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What should we make of the Pope and new polling numbers?

Pope Francis roared back into action today after last week’s Lenten retreat. Given that St. Mark’s account of the Transfiguration will be proclaimed this Sunday, it is telling that the Holy Father’s fiery words on tried-and-true business models coincided with encouraging poll numbers about American opinions on climate change.

The question is, what (or Who) are we giving credit for such positive activity?

The Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 66% of Americans believe world leaders must engage climate change. Almost three quarters of those surveyed also said they have a personal responsibility to do so. And just over three quarters expressed a favorable opinion of Pope Francis, with 29% giving him “very favorable” marks.

The poll, conducted in mid-February, questioned just over 2,400 Americans.

"Co-operatives create “a ‘new type of economy’ that allows ‘people to grow in all their potential.’" Pope Francis

As Dan Misleh, Executive Director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, said in his Tweet about these results, with Pope Francis “there is wind in our sails.”

Which brings us to today’s meeting of the Confederazione Cooperative Italiane at the Vatican's Paul VI auditorium. Vatican Radio reports that in his talk...

Providentially, Francis and Bartholomew both speak about ecology nine days after Merton's 100th birthday

Nine days after the centennial anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birth, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made simultaneous (and seemingly unrelated) remarks about a fundamental Christian reality: our appreciation of nature.

Anyone who knows Merton—the rather wild young man who eventually entered the Church and then the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, becoming one of Catholicism's greatest writers in the twentieth century—knows that he would approve.

The Francis-Bartholomew ecological confluence occurred on February 9th. The timing is striking, as we learn from the most recent edition of Cistercian Studies Quarterly, which is devoted to Merton, who was born on January 31, 1915. One particular essay, “Finding Oneself in the Cosmic Dance: Nature’s Grace for Thomas Merton,” by Monica Weis, SSJ, beautifully captures the essence of what Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew both providentially taught on the same day.

First, please indulge me for this extended quotation of Weis who gives ample opportunity to hear from Merton:

Finding God in creatures was not as Merton first believed merely a stepping-stone to God, but rather a bursting forth of ongoing encounter with the Divine. Once he discovered how “landscape is important for

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Ecological efforts should have nothing to do with a culture of death

Today’s lifestyles can be a bit like Mardi Gras—full of excess consumption and carrying on. But with Mardi Gras all that stops on Ash Wednesday. Then we enter Lent, a way of life focused on abstinence and growth. Many argue that nations, cultures, and individuals should enter into and maintain a similar way of living if we want to care for our neighbors and the globe’s life-sustaining ecosystems.

Pope Francis is one person making this argument. So did his predecessors. Themes of restraint, virtue-over-vice, and new lifestyles have been part of the papal ecological record and they will most certainly be part of the Holy Father’s upcoming encyclical on ecology. And it is certain that the encyclical will link environmental issues and issues of human life—again, as already exists in the papal record and elsewhere.

On desires and duties

The links between ecological and life issues come with profound implications for discussions of population levels and topics like contraception and abortion—which are commonly offered as answers to the problems of the planet.

Take, for instance, Maureen Fiedler's concerns over Pope Francis’s support of the Paul VI and the Church’s teachings on contraception. Her recent words in the National...

Guest post: Jacaranda Turvey Tait on elevating Catholic dialogues and debates on climate change

‘The expectation of a new earth ought not to dampen but rather to enkindle our concern for cultivating this earth, where the body of the new human family grows….’ Gaudium et spes. #39[1]

The only thing more difficult than persuading environmentalists to take natural law seriously it seems is persuading natural lawyers to debate environmental issues. So I was excited when Robert George entered the lists with an article over at First Things commenting on Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical on climate change.

Sadly, George did not tell us what his own views are on climate change or how this relates to his natural law moral framework. Instead he simply clarified the scope of Papal teaching authority.

George’s “ibuprofen analogy” was slightly baffling. If the Pope taught that this medicine is dangerous to unborn children, George explained, such teaching would not be binding since he has no special scientific knowledge and no authority to pronounce on such matters. Yet it seems far-fetched to imagine an encyclical asserting a scientific opinion for which there is no evidence. Under what conceivable circumstances would Pope Francis—a chemistry graduate—suppose ibuprofen to be an abortifacient? Otherwise the article seemed fairly uncontroversial,...

The time is now for time-tested and true Catholic devotions

“Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.” Blessed Pope Pius IX

Last night at First Friday devotions before the Blessed Sacrament, my thoughts again turned to the need for Catholic ecologists to say the Rosary. (For my Protestant friends, that’s another way of saying we must turn to Christ to save souls and to elevate all creation.)

These thoughts are nothing new. They in fact summarize Christian life.

I don’t know how many Catholic ecologists today pray the Rosary. I know I don’t as much as I should. But I know I need to because our efforts are meaningless without God. As Pope Francis tells us in his Lenten Message, we must “be able to resist the diabolical temptation of thinking that by our own efforts we can save the world and ourselves.”

I had posted awhile back on spiritual practices that are necessary to protect the planet. That call will be amplified on these pages and by many others. Over the next few weeks and months groups like the Global Catholic Climate Network will be sharing news on how to fast for climate change...

And they're not helping the mission of the Church

Have you been following the written warfare between Michael Sean Winters and Dr. Robert P. George? If not, it’s worth a look. Their hostile back-and-forth offers lessons for the rest of us.

It began with George in early January writing in First Things. Winters responded in the National Catholic Reporter. George responded to Winters. And Winters followed up. Both make good and necessary points. Both harm the conversation as well.

While there is much one could say about the tit-for-tat of these two brothers in Christ, I’d like to make three observations.

First, George’s original piece in part warned that popes do not speak infallibly on matters of science—which is true. But Winters rightly countered that the pontiff does have insights about what’s happening around the globe based on the experiences of the universal Church—of everyday people that talk to pastors that talk to bishops that talk to the pope.

Here Winters is right. For example, I was recently speaking with Allen Ottaro of Kenya, who commented that farmers in Africa are aware from the knowledge of their elders that things in the fields are different than what they've been before....

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.