Synod Report Details US Bishops’ Avoidance of Church Teaching on Creation Care | earth beat

A home is destroyed in the aftermath of Hurricane Delta on October 10, 2020 in Creole, Louisiana. (CNS/Reuters/Adrées Latif)

The story begins quite simply.

A woman starts a social justice group in her Catholic parish.

During a particular meeting, she begins to talk about “Laudato Si’on safeguarding our common home”, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on ecology.

But she was quickly cut off.

“We shouldn’t rock the boat,” she said, her pastor told her, because he felt the papal teaching document, the first devoted entirely to environmental issues and human relations with the rest of the created world, was too controversial.

The anecdote, which did not name the parish or the priest, was collected as part of the world church‘s listening process that Francis invoked through the synod on synodality. It was included in a report compiled by the Catholic Climate Pact at the invitation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through the synodal process.

From January to June, Catholic Climate Covenant conducted a series of virtual listening sessions, online surveys, reflections with students and more to give voice to joys, hopes and, more often, “expressions sorrow and disappointment” of American Catholics with their church’s response to Laudato Si’ and climate change. Around 300 people, mostly women, took part and the report was made public at the end of July.

Throughout the sessions, a nearly unified message emerged: Catholic lay people who have heard, embraced and worked to put into practice the teachings of the Church on the Christian responsibility to safeguard God’s creation feel little or no support from clergy, bishops and dioceses, and in some cases opposition.

“The main takeaway was the need for unified support from American dioceses and archdioceses to make Laudato Si’ and climate change a priority,” the report says.

The discovery came as no surprise to Dan Misleh, founder of Catholic Climate Covenant, who often heard stories like that of the woman spurned by her priest.

“I’ve been working on this problem for 16 years, so I’ve heard it all,” he told EarthBeat.

But he hopes the synod process will ensure the wider church hears it as well — a growing message from the laity that there is resistance within the American church to addressing climate change and d other environmental issues, even though Francis and the Vatican have raised them as urgent priorities for Catholics and for all.

Pope Francis meets John Kerry, US Presidential Special Envoy for the Climate, May 15, 2021, at the Vatican.  (CNS/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis meets John Kerry, US Presidential Special Envoy for the Climate, May 15, 2021, at the Vatican. (CNS/Vatican Media)

Besides the lack of institutional support from the church, Misleh said another main takeaway from their synodal listening sessions came from young adults, who are concerned about climate change but feel a disconnect between their college campuses, where the issue is discussed and engaged, and their home parishes where it is ignored or belittled.

“It’s just not supported or nobody talks about it. Or nobody wants to talk about it because it’s still seen as a political issue instead of a moral issue or a scientific issue,” a- he declared.

The Alliance synodal listening sessions included responses from a small group of students from Creighton University. It also drew on comments that young adults across North America delivered directly to the pope in February as part of a virtual synod listening session hosted by the Vatican and Loyola University Chicago. During this session, a student told the pope bluntly that “the failure of American Catholic leaders to share and implement the church’s own teachings on climate is disappointing young people.”

Climate activists are seen near the Golden Gate Bridge on June 14, 2021 in San Francisco.  (CNS/Reuters/Amy Osborne)

Climate activists are seen near the Golden Gate Bridge on June 14, 2021 in San Francisco. (CNS/Reuters/Amy Osborne)

In their comments to the Covenant, Creighton students said they rarely hear climate change discussed in their home dioceses or related to church teaching in homilies. One student described a feeling of “idleness and ignorance” among the priests. Another viewed the neglect of climate change as irresponsible. And a third expressed confusion when fellow Catholics describe themselves as “pro-life” but deny the environmental threats facing people and the planet.

“These testimonies from Catholic students revealed the failures of some dioceses and parishes to implement the teachings of Laudato Si’ and the resulting frustration and disappointment over this failure,” the report said.

Throughout the synod report, interviewees said concern for creation has become politicized and “stigmatized” within their churches, pointing to factors such as money and the belief that pastors and bishops consider climate change as a political rather than a moral issue.

One woman shared that her parish had pushed back on creation protection efforts because a major donor had ties to the fossil fuel industry. Another respondent said that his diocese, who was not identified, published negative articles on Laudato Si’ in the diocesan newspaper, which, according to the respondent, “made practically impossible” the implementation of programs focusing on ecology. Overall, the silence of priests and bishops, a pattern documented in a recent study, “created an environment of apathy and indifference,” according to the report, which made creation-focused initiatives a “ difficult battle”.

Despite a lack of support from the Church hierarchy, the report says efforts to respond to the call to care for creation continue.

Many participants said they had created care teams or developed Laudato Si’ action plans, and many were inspired by the example of Francis and the work of religious communities, especially nuns who have long been leaders. in environmental action. But these steps so far have not led to more institutional engagement, which participants in the listening session see as essential for a stronger church response to the global climate crisis.

The students suggested that the Catholic Church could do just that by spreading its teachings on valuing and preserving creation in every parish and diocese, and for the Church to use its power and influence “to adopt discussions and meaningful solutions for climate change”. Within the church, they recommended measures to better educate Catholics, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, divest from fossil fuel companies and encourage advocacy.

Misleh said the report shows that there are many American Catholics who approach climate change and environmental threats not from a political perspective “but from the perspective of their faith.” And they want to see the same from church leaders.

“I think that’s the motivation of a lot of people. So I hope the bishops, the universal church hear that people care about these issues because they’re trying to authentically live their faith,” he said. -he declares.

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