OTTAWA, Ontario (CNS) — The Canadian Catholic bishops’ justice and peace commission is encouraging reflection and action on recent church teaching on the environment.
“Having an overarching vision of God’s purpose in creation and the rightful place of human beings in creation allows us to see the interconnectedness between different moral questions,” said Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a member of the commission.
That vision encompasses “serving the dignity of human life at all stages and working toward the common good” and shows how justice implications are intrinsically connected with protecting the environment, he said in an interview.
“Our document may be critiqued because it doesn’t address particular policy questions in Canada about the environment,” he said. “What we’re trying to offer is a kind of meta-reflection, and give the resources to engage in that discussion.”
But Bishop Bolen stressed the document, released April 8, is not calling Catholics to “keep the discussion on the level of principles.”
“We are encouraging our communities and our faithful to engage in dialogue with governmental policies and giving them the principles from which they should do that,” he said. “It’s not shying away from party policy. It’s a call to action.
“We’re trying to encourage the laity in their exercise of responsibility in engaging discussion in the public square,” he said.
Titled “Building a New Culture: Central Themes in Recent Church Teaching on the Environment,” the document illustrates each of eight themes with relevant quotes from Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II and includes a short reflection.
Contrary to some prevailing cultural environmentalist views that see human as only one species among many, the document’s first principle is: “Human beings are creatures made in God’s image.” It quotes Pope Benedict, who warned against the extremes of unbridled dominion over nature on one hand or in the other “absolutizing the environment or by considering it more important than the human person.”
The second principle stresses creation’s “intrinsic order” and natural law that can be ascertained through reason. The third principle, “‘Human ecology’ and its relationship to environmental ecology,” quotes Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” where he ties respect for the “human ecology” of the marriage, the family and protection of life at all stages with protection of creation.
“It’s important that the document addressing principles in approaching the environment ties in with those life issues, the family and caring about structural forms of poverty and concerns about an environmental crisis all within a framework of cultural renewal,” Bishop Bolen said.
Other principles include responsible stewardship; care for the environment is a moral issue; and solidarity.
“Since environmental degradation is often related to poverty, solidary demands that structural forms of poverty be addressed,” the bishops said in the document. Solidarity also means care for future generations as well as for the poor, they wrote.
The last two principles are: creation and spirituality; and responses to current environmental problems.
“The church does not propose or evaluate specific technical solutions to our current environmental problems,” the bishops said. “Rather, her task is to remind people of the relationship between creation, human beings, and the Creator.”
However, the bishops stress the “urgent need for action,” the need for policies that protect the common good and international cooperation.
Bishop Bolen said there is “a rich resource in papal teaching which is not terribly well-known here,” the bishops thought could guide reflection on how the people of God can engage questions of the environment.
The church’s “moral vision is a large one” and not single-issue oriented, he said. Even if little groups within the church are working on one particular issue or another, such as pro-life matters or on the environment, “because we can’t work on everything at the same time,” as a church “our voice needs to be addressing these interrelations,” Bishop Bolen said.