Self-sacrifice key to creation woes, theologian says

Boulder theologian reacts to pope’s ecology letter

The world is abuzz over Pope Francis’ papal letter on ecology that drew strong reactions from theologians and politicians.

The pope’s second encyclical, titled Laudato Si (Praised be): On the Care of Our Common Home, urges the world to engage in a dialogue about humanity’s responsibility to protect God’s creation.

Scott Powell

Scott Powell

It’s a subject all too familiar for Scott Powell, director of scriptural theology at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder.

“I’m up here in Boulder and it’s a big topic of conversation,” Powell told the Denver Catholic. “Whenever I tell people the Church has something to say about these things, their minds are always blown.”

Pope Francis’ 184-page encyclical touches a range of topics including environmental degradation, integral ecology, the impact of consumerism and a call to take action to care for creation. It’s not the first time a pope has spoken strongly about global issues, including the environment.

“It’s something that’s on the heart and mind of the Church, and it has been for a long time,” Powell said.

Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Peace on Earth” in 1963 addressed nuclear arms and war, and Pope Paul VI’s “Of Human Life” discussed population growth and artificial birth control.

Powell said Francis and previous popes’ writings communicate a similar message: think outside oneself.

“What the pope wants is Christians who know how to sacrifice, is Christians who know how to think outside of themselves and think of something other than ourselves. That’s the heart of the encyclical,” he said.

And the way to start is to act virtuously.

“The whole moral imperative is just be holy,” Powell said after reading the encyclical. “We should be holy, our country should be holy, our corporations should be holy. … When we begin to again think about someone other than ourselves, then we begin to solve these problems.”

The problems the world faces are lack of clean drinking water, climate change and harmful greenhouse gases, according to the pope. He asks the world to reflect on the kind of earth they would want to leave future generations.

Colorado’s three bishops—Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs and Bishop Stephen Berg of Pueblo—responded to the encyclical saying all people need to work together to protect the created world and work on building a culture of stewardship and respect.

“The encyclical calls all people and communities of good will, not just the faith community, to action; everyday small actions from recycling to advocating for well-informed environmental policies matter,” the bishops stated on June 18. “Our communities, in partnership with business, can work together to find sustainable energy solutions. This partnership means that economic prosperity, protection of the created world, and inclusion of the poor and vulnerable should be pursued together.”

Protecting the environment falls in the laps of people worldwide, Powell said. And the pope writes that creation is part of a connected relationship between oneself, others and God.

“When one part of a four-part harmony is off, you actually lose the tune in it,” Powell said. “It changes something. That’s what Christ died for—is those relationships.”

How to care for that relationship with creation may be up for debate.

“He makes it clear in the encyclical there’s room for difference of opinion, there’s room for people of good will to differ on how to deal with certain things,” Powell said.

The encyclical includes specific points on being responsible with choices impacting the environment. But Powell said the pope isn’t asking people to simply recycle.

A youth prays atop a mountain during Camp Wojtyla, a Catholic summer camp. Pope Francis discusses humanity's relationship with creation in his encyclical Laudato Si.

A youth prays atop a mountain during Camp Wojtyla, a Catholic summer camp. Pope Francis discusses humanity’s relationship with creation in his encyclical Laudato Si. Photo provided

“The point is not let’s just recycle because there’s a lot of paper we need to not waste. That’s part of it—that’s true,” Powell commented. “But the more that I’m conscious about what I’m doing, the more I’m going to be able to be conscious of being self-sacrificial.”

The root of all sin, including a lack of care for the created world, is selfishness, he said.

“The heart of the matter is the same problem we had since day one of human life, which is self-centeredness, which is a lack of care for what’s around us be it other people, their own selves, or the created world that he’s given us,” Powell said. “In my opinion the problem of human selfishness is reaching climatic levels. I think that’s partially why the pope wants to speak out about this now.”

Also as co-founder of Camp Wojtyla, Powell and his wife, Annie, lead an outdoor camp for youth to teach them about the faith, especially through metaphors drawings on nature.

Creation is a great teacher of Christ’s ways and thinking about one’s relationship with him.

“We need to care for creation because if we don’t, it’s going to affect probably the most vulnerable among us,” Powell said. “It’s going to affect the poor, the elderly, and developing countries. Our not caring for creation will affect human beings.”

COMING UP: Colorado Catholic Conference 2021 Legislative Recap

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On June 8, the First Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly adjourned. Over 600 bills were introduced this session. Policy primarily focused on transportation, agriculture, healthcare, fiscal policy, and the state budget. However, the legislature also considered and passed many bills that could impact the Catholic Church in Colorado.  

Some bills that were passed will uphold Catholic social teaching and protect the poor and vulnerable of our society while others pose potentially harmful consequences to the Catholic Church, its affiliated organizations, and Colorado citizens who wish to practice their well-founded convictions. There were also many bills that were considered by the legislature that did not pass, including two bills that would have upheld the sanctity of life and two that would have expanded education opportunity for K-12 students.  

The Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC), as the united voice of the four Colorado bishops, advocated for Catholic values at the Capitol and ensured that the Church’s voice was heard in the shaping of policy.  

Below is a recap of the CCC’s 19 priority bills from the 2021 legislative session. For a full list of the legislation the Conference worked on, please visit: https://www.cocatholicconference.org/2021-legislative-bills-analysis/  

For regular updates and other information, please sign-up for the CCC legislative network here.  

Six bills the CCC supported that were either passed or enacted

Note: Passed means the bill was approved by both chambers of the legislature and is pending the governor’s signature as of June 9, 2021. Enacted means the bill was signed by the governor and became law.  

