I love a good debate. Although I do not consider myself an ardent environmentalist, when I saw that the UD Earth Service was going to host Father Patrick Foley, a Franciscan from the Archdiocese of St. Paul, I was interested. On the day of the presentation, I met him and he was warm, talkative and excitable, like many young priests I have known. A point in my book.
Fr. Foley has been a priest for three years, and that he has one significant publication currently to his name. He was commissioned by the Archdiocese to write a guide on how being green was catholic. This man does have both experience and background in the field.
During his presentation, he made a series of statements that were particularly troublesome. First, he stated that the USCCB document that accepted the UN's 2001 findings on global warming was to be accepted as “Magisterial” teaching. Indeed, if this pronouncement were truly magisterial, it would indeed require the submission of faith by all Catholics, according to Vatican I’s definition of the magisterial teaching. But this pronouncement was not Magisterial. The only times that council pronouncements carry the force of Magisterial teaching are when local bishops speak on matters of faith and morals, in unison with bishops of the whole world and the Bishop of Rome. This USCCB document meets neither of these criteria.
Second, Fr. Foley asserted that Climate Change was an undeniable reality. ‘It is a fact’ he repeated. In light of the recent ‘climate-gate’ scandal at the University of East Anglia in which climatologists who believed in Climate Change manipulated data, suppressed evidence and excluded colleagues who contradicted their beliefs, I would like to express a wholesome doubt about this current assumption.
I will skip over a few additional objections to Fr. Foley's lecture and talk about his problematic sources. He cited several “interesting” theologians. Leonardo Boff, a liberation theologian that left the Church after being censured for heresy; Sister Ilia Delio OSF, a nun who recently published a piece in a Catholic paper accusing the Vatican of being oppressors of women; Father Thomas Berry OP, who was a self professed “geologian” with heavy new age roots; Father Karl Rahner, who in his own work has denied transubstantiation; and finally Pierre Tielhard de Chardin SJ, whose works were all censured as heretical by the Church.
The use of problematic sources as a foundation causes this Eco-theology to misconstrue the essential relationship between Man and the environment. There is room for a defense of the environment within the Church, as long as this defense is properly understood. Pope Benedict XVI said in his last encyclical Caritas in Veritate that when “’human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits”. In other words, environmental degradation occurs with moral degradation and that the best way to fix it is to fix ourselves. It is through the resurrection of human virtue that the environment will begin to heal.
To be a truly “green” Catholic, we must not see the forest for the trees by getting caught up in the temporal/material problems of this life but rather achieve within ourselves virtue and peace and by imitating the actions of Christ, we will naturally fix the problems that plague our Earth.