The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Vatican News posts troubling eco-essay, then hastily removes it

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.

(Image: us.fotolia.com)

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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About William L. Patenaude 33 Articles
William L. Patenaude MA, KHS is an engineer and 30-year employee of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. Possessing a master’s degree in theology, he writes at CatholicEcology.net. His debut novel, A Printer’s Choice, examines many of the issues noted above and was reviewed for Catholic World Report by Dr. Kelly Scott Franklin.

19 Comments

  1. We read, “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.”

    As one of the “immediate predecessors,” St. John Paul II protected against such articles as the one reviewed in Vatican News, by retaining clarity between the related but distinct “natural ecology” and “human ecology.” He did NOT conflate these into the valid neologism: “integral ecology”—which is too easily misunderstood (or worse) to blur science with moral theology and economics with culture (e.g., under the principle that “the whole is greater than the part”).

    Wrote the former pope St. John Paul II:

    “…worrying is THE ECOLOGICAL QUESTION [….] In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of THE HUMAN ENVIRONMENT [….]

    “Although people are rightly worried—though much less than they should be—about preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, because they realize that each of these species makes its particular contribution to the balance of nature in general, too little effort is made to SAFEGUARD THE MORAL CONDITONS OF AN AUTHENTIC ‘HUMAN ECOLOGY’ [….]

    “The first and fundamental structure for ‘human ecology’ is the family in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person [….] These policies [e.g., recourse to abortion as] poisoning the lives of millions of defenseless human beings, as if in a form of ‘chemical warfare’ [….]

    “These criticisms are directed not so much against an economic system as against an ethical and cultural system” (parts of nn. 37, 38, 39, Centesimus Annus, 1991, EMPHASIS in the original).

    • Excellent contribution, Mr. Beaulieu!! Many try to paint the great Pope John Paul II as totally drunk with the Marxist Moonshine of Radical Environmentalism, but he was INDEEED seeing that the Human Moral and Spiritual Ecology goes FIRST and FOREMOST, if Nature is REALLY going to be blessed. Saving the Earth while killing the soul kills BOTH!! It’s Satan’s version of: “killing two birds with one stone”, where the two birds, the stone and Creation are all destroyed.

      We are not a “plague” on the Earth we are its STEWARDS, appointed by God. Our spiritual condition determines Nature’s condition and not the other way around, as shown SO clearly in Romans 8:21-23. It’s time for the Church to break free from the demonic Marxist Theology of Self-Sanctifying Naivete, Sentimental Fantasy and Fanatical Dementia. It is the absolute opposite of True Catholicism and a ridiculous, destructive mockery of True Creation Stewardship!

      • St. John Paul II’s intelligent precision is evidenced again in his Gospel of Life (1995) where he offers a strong prudential judgment against the actual use of capital punishment (n. 56)–which is not to be equated with the moral legitimacy of non-vengeful retribution to affirm the (violated innocence of the) Common Good.

        (Note that much of the former pope’s audience was members of the European Union, where a condition for membership was already abandonment of capital punishment, and where abortion is legal and commonplace.)

        Then, in the Gospel of Life and even in the immediately following (!) section (n. 57), St. John Paul II begins: “If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment “You shall not kill” has absolute value when it refers to the INNOCENT PERSON. And all the more so in the case of weak and defenseless human beings[….]”

        Considering the audience and their permissive context, to what extent was n. 56 really setting the table for n. 57?

        • True Charity is a Cardinal Virtue with lots of Wisdom, Courage, Obedience and Self-Sacrifice BEFORE God not before the world. The REAL kind of Charity is never a soft, cuddly, sentimental virtue, only the COUNTERFEIT, impostor-loving world thinks that way. Appeasement is confused by WAY too many as True Charity. The great Pope John Paul II did epic, amazing, historic things in God’s Grace but he clearly also demonstrates how we should NEVER treat a mere human being as some sort of God-like entity with perfect God-like authority, whether a Pope or a homeless person.

          John Paul had too many around him pushing appeasement with the world and he eliminated the veto power and deep research of the “Devil’s Advocate” from the canonization process, kissed the Koran, etc., etc. Appeasement is soft, comfortable, mushy and VERY popular but it is not Hard Core True Charity and mocks God, attempting to take His Place, whether it’s done consciously or unconsciously. That’s how we get half-way-there “saints” like the “celebrated” Dorothy Day and today’s half-way-there, timid Church, with little resemblance to Christ. True Charity builds, resists and fights, appeasement only destroys.