HB 21-1011 Multilingual Ballot Access for Voters – Passed  
If enacted, counties where either 2,000 adults or 2.5% of the adult population primarily speak a language other than English will be required to provide a ballot in that language. 

HB 21-1075 Replace The Term Illegal Alien – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1075, the term “illegal alien” was replaced with the term “worker without authorization” as it relates to public contracts for services.  

SB 21-027 Emergency Supplies for Colorado Babies and Families – Passed  
If enacted, the state government will allocate much-needed funding for nonprofit organizations to provide diapers and other childcare necessities to families in need, including Catholic Charities.  

SB 21-077 Remove Lawful Presence Verification Credentialing – Enacted    
With the enactment of SB 77, verification of lawful presence will no longer be required for any applicant for a license, certificate, or registration, particularly in the job fields of education and childcare.  

SB 21-146 Improve Prison Release Outcomes – Passed  
If enacted, SB 146 will establish practices that ease the transition back into society for formerly incarcerated persons.  

SB 21-158 Increase Medical Providers for Senior Citizens – Passed  
If enacted, SB 158 will allocate more funding for senior citizen care, which is currently understaffed and underfunded.  

Eight bills the CCC opposed that were passed 


HB 21-1072 Equal Access Services For Out-of-home Placements – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1072, Colorado law now prohibits organizations that receive state funding for placing children with adoptive or foster parents from discriminating on, among other things, the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This new law will likely to be impacted by the imminent Fulton v. City of Philadelphia U.S. Supreme Court decision. 

HB 21-1108 Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination – Enacted 
With the enactment of HB 1108, “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” are now recognized as protected classes in Colorado nondiscrimination code. This may have serious religious liberty implications for individuals and organizations that wish to practice their well-founded convictions on marriage and human sexuality. 

SB21-006 Human Remains Natural Reduction Soil – Enacted 
With the enactment of SB 006, human remains can now be converted to soil using a container that accelerates the process of biological decomposition, also known as “natural reduction.” 

SB 21-009 Reproductive Health Care Program – Passed 
If enacted, SB 009 will create a taxpayer funded state program to increase access to contraceptives.  

SB 21-016 Protecting Preventive Health Care Coverage – Passed 
If enacted, the definition of “family planning services” and “family planning-related services” will not be clearly defined in law and could potentially include abortion. Furthermore, SB 16 removes the requirement that a provider obtain parental consent before providing family planning services to a minor.  

SB 21-025 Family Planning Services for Eligible Individuals– Passed 
If enacted, SB 025 low-income women to be given state-funded contraception, “preventing, delaying, or planning pregnancy” services, which includes cessation services and sterilization services.  

SB 21-142 Health Care Access in Cases of Rape or Incest– Enacted  
The enactment of SB 142 removes the requirement that, if public funds are being used, a physician must perform an abortion at a hospital, and instead allows for abortions to be performed by any “licensed provider.”   

SB21-193 Protection of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period– Passed 
If enacted, SB 193 will eliminate an important protection in Colorado law for a preborn and viable baby when a woman is on life support.  

Five bills the CCC supported that failed  

HB21-1017 Protect Human Life at Conception – Failed 
HB 1017 would have prohibited terminating the life of an unborn child and made it a violation a class 1 felony.  

HB 21-1080 Nonpublic Education and COVID-19 Relief Act – Failed 
HB 1080 would have established a private school and home-based education income tax credit for families who either enroll their child in private school or educate their child at home, thereby expanding education opportunities for families during and after the pandemic.  

HB 21-1183 Induced Termination of Pregnancy State Registrar – Failed 
HB 1183 would have required health-care providers that perform abortions to report specified information concerning the women who obtain the procedure to the state registrar of vital statistics, thereby increasing transparency in the abortion industry.   

HB 21-1191 Prohibit Discrimination COVID-19 Vaccine Status– Failed  
HB 1191 would have prevented individuals from being coerced to take the COVID-19 vaccine by either the state or by employers.  

HB 21-1210 Modifications to Qualified State Tuition Programs – Failed 
HB 1210 would have allowed families to use some of their private 529 savings account funds for private K-12 school tuition for their children, including at Catholic schools.   

One bill the CCC opposed that failed 

SB 21-031 Limits on Governmental Responses to Protests– Failed 
SB 031 would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to protect innocent lives when protests turn violent.  

Two bills the CCC was in an “Amend” position that passed  

SB 21-073 Civil Action Statute of Limitations Sexual Assault – Enacted  
With the enactment of SB 073, the statute of limitations on bringing a civil claim based on sexual misconduct will be removed as of January 1, 2022. Under this law, victims of sexual abuse can pursue a civil cause of action if the statute of limitations has not expired, the abuse happened in Colorado, and the abuse could be considered a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor if it was a criminal case. 

SB 21-088 Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act– Passed  
If enacted, SB 88 will allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue public and private institutions for abuse that occurred between 1960-2022. Victims would have three years to bring a historical claim, starting from January 1, 2022. Claims brought during this window would be capped at $387,000 for public institutions and at $500,000 for private institutions, with the ability of a judge to double the damages depending on how the private institution handled the situation. Despite unanswered constitutional concerns regarding SB 88, the Colorado Catholic dioceses will also continue to offer opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to receive support in a non-litigious setting.   

While the legislature has adjourned the 2021 legislative session, there is still the possibility that they will reconvene later this year. To stay up-to-date on Colorado legislative issues and their impact on the Catholic Church in Colorado, be sure to sign up for the CCC legislative network HERE.