WASHINGTON (CNS) — Popes and bishops individually and collectively under the banner of their respective national conferences have long connected tenets of the Catholic faith with the importance of caring for and respecting the environment.
Church teaching is grounded in upholding human dignity and ensuring that all people live in peace rooted in justice.
What follows are statements related to the environment from Catholic leaders over the last 124 years:
— Pope Leo XIII, “Rerum Novarum” (“Of New Things”), encyclical, May 15, 1891: “The fact that God has given the earth for the use and enjoyment of the whole human race can in no way be a bar to the owning of private property. For God has granted the earth to mankind in general, not in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they like, but rather that no part of it was assigned to any one in particular, and that the limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man’s own industry, and by the laws of individual races. Moreover, the earth, even though apportioned among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all, inasmuch as there is not one who does not sustain life from what the land produces. Those who do not possess the soil contribute their labor; hence, it may truly be said that all human subsistence is derived either from labor on one’s own land, or from some toil, some calling, which is paid for either in the produce of the land itself, or in that which is exchanged for what the land brings forth.”
Blessed Paul VI, message to the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment, June 1, 1972: “Today, indeed, there is a growing awareness that man and his environment are more inseparable than ever. The environment essentially conditions man’s life and development, while man, in his turn, perfects and ennobles his environment through his presence, work, and contemplation. But human creativeness will yield true and lasting fruit only to the extent to which man respects the laws that govern the vital impulse and nature’s capacity for regeneration. Both are united, therefore, and share a common temporal future. So man is warned of the necessity of replacing the advance, often blind and turbulent, of material progress left to its dynamism alone, with respect for the biosphere in an overall vision of his domain …– Committee on Social Development and World Peace, then the U.S. Catholic Conference, April 2, 1981: “Judeo-Christian tradition views human beings not in isolation but as part of a larger whole — as creatures in the midst of creation. This tradition counsels respect for the natural world, emphasizing that we have duties as well as rights in its use. Since we derive all our energy from nature, the relationship of humanity and the environment has the broadest implications for energy policy.”
“What is Happening to our Beautiful Land?” pastoral letter, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Jan. 29, 1988: “At this point in the history of our country it is crucial that people motivated by religious faith develop a deep appreciation for the fragility of our islands’ life-systems and take steps to defend the earth. It is a matter of life and death. We are aware of this threat to life when it comes to nuclear weapons. We know that a nuclear war would turn the whole earth into a fireball and render the planet inhospitable to life. We tend to forget that the constant, cumulative destruction of life forms and different habitats will, in the long term, have the same effect. Faced with these challenges, where the future of life is at stake, Christian men and women are called to take a stand on the side of life.”
— St. John Paul II, “Centesimus Annus” (“The Hundredth Year”), encyclical, May 1, 1991: “Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumerism and which is closely connected to it. In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.
— “Renewing the Earth,” pastoral statement, then the U.S. Catholic Conference, Nov. 14, 1991: “The whole human race suffers as a result of environmental blight, and generations yet unborn will bear the cost for our failure to act today. But in most countries today, including our own, it is the poor and the powerless who most directly bear the burden of current environmental carelessness. Their lands and neighborhoods are more likely to be polluted or to host toxic waste dumps, their water to be undrinkable, their children to be harmed.”
South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, pastoral statement, Sept. 9, 1999: “Our country is affected by the global environmental crisis. We now face the consequences of the economic development of the past which revolved around the exploitation of South African mineral and natural resources, with minimum concern for the environment. Environment is not only about landscapes and the survival of endangered animals, but it is also about the life of the people, the conditions in which women and men are living, working and recreating.”
— “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good,” statement, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, June 15, 2001: “… we especially want to focus on the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests. Inaction and inadequate or misguided responses to climate change will likely place even greater burdens on already desperately poor peoples. Action to mitigate global climate change must be built upon a foundation of social and economic justice that does not put the poor at greater risk or place disproportionate and unfair burdens on developing nations.”
— “A Pastoral Letter on the Christian Ecological Imperative,” Social Affairs Commission, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Oct. 4, 2003: “All serious solutions to the ecological crisis demand that human beings change our thinking, relationships and behaviors in order to recognize the interconnectedness of all creation. … while beginning to listen to the experiences of the marginalized in society, we must also be attentive to the cry of the creation that surrounds and sustains them. Whereas we once began by developing critical analysis of economic, political and social structures that cause human suffering, we must now also bring the additional riches of ecological justice to bear on such realities.”
— Pope Benedict XVI, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), June 29, 2009: “The church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.”
— Pope Francis, address during general audience, May 21, 2014: “Creation is not some possession that we can lord over for our own pleasure; nor, even less, is it the property of only some people, the few: creation is a gift, it is the marvelous gift that God has given us, so that we will take care of it and harness it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”
Statement from Caritas Internationalis and CIDSE, a coalition of 17 Catholic international aid organizations, Nov. 26, 2014: “Environmental degradation is also linked directly to poverty and social exclusion: poverty and ‘ecological destitution’ are inseparable. Ecological harmony cannot exist in a world characterized by unjust social structures; likewise, extreme social inequality cannot co-exist with environmental sustainability. At its root, the ecological crisis is not just an economic and environmental issue, but also a ‘moral problem.'”
— Pope Francis, message to 20th United Nations Climate Change Summit in Lima, Peru, December 2014: “The effective struggle against global warming will only be possible with a responsible collective answer, that goes beyond particular interests and behavior and is developed free of political and economic pressures. It is only possible with a collective answer that is able to overcome attitudes of mistrust and to promote a culture of solidarity, of encounter and of dialogue able to show the responsibility to protect the planet and the human family.”