When Dealing With Climate Change, Silence Is Madness

When Dealing With Climate Change, Silence Is Madness October 22, 2021

Farragutful: USCCB Offices / Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis presented to us one of the major problems of the modern age, that of climate change, in his encyclical, Laudato si’:

Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. [1]

Pope Francis is not alone in that concern. Patriarch Bartholomew, known as the Green Patriarch, has been promoting the moral necessity of protecting the Earth and its environment as one of his central messages. Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, likewise, spoke intensely on the subject, making what Pope Francis says and does concerning the environment a continuation of their efforts. Pope Francis knows that if we do not do something now, if we wait until later to fix the problem, it will be much more difficult if not impossible to fix.  If we think the economic cost for dealing with the environment today is high, it will only be exponentially worse later. What we do, or do not do, will shape the future; this is why we must resist all efforts which seek to dissuade us from dealing with the environment; it is reckless to ignore the environmental situation. It would be like someone seeing a house on fire, thinking they can and should wait to call for help, because the fire might go out on its own. Certainly, the fire might go out – once the house has been all but consumed; likewise, the environment might no longer be a problem for us if all, or most of the life on Earth, has been wiped out.

It is not just indifference, it is not just people thinking they can put things off until later, which is the problem; it is obstructionists, those who work hard not only to have us put off the problem until later, but who try to tell us there is no problem, which are making things worse. They tell us it is too costly to do anything, but in reality, their concern is about their own private interest, their own wealth and pleasure, and they are afraid that if they had to follow their moral duty, they would have to sacrifice their wanton excess. They try to convince us to do nothing so that they can continue benefit for the situation as it exists now; sadly, many people listen to and heed what they have to say, including, it seems, many Catholic bishops in the United States. This is why it has been noted that those bishop have, as a whole, been rather silent about the environmental crisis at hand. An analysis, published by the Religion News Service, of what American bishops say and promote has indicated how far the environment has been from their agenda:

Of the 12,077 columns we studied, only 93 (0.8%) mention climate change, global warming or their equivalent at all. Those 93 columns come from just 53 of the 201 bishops in our data set. The other 148 (74%) never mentioned climate change in their columns. [2]

The authors of the study, likewise, indicated that this was because these bishops seem more interested in promoting the ideology of their wealthy donors, donors who have ties with those who have been working hard to deny the environmental crisis for years, such as various right-wing Republic sources like  Koch Industries:

Because U.S. political conservatives have a history of denying, ignoring  and sowing doubt about climate change, it’s reasonable to assume that many bishops — who are recognized as becoming increasingly aligned  with the Republican Party politically — may have experienced tension between their political ideology and their duty to communicate church climate change teaching.  [3]

Many prominent American bishops, likewise, are associated with the Napa Institute, an institute which has an agenda that runs contrary to Pope Francis and his teachings. Popular Catholic media such as EWTN and all its associates,  likewise, have demonstrated their hostility to the Pope; instead of being silenced, as they would in other times, they are being  promoted more than the teachings and writings of Pope Francis in many, if not most, American Catholic parishes and dioceses. Unjust criticism to the Pope is promoted instead of offering attempts to understand what the Pope teaches and why he teaches it. The connection between Pope Francis’ instructions with Catholic Social Doctrine, and previous Popes are ignored. This shows us that Pope Francis was right when he said that many of those opposing our moral responsibility come from those who are Christian believers:

Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. [4]

In all seriousness, we cannot ignore the environmental situation. The crisis is real. Those who study the science have no doubt about it. People are already experiencing the effects of climate change. From rising sea levels affecting Pacific Islanders,  to changes in Africa, to the decrease in bee populations in Francs, we can see a variety of ways in which climate change affects the Earth. What we face now is minor in comparison to what is to come. Things will only get worse. Food and water will become harder and harder to obtain, and this will cause more and more people to have to leave where they are at and move to a new location, hoping that by doing so, they will be able to survive; nonetheless, unless we are prepared for it, such migration will aggravate the situation even more, causing the current antagonism towards migrants to pale in comparison to what is to come. Not only is global security at risk, so is basic human decency, as people will ignore the dictates of charity and fight each other in order to survive.

Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, and so many others have and continue to speak out on the problem of climate change. It is real. It is serious. It is an existential threat. It is, indeed one of the central concerns which face us today. The fact that US bishops can be silent on it shows how far the US Catholic scene has strayed from Catholic teaching and on the problems of the age we live in. The bishops cannot be silent. They must join in with the Pope and make climate change a central issue. If they don’t, they, and all those like them, will be judged for their silence, just as they are and continue to be judged for their silence concerning sexual abuse.  This is why their silence is madness. Even if they think they will not live to be judged by those living in the future, they will have to come face to face with Christ and deal with his judgment.

[1] Pope Francis, Laudato si’. Vatican translation. ¶25.

[2]  Daniel R. DiLeo, Sabrina Danielsen, and  Emily E. Burke, “Study: Most US Catholic Bishops Kept Silent On Francis’ Climate Change Push” in Religion News Service (10-19-2021).

[3]  Daniel R. DiLeo, Sabrina Danielsen, and  Emily E. Burke, “Study: Most US Catholic Bishops Kept Silent On Francis’ Climate Change Push.”.

[4] Pope Francis, Laudato si’. ¶14.


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