Just days after I wrote about the irresponsibility of environmental advocates looking for silver linings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vatican News posted on Monday, and then quickly removed, a piece doing just this.
“Coronavirus: Earth’s unlikely ally” was summed up by Vatican News this way: “The changes in human behavior due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic are yielding unintended benefits to the planet.”
The reduction in human activity, the piece stated, “is having an unintended benefit: Earth is healing itself.”
The essay went on to describe the return of fish in clearer waters in and around Venice, improvement in air quality in Hong Kong, and general reductions in carbon emissions. These sorts of things, of course, happen when whole populations huddle fearfully in their homes as friends and relatives are dying alone in nearby hospitals.
As I wrote in my March 28 piece, cheering improvements to the natural environment right now “is heartless. Indeed, it is Godless.”
The short-lived Vatican News piece—a reflection written by Father Benedict Mayaki, SJ, which can still be found here—went on to commend the global response, but not for the unified quest for medicines and vaccines. Instead, Father Mayaki expressed hope that “Some countries are already preparing to restart their economies after the pandemic…[m]any see this as an opportunity to consider sustainable options.”
Okay. There’s something to be said here. For many across the world—rich, poor; old, young; urbanite, suburbanite, or those who reside in rural communities—the screeching halt of our former ways of life is reminding us of simpler alternatives. We are relearning—and for some, simply learning—lifestyles focused on relationships rather than consumption. Lifestyles that understand our connectedness to the wider world while at the same time appreciating the joys of our families and local communities.
But again, as I noted several days ago, while there will be a time to reflect on all this, “now is not that time.”
The reason for this should be self-explanatory. As of this writing, worldwide some 800,000 people that we know of are infected with COVID-19, and some 39,000 have died. I myself am locked down at home, caring for an elderly mother who, should she get this disease, would probably die.
Certainly, these realities are why Vatican News so quickly removed the post. But the very fact that it was posted at all—and the fact that it was written by a member of the clergy—serves as a warning about troubling elements within the Catholic eco-movement, concerns which I’ve written about elsewhere.
For some who champion the Church’s environmental teachings, the desire to protect and nurture God’s gift of creation seems to have set them at odds with humanity itself. Those in the private sector, for instance, are looked upon with suspicion. Consumers are problematic, too. Both seem to become something alien rather than brothers and sisters formed in the image and likeness of the Triune God, who is love itself—flawed men and women, certainly, as are we all, for whom Our Lord suffered his Passion and death.
I have written and lectured for almost two decades on the Church’s orthodox and immensely important teachings on ecology—teachings rooted in revelation and championed especially by Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors. Moreover, I know, admire, and love so many deeply faithful, good, and often heroic Catholic eco-advocates—men and women working in sometimes hostile political and social environments—who may put their lives in peril for daring to speak up for the life-giving common good that is the natural environment.
That said, I applaud the decision by Vatican News to remove the offending essay because it did not represent the charity and faithfulness of the vast majority of Catholic eco-advocates. Still, the fact that the news agency would post it to begin with is troubling. Someone there ought to be spoken to, at the least, and the author should be fraternally corrected in a way that is appropriate to clergy.
Last, allow me to suggest that perhaps there is indeed a silver lining here. The post’s publication briefly shone a spotlight on perhaps well-meaning but nonetheless errant voices within Catholic eco-circles—advocates who (like us all) must repent and believe in the Gospel, for the good of their own souls and for that of the Church.
For it will only be through our adherence to the truths of revelation—including that great command to love one’s neighbor, even one’s enemy—that we’ll have any chance to unite a divided Church, save the natural environment, and maintain the dignity and innate value of human life, in every stage of development, from conception to a natural and, God willing, peaceful death.
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