By John-Henry Westen

  VATICAN CITY, September 10, 2007 ( –  Over the past week, Pope Benedict XVI has maintained a consistent focus on environmental issues, more so than ever before in his pontificate.  Perhaps most controversial have been his remarks on the hotly debated subject of climate change.

  In order to decipher the meaning and intent of the Pope’s foray into environmental issues, spoke with Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, Editor-In-Chief of Ignatius Press, Theologian in Residence of Ave Maria University and a longtime friend of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. 

  Ignatius Press, which Father Fessio founded in 1978, is the primary English-language publisher of Benedict XVI’s works. Joseph Ratzinger was Fr. Fessio’s doctoral director and mentor at the University of Regensburg in then West Germany from 1972-1975. As a member of Ratzinger’s “Sch├╝lerkreis”, or group of former students, Fr. Fessio still participates in many of the yearly three-day-long gatherings of that group with the Pope.

  A focus on environmental issues began in earnest with the September 2nd homily of the Pope given to an Italian youth gathering in Loreto numbering around 500,000. 

“There is no doubt that one of the fields in which it seems urgent to take action is that of safeguarding creation,” said the Pope.  “The future of the planet is entrusted to the new generations, in which there are evident signs of a development that has not always been able to protect the delicate balances of nature. Before it is too late, it is necessary to make courageous decisions that can recreate a strong alliance between humankind and the earth. A decisive “yes” is needed to protect creation and also a strong commitment to invert those trends which risk leading to irreversibly degrading situations.”

  Although it comprised little over 10% of the homily it was quickly picked up by the mainstream media with headlines such as:
  – “Pope Urges Catholics to Go Green”
  – “Pope Benedict XVI leads ‘eco-friendly’ youth rally in Loreto, Italy”
  – “Save the planet before it’s too late, Pope urges”
  – “The first eco-pope”

  The messages in the coming days, although mostly ignored by the media were even more specific.

  In a brief comment after the General Audience of Wednesday September 5, the Pope noted an upcoming conference in Greenland on the environment.  “Care of water resources and attention to climate change are matters of grave importance for the entire human family,” he said.

  A couple of days later on September 9, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick attended that environmental meeting on behalf of the Pope bringing the Pope’s blessing and message to the group.  “Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for the entire human family,” said the Pope’s message.

“No nation or business sector can ignore the ethical implications present in all economic and social development,” it continued. “With increasing clarity scientific research demonstrates that the impact of human actions in any one place or region can have worldwide effects. The consequences of disregard for the environment cannot be limited to an immediate area or populus because they always harm human coexistence, and thus betray human dignity and violate the rights of citizens who desire to live in a safe environment.”

  The comments were significant since there is a strong debate among scientists over the ability of humans to alter climate with some believing that climate change is human caused and can be altered by cutting emissions, and others suggesting that human activity is not responsible for climate change.  Some are also stating that the most recent global warming has stopped since the late 1990s and that warming still being experienced in some nations are only regional cyclical phenomena. Moreover, many of the most outspoken believers in human-caused climate change, such as Al Gore, are known world de-population advocates. They have lately begun to publicly advocate more de-population policies as a critically needed solution to otherwise soon to occur world-wide climate change catastrophe.

  Asked what the Pope was meaning to convey with his recent comments, particularly on the hotly debated issue of climate change, Fr. Fessio told, “First, he didn’t say much.”

“In his homily of September 2nd, addressed to young people, he encourages them, among many other things, to be attentive to the ‘preservation of creation’ and the ‘delicate equilibriums of nature’,” explained Fessio.  “Nothing surprising here, nor sensational, nor new.”

  The Church has long been a proponent of man’s stewardship of creation, and thus has been concerned about pollution and waste, especially since there remain so many in the world deprived of basic necessities.

  Fessio points out that Benedict XVI has not at all come out on either side of the climate change debate.  “All he says about climate change is that attention to it is a matter of serious importance,” said Fessio. 

  Asked if the Pope was conveying the message that there is indeed man made climate change and that man can indeed do something to alleviate climate change, Fr. Fessio replied, “He’s not saying that. If he wants to say something, he does.” Fessio added: “Nothing he says indicates what kind of climate change he’s talking about or in what direction the changes may be.”

  But what of the Pope’s statement that attention to climate change is of “grave importance for the entire human family”?  Fessio responded: “Climate change in itself is not a moral evil and in many ways isn’t even a physical evil. (Canada and Russia would benefit from some warming). Some things (like war) may be of grave importance in themselves and yet not be a personal moral issue for the vast majority of people (who can’t do anything about it).”

  Concluding his points, Fr. Fessio said, “We have a moral obligation to do what we can to respect and protect the goods of creation. For most of us that’s not much. For climate change, even the little we might be able to do depends on whether anything needs doing at all. We should give it reasonable attention. But what kind of change is actually occurring (weather is always changing), whether we can do anything significant about it (if I take fewer showers, will that affect the water supply?), and whether we should do something about it (one might be convinced that the direction of change is on balance beneficial to man).  For most people, most of the time, it’s more important to be helpful to the old lady next door.”
  See the homily from the Italy Mass with Youth:…

  See the General Audience with note on the conference here:…

  See the Pope’s message to the conference here:…


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