Catholic Social Teaching and Care for Nature
CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING AND THE ENVIRONMENT
(It is more than you think!)
“It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us.” (Pope Francis, 105)
Much of the U.S. focus on the “environment” concerns care for nature – trees, water, air, soil, atmosphere – in summary our physical environment.
But our ‘common home’ consists of more; it includes our human environment – the culture we live in.
This culture can sustain and support or malign and destroy our ability to “be” human. And it is this ‘human environment’ that the Church tells us in the most danger.
Since at least the early 1970’s the Church has warned of the “exploitation of nature” but simultaneously identified how this exploitation advanced hand in hand (been exceeded, in fact) by the exploitation of man. (Pope St. Paul VI, 21)
“[N]o peaceful society can afford to neglect either respect for life or the fact that there is an integrity to creation”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 7)
‘Climate change’ has become a ‘poster child‘ for what the Church has long recognized: “The earth is a precious gift of the Creator” (Pope Benedict XVI) with Pope Francis calling on us “to exercise a responsible stewardship” of creation (World Day of Peace Message, 9) and putting an end to “abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (Laudato Si’, 2)
Whether it is called global warming, care for nature, care for oceans, biodiversity, or climate justice – the Church agrees: we have no “right to trample His creation underfoot.” (Pope Francis, 75)
And the Church is quite clear in identifying the root cause of the destruction of nature: consumerism: a structure of sin that “Distorts family bonds” (Pope Francis, 67) creates “inclinations towards immediate gratification” (Pope St. John Paul II, 29) and, “Stands in opposition to [our] true grandeur.” (Pope St. Paul VI, 19)
What is required to save both our physical and human environments is a change of heart and attitude. We must not forget “the moral structure with which [man] has been endowed.” (Pope Francis, 115)
The ‘bottom line’: “There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself.” (Pope Francis, 118)
“Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person“. (Pope Benedict XVI, 51) Only an integral ecology and a “new and universal solidarity“, (Pope Francis, 14) founded on the dignity of the human person, can also care for nature and, more importantly, for people.
Three Key Principles
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity 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.
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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