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Pope Francis attends the Pachamama ritual in the Vatican Gardens where a pagan 'sacred tree' planting ceremony took place, Oct. 4, 2019, Rome.

VATICAN CITY, November 15, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis said today that he is thinking about adding the “‘ecological sin’ against our common home” to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

“We have to introduce―we are thinking about it―to the Catechism of the Catholic Church the sin against ecology, the 'ecological sin' against our common home, because a duty is at stake,” Pope Francis told his hearers. The Argentinian pontiff made the remark in a speech he gave today to the 20th World Congress of the International Association of Penal Law in Rome. 

Top Catholic thinkers, however, told LifeSiteNews that it’s impossible for man to sin against inanimate objects such as the earth or the environment, but only against God and those created in His image. 

Catholic author Dr. Peter Kwasniewski told LifeSiteNews that when human beings abuse creation, they are sinning against God or their fellow man, not the earth.

“There is no possible sin against planet Earth,” Kwasniewski said. 

“All sins are ultimately against God or those who are in God's image. As all theologians have explained prior to the post-conciliar decline of theology, when we abuse the natural world or animals or plants, we are sinning against God their creator, who gave them to us to use for the right purposes and in accordance with their nature and ours,” he continued.  

“The only ‘targets’ of sin are persons, since they are either divine persons who deserve our total obedience, or angelic or human persons who deserve our reverence as images of God.”

Kwasniewski explained further that although a person cannot sin against a tree or an animal, he can sin by the abuse of a tree (e.g. by destroying them pointlessly) and by the abuse of an animal (e.g. by improper genetic research or cosmetic testing). 

“Someone who tortures an animal or burns down a forest for fun is a sinner not because the animal or the forest has rights, but because he offends God, the great king over all the earth, from whom all things come for our benefit and to whom they are ordered,” he said.  

“Man is obliged in justice to respect God's gift and the order He has established; man must also respect the common destination of material goods, i.e., that God has made the earth for the benefit of all, not for the selfish benefit of a few,” he continued. 

“Seen in this light, one can speak of sins that involve the abuse of ‘our common home,’ but one must be precise about what sin is, against whom it is aimed, and whose rights and duties are actually involved.”

Regarding the new category of “ecological sins”, Dr. Alan Fimister of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado told LifeSiteNews that whereas people can’t sin against the earth, per se, they still have a moral obligation concerning the environment. 

“You can’t have a moral obligation to irrational animals or vegetables, but you owe it to God not to vandalize His creation and your neighbor not to render the earth uninhabitable,” Fimister said. 

The professor observed that Benedict XVI dealt with the topic of care for fellow creatures in his book God and the World.  Regarding animals, Cardinal Ratzinger, as he was then known, said that we cannot “just do whatever we want with them.”

“Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens living so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible,” he said.  

“Animals, too, are God's creatures and even if they do not have the same direct relationship to God that human beings have, they are still creatures of God's will, creatures we must respect as companions in creation.”

St. John Paul II also talked about man’s responsibility towards fellow creatures. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis cited the saint’s call to an “ecological conversion.” John Paul II said that he must “encourage and support” such a “‘conversion’ which in recent decades has made humanity more sensitive to the catastrophe to which it has been heading. 

Neither Benedict XVI nor St. John Paul II referred to “ecological sins,” a concept that was formally introduced to the Church at the Pan-Amazonian Synod.  

Moral theologian Dr. Christian Brugger sees Pope Francis’ reference to ecological sin as a step beyond his thoughts in Laudato Si’.

“In referring to sins against nature, Pope Francis seems to be going beyond what he said in his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si’, in which he tied very closely together the good of the health of non-human creation to the welfare of the human person (see LS 90-92, 136),” Brugger told LifeSiteNews.  

“He also spoke at length about the interconnectedness of the human and non-human world (138-142),” he continued. 

“One is at liberty, I think, to read the whole encyclical in this light: that we ought to be good stewards of God’s non-human creation because God gave the resources of the earth for the sustenance of the whole human race, not portions, and especially not the rich.”  

A definition of “ecological sin” as bad stewardship and injustice to others, “especially future generations” would be consistent with the social teaching of all Church fathers to Pope Benedict XVI, who taught in Caritas in Veritate: “The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa” (CV, 51),” Brugger told LifeSiteNews.    

However, he, too, agrees that Catholic tradition does not hold that non-human creatures, including plants, animals, streams, and mountains, have rights such that they can be sinned against.

In his speech today, the pontiff touched upon problems he believes criminal law does not adequately address, like the “idolatry of the market”, which excludes people and threatens the environment, and the “macro-delinquency” of corporations. 

Francis cited the recent Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region, saying that the bishop had proposed to define “ecological sin as an act or omission against God, against neighbor, the community, and the environment.”

“It is a sin against future generations and manifests itself in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of environmental harmony, in the transgressions against the principles of interdependence and in the breaking the solidarity networks between creatures,” he continued, quoting Paragraph 82 of the Final Document of the Pan-Amazonian Synod. 

Francis asked his audience to contribute to the efforts to “ensure adequate legal protection of our common home.”

Dr. Kwasniewski objected to the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a place to promulgate new theological ideas, something Pope Francis has previously done regarding his antipathy towards capital punishment.

“A pope is not supposed to use a catechism as a launching pad for his personal favorite ideas,” he said. 

The author stated that traditional catechisms have always emphasized that man must make a good and proper use of material resources. 

“This is nothing new at all,” he said, adding that “what is new is the vaguely pantheistic and certainly rather confused language in which current church authority is incompetently attempting to speak of these matters.” 

This is not the first time the Pope has referred to sins involving creation. 

In his 2016 message for the celebration of World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Pope Francis called on Catholics to go to confession for sins of not being respectful of creation, giving examples of examination of conscience such as “avoiding the use of plastic and paper,” “separating refuse” and “turning off unnecessary lights.” 

He called on Catholics to have an “ecological conversion.”

Last month, the Pope published a book titled “Our Mother Earth,” a collection of his addresses, messages, and homilies where he stresses the protection of the environment.

“I sincerely hope for growth in awareness and true repentance on the part of us all, men and women of the 21st century, believers or not, and on the part of our societies, for allowing ourselves to be carried away by logics that divide, create hunger, isolate and condemn. It would be good to ask the poor [and] the excluded for forgiveness. Then we could repent sincerely, including for the harm done to the earth, the sea, the air, the animals,” states the Pope in an extract of one of his messaged included in the book.