On Obsessing over the Environment and Neglecting Spiritual Duty

Near the end of the last academic year, the school I teach at was perplexed. Datasets, and even the general feel of the school, revealed that our students were struggling. Academic success was decreasing. Anxiety was rising. Administrators and teachers alike were puzzled as to why this was happening.

As a grade five teacher, I cheekily blamed the grade four teachers for sending me an inferior group of students. The grade four teachers in turn blamed the grade three teachers. I am sure the blame passed quickly through each grade, down to the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten teachers, to the pre-school teachers, daycare workers, early-year childhood specialists, and possibly neonatal staff — all of which proves that it takes an entire village to raise a piteous child.

My school acted decisively. For the current academic year, a bold new policy was implemented: a ban on plastic eating utensils. That is correct. We were told that if 350 students each used four disposable utensils per month, then 14,000 utensils would be inflicted upon the Earth after just one school year. Needless to say, I was impressed — impressed that simple math skills still exist in the world of education.

To go along with the ban on plastic utensils, an earth club was established for grade four and five students. Now, every two weeks, roughly five students meet after school with a few teachers to discuss destructive evils such as plastic straws, grocery bags, and bovine flatulence. Meanwhile, I run a successful floor hockey program for some 75 grade four and five students, where we break enough plastic hockey sticks to make up for the environmental savings on our plastic utensils. Saving the environment has nothing on playing hockey.

By the way, student academic achievement is still declining, and anxiety rising.

Why would my school produce a new environmental policy while pressing issues were at hand? Perhaps the school felt that attempting to “fix” the environment is actually more urgent than honestly examining and fixing the root causes of student struggles. Or, possibly, the school really had no clue what to do, and so helping the environment at least made the school appear caring and successful. Either way, the response was severely deficient and embarrassing [i].

Regrettably, discussing embarrassing environmental responses is eerily reminiscent of the current state of the Catholic Church. Like my school, the Church is undergoing a tribulation. Yet, also like my school, the Church under Pope Francis is fixated on unrelated and extraneous environmental talk.

The amount of time spent by Pope Francis discussing environmental issues is outright staggering. What immediately comes to mind is the 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato Si [ii]. In it, Pope Francis gauchely declares that the “earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” Further, climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” I imagine that there is also a paragraph condemning the use of plastic floor hockey sticks, yet I would not know; 246 paragraphs of papal environmental talk is more suffering than I can shoulder.

Laudato Si was only the beginning. There has been a Vatican summit on climate change, a “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation,” numerous jabs against the United States for withdrawing from the Paris Accord on climate change, yet another Vatican summit on the environment featuring the U.N. Environment’s executive director, and endless tweets and speeches on all things environmental. In one address, Pope Francis flatly stated: “Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin.” Even the Vatican’s 2019 Lenten theme concerns caring for creation. Our pontiff’s fixation on environmentalism is undeniable and unsettling.

Does Pope Francis believe that “fixing” the environment is actually more pressing than rooting out the sexual abuse in the Church, attending to the crisis of faith, and ultimately saving souls? It has been over 900 days since Cardinal Burke and his three confreres asked the pope for clarification on receiving Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin (caused by civil divorce followed by attempting to marry another). There has been no answer from the pope. Had Cardinal Burke asked whether cowardly defenders of the Earth could receive Holy Communion, I am sure an immediate “no” would have sprung from the Vatican.

In another instance, Archbishop Viganò leveled serious charges against the Holy Father and certain cardinals of aiding and abetting ecclesial sexual predators. Pope Francis declared he would not say one word about this. Again, had Archbishop Viganò leveled charges that the Vatican was secretly using plastic water bottles, perhaps an urgent response would have ensued. After all, there is no room for cowardice when defending the Earth.

It appears that defending the Catholic faith and rooting out sexual abuse are of modest concern. More pressing, according to Laudato Si, is that for “some coastal areas the disappearance of ecosystems sustained by mangrove swamps is a source of serious concern.” Undeniably, predators such as alligators rely on mangrove swamps for food. It does seem consistent with Vatican practice that predators should have access to their prey.

There is perhaps a more ominous reason for Pope Francis’s love of environmental issues: our Pontiff is speaking in line with the United Nations.

On March 8 of this year, Pope Francis again praised the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, first presented in September 2015, calling the goals “a great step forward for global dialogue, marking a vitally ‘new and universal solidarity.’” The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) involve the usual United Nations agenda, including reducing climate change while ensuring “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.”

Indeed, for the U.N., climate change and “reproductive health” are inseparable. The U.N.’s recent “Global Environment Outlook 6,” released this past March, states that “lower fertility (due to improved access to contraception and improved economic and social empowerment for women) is positive for economic development, moderating inequality, combating poverty and decreasing environmental pressure” (p.28). In other words, a healthier Earth requires fewer people. Still, the pope promotes the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

To conclude, why Pope Francis insipidly responds to the abuse crisis, will not answer serious dubia concerning the Catholic faith, speaks incessantly on environmental concerns, and even promotes ominous United Nations documents containing population control, I can only speculate. Add in Pope Francis’s unrelenting promotion of illegal immigration, and his belief that God wills a diversity of religions, and the reason for his promotion of United Nations’ policies is perhaps more insidious than we can imagine. It is as ominous as desiring a New World Order — or rather, as Laudato Si calls for, “one world with a common plan.”

Catholics, meanwhile, continue to feel abandoned. As true piteous children, our faith struggles; our anxiety rises. There is a pining for genuine faith and a yearning for authentic spiritual cultivation. It is the spiritual climate of the world that is in grave peril.

It is well past time to proclaim the faith boldly and not make the Catholic Church an Earth club for the U.N. to control. Otherwise, the pope is forsaking his spiritual duty.

[i] It is probably necessary for me to state the mundane: that I love nature and believe that the Earth should be cultivated and cared for with respect. However, our fundamental end of the Christian life is to strive for the beatific vision. Care for the Earth is necessary, but it must never supersede our spiritual care. Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum offers applicable insight on the proper use of creation.

[ii] N.B.: Laudato Si was crafted with the help of Jeffrey Sachs, the U.N. consultant who strongly advocates for population control.

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