Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A lot to be done for the Church to walk the walk on Pope Francis environmental encyclical

The excellent Papal encyclical Laudato si (Praise be to you) on the environment certainly throws down the gauntlet to seriously tackle climate change.

The encyclical challenges Catholics in particular to address the challenges presented by climate change. So how will this challenge be met?

The signs thus far are not that great, with the responsibility seemingly being passed to CAFOD – the overseas aid agency. Other structures  such as the Bishops Conference of England and Wales’s own Catholic Environmental Justice Group, that may have played a role, were long ago disbanded . Some involved in that particular venture believed at the time that there was more than a little climate scepticism alive in the corridors of the BCEW.

What work there has been done on addressing climate change has been largely lay led, via initiatives like the Eco congregations Live Simply Parish Awards.  The Columbans Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation team have also played a big role in taking the issue forward, with Ellen Teague a major campaigner and advocate.

The Church though in this country certainly has some way to go  if it is to fulfil its role in helping bring about the “cultural revolution” being demanded by the Pope.

At a personal level the Pope seemed to be demanding a total conversion from the consumerist world in which we presently live. He subliminally seemed to question whether climate salvation can actually be achieved within the present capitalist system. The system would have to certainly change dramatically from its present form.

Pope Francis would seem to be calling for the individual conversion of people across the world to live more sustainably and tread more lightly on the earth. But he also seemed to call for Church to be in the vanguard of such change.

At a local level this must mean churches and schools becoming beacons of environmentally sustainable living. This would not mean, in some cases, the weekly attempt to see how many gas guzzling cars can be packed into the limited car parking space at mass. Indeed, parishioners should be dissuaded from the pulpit from driving and flying so much. Something that needs to be taken on by the clergy themselves and dare I say it even those advocates who promulgate the climate change message. There is a real need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

It must mean sustainable energy systems. The buildings should be fully insulated, using renewable energy via solar and PV panels. Gardens with crops being grown – where space permits. Interlinking with local environmental initiatives such as those to save bees and recycle. There could be environmental audits to ensure that changes toward sustainable living were being achieved. The parish and schools must become integral parts of the local environmental  ecology architecture.

Some of these principles are encaptured in the live simply parish awards but more needs to be done to promote such schemes.

At national level, the encyclical demands the Church intervenes on matters of environmental significance. This would mean, for example, making representations on the recently announced move by government to stop subsidies to onshore wind turbines from next April. The encyclical is far reaching so would require intervention across the board from biodiversity to the world of work. 

The Church interventions should be given the same weight of resource and effort as is seen on matters such as abortion and euthanasia. In order for this to happen, the Church would have to build up its environmental resources. The Anglican Church has environmental expertise in every diocese, working to address climate change. The Catholic Church has virtually nothing, indeed, it seemed to be struggling with providing individuals to talk in the media on this encyclical. What is clear is that the lack of resource thus far devoted to the environment by the Catholic Church in England and Wales is testimony to the lack of priority given to the subject generally. Pope Francis’s eloquent clarion call in Laudato Si means that this attitude has to change.


What the encyclical demands is that the Church comes to the forefront in leading the battle to save the planet. This means speaking out on environmentally destructive actions wherever they are seen. It also means becoming a beacon of environmental good practice across the land. The fledgling roots are there for such developments to take off but they need a lot of watering.

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