          The Priestly scandal is most seriously grave but appeasement led to it and so it infinitely surpasses that scandal’s gravity as an enablement of evil. The time has come for us “insignificant” little Catholics like us and me to be the True Anonymous Saints loyal to the Tradition directly linked to JESUS that renews the Church from within from the mushiness of appeasing rottenness. JESUS never modeled appeasement and neither should we EVER.

    • And after all that’s befallen us since the Vatican’s endearment to Pachamama. Something odd is afoot. Perhaps a bronze serpent atop a pole might change the course of things.

      • Certainly something odd. We’re shut out of our Church God ashamed of us priest and Laity. Sullied by idolatry within the Sanctuary of God we are cast out. Collectively because of our personal idols. Look to Him lifted from the earth. In Penance ourselves shrinking like cowards hidden while the courageous tend and die for the sick and dying. We have failed miserably and are given a premonition in this crisis. Death warns us of eternal death. Warned that we must look to him the many of us bitten by vipers of infidelity spreading false doctrine denying repentance. Our greatest witness is Christ the first of the martyrs and the witness of the saints, men and women who gave all with passion throughout that glorious history of an unmitigated love. We are given this seeming last moment to return to the true practice of our faith.

  2. It is rather sketchy to claim that a teaching “championed especially by Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors” can be claimed to be part of the Church’s “immensely important teachings.” If they were so immensely important, why did no one discover them before the 1970s? Saying that “ecology” – a malleable term if ever there was one – is “rooted in revelation” is also highly problematic and requires much more precision than Pope Francis exhibits.

    • “If they were so immensely important, why did no one discover them before the 1970s?” Because they were not needed before the 1970’s. This is the constant history of the Church. The Nicene Creed came as a result of the Arian heresy. The title “Mother of God” became a part of the Church’s treasury because of Nestorius’ challenge to it. These and similar teachings came about because of challenges to the orthodox faith.

      Obviously, a polluted environment is not a challenge to the faith. However, John Paul, Benedict and Francis have all pointed out how that it is sinful behavior which has wrecked the home God created for all of us. They have (had) the prophetic insight to see that what is happening is not simply a matter of anonymous and amorphous “market forces,” but because of moral choices made on many different levels.

      Is it rooted in divine revelation? Of course it is. God created the Earth to be good and to be inhabited and cared for by humans. We are stewards of the Earth, not masters and certainly not creators. God placed Adam in the Garden to till and to keep it. He has dominion over it, yes, but that dominion is not for exploitation and to satisfy selfish desires, but, in the light of the Gospel, for the service of the good of the other.

      And while Pope Francis may be imprecise in his teaching, Benedict and John Paul were not and never were. Read what they had to say about it.

  3. Eco-teachings rooted in revelation? Poppycock. The next words give the game away : “…championed especially by Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors.” Yes, and by no one else in the entire history of the church. In other words, novelties.
    The church has no business having teachings on ecology, or on any of the thousand-and-one things it has stuck its nose into in modern times. The church’s job is to preach the gospel, and only the gospel. I wish it would, for a change.

  4. Trees are a renewable resource as are babies,but to the liberal tree huger and abortion lover within the Catholic Church.These are the 2 most recent pagan beliefs over the last 58 years that have pushed aside the Truths of our Christ.

  5. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve always found it distressing how in some people’s minds respecting Nature and God’s Creation can automatically place one in the camp of paganism and Planned Parenthood. Or that to be authentically orthodox Christians must embrace every sort of wasteful destruction of natural resources for profit.
    Creation was made for us. It’s our dwelling to care for until we are called to our eternal home. Taking decent care of our present home is the very least we can do to thank God for His kindness and generosity. If you rent a house your landlord expects the same. Plus, Lord willing, we want to leave it in as good or better shape for the next tenants, our children.
    Just don’t make the error of worshipping Creation instead of the Creator. Or placing plants and animals above Man.

  6. I read in one of the CWR’s articles that there are those high up who think climate change is bringing about the virus. What about the black plague, spanish flu, cholera and diptheria times?? These things are caused because mankind is out of his rightful position to God and Truth, not yet another exterior villian. Honestly, get back to the Gospel and true teaching.

  7. The ineptitude of the present ecclesial administration is without bounds. They are unable to surprise me or scandalize me any longer. Having been at the center of my consciousness and deliberative engagement for sixty-eight years I have allowed the the Vatican operation to consign itself to the outside of the margins along with the Democrat party.

  8. Good illustration of someone reaching far beyond their grasp in assuming what can not be supported and ignoring alternative solutions to known problems. A review of basic theology, logic and environmental science would seem in order.

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