What is Integral Ecology?




Integral Ecology unites care of our physical environment and our human environment

Integral Ecology: Linking Our Environments

Two Environments Intimately Connected

While there are individuals and organizations devoted to the care of our physical environment and others dedicated to nurturing the more important human environment, the Church has made clear: “Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person”. (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)

This is the basis of integral ecology.

It All Begins with Human Dignity

Pope Francis emphasizes how “The neglect of creation and social injustices influence each other”. (Address to the Participants in the Meeting of the Laudato Si’ Communities)

Indeed, “If an appreciation of the value of the human person and of human life is lacking, we will also lose interest in…the earth itself.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 13)

The Holy Father warns that “Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results.” (Laudato Si’, 160) 

Why Are We in Trouble?

Our problems arise from the “ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment.” (Pope Francis, 162)

“We are faced…with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” (Pope Francis, 139)

However, many individuals and organizations, who work diligently to improve our environments, only deal with at the surface level. Pope Francis points to the deeper and true issue; “Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centered culture of instant gratification.” (Laudato Si’, 162)

As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, “It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other.” He lamented the “grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)

“We are faced…with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” Pope Francis

We Must Unite the Human & Physical Environments

“We are called not only to respect the natural environment but also…our human family”. (Pope Francis)

“Since everything is closely interrelated…I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, which clearly respects human and social dimensions”. (Pope Francis, 137)

“The Church is not only committed to promoting the protection of land, water and air…above all she…works…to protect mankind from self-destruction.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

What Should I Do?

First, understand the profound insight that is integral ecology. This is a huge step forward.

Second, we are called to learn and practice Catholic social teaching in our lives.

Third, we must act “in a responsible way… deconstructing political ideologies that supplant truth… [and] fostering a commitment to the principles of natural law… all consistent with the respect for the dignity of the human person.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

Contemplation & Compassion

Pope Francis gives us two “key words” to ponder while determining our response to the environmental crisis: “contemplation and compassion”. (Address to the Participants in the Meeting of the Laudato Si’ Communities)

“To contemplate is to gift oneself with time to be silent, to pray, to restore harmony to the soul, the healthy balance between head, heart and hands, between thought, feeling and action.” (Pope Francis)

“Compassion is not a nice sentiment, it is not pietism; it is creating new bonds with others. And taking responsibility for them.” (Pope Francis)

The Bottom Line of Integral Ecology

“[T]he 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.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 51)

Three circles containing symbols of the three principles of catholic social teaching: human dignity, subsidiarity, and solidarity.

Three Key Principles

Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human DignitySolidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.

Human Dignity

This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image. 


Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.


Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)

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