death and the defense of marriage as the stable union of a man and a woman. Indeed, I expect the Pope would argue that any environmentalism worthy of the name would take up the cause of life and the cause of marriage, for the truths that undergird the Catholic pro-life position and the Catholic defense of marriage-rightly-understood are moral truths that can be known by reason—they’re not some “sectarian” Catholic theological chicanery, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Vice President of the United States notwithstanding.

It will be interesting to see if the new papal environmentalism coaxes a few brave souls from the ecology camp into common cause with those less politically correct movements in defense of life and marriage. I’m skeptical, not least because of decades of moral confusion during which radical environmentalists have shown far more concern for endangered species of insects than for endangered pre-born children. As for the gay insurgency, it takes no prisoners and is unlikely to see its cause as counter-environmental. Still, the papal challenge has been laid down, and as they say in Rome, “We think in centuries here.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash