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From the Editor’s Desk

To protect the earth

“We have no inner spiritual life if we don’t have the outer experience of a beautiful world,” wrote Charles Birch, biologist, theologian and winner of the 1990 Templeton Prize for progress in religion. “The more we destroy the world, the less a sense of God is possible.”

Australia’s Catholic bishops last week gave dramatic expression to this sentiment when, in a landmark paper addressing the impact of climate change, they called for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and initiatives to protect biodiversity as a moral obligation confronting all Australians - but Catholics in particular:

“The joys and hopes, the pains and anxieties of all people of this age are intimately linked with human history and Earth's cycles. As pastors of more than a quarter of the Australian population, we urge Catholics as a matter of conscience to cooperate in facing global warming as one of the major issues of our time and take roles of responsibility proper to them. Several times we have addressed environmental issues and recently called for ecological conversion. We now urge Catholics as an essential part of their faith commitment to respond with sound judgements and resolute action to the reality of climate change.”

The bishops draw on the legacy of the late Pope John Paul II who was one of the most consistently outspoken critics of the damage being done to the planet and called the ecological crisis facing the globe one of the great moral issues of our time:

“We believe that the Earth is a gift from God, valuable in itself, and that human life is irrevocably linked with the Earth.Catholic faith believes that the cosmos displays the goodness, beauty and power of God. In a sermon to agriculturists, Pope John Paul II said, ‘Within the movement of nature, tranquil and silent but rich in life, there continues to palpitate the original delight of the Creator.’ God’s plan for humanity is to know God through the world of matter and, in this belief, we feel at one with all people who revere a power in the natural world that is beyond the human.”

But the bishops also draw on the language of the former Archbishop of Chicago, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who popularised the notion of the “seamless garment” of moral teaching which commits the Church to take action on a range of interlinked concerns affecting human dignity from the cradle to the grave:

 “The web of life on Earth is under threat from accelerated climate change. That web compares to a seamless garment and it needs the application of a consistent ethic to protect it, one that considers life now and in the future, and ranges from protection of the unborn child to cherishing the diversity of species. Life is one, and human well-being is at its base interwoven with all life on Earth and the rhythm of its systems. The suffering of any one part means that all creation groans, and rapid global climate change dramatically displays that suffering.”

The bishops call for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on green house gas emissions and greater government compliance with international biodiversity protections as “minimal” measures to ensure a sustainable future. They also urge increased foreign aid disbursements, debt relief, equitable trade policies, technological exchange to Third World countries, investment in alternative energy sources, and the development and adoption of energy-saving technologies in the building sector, transport, manufacturing and farming.  In their own domain, they promise an audit of Church schools, parishes, and agencies to encourage them to switch to sustainable practices including “green” sources of energy, car pooling and ethical investment policies.

The document represents the clearest, strongest, and most eloquent statement on the need to protect the beauty and fragility of the world ever issued on behalf of the Australian bishops. It is a call to action to save the planet – and also a sign of hope in a renewed social consciousness on the part of our Church.

Chris McGillion

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