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Christian responses to environmental concerns

Responses by the Roman Catholic Church

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Teachings by the Roman Catholic Church:

It is often said that the Catholic social teaching is the Catholic Church’s best kept secret. Teaching on the environment is even less well known. However, there are some recent Vatican documents that discuss ecology:

bullet 2002: Declaration on the Environment . Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew issued a call to First World people to turn away from unjust and destructive consumer culture. 1
bullet 2001: Pope John Paul II’s speech on JAN-17 -- a call to sustain an ‘ecological conversion.’ 1
bullet 1995: Evangelium Vitae: It deals with murder, contraception, abortion, and suicide; it does not mention biocide. 1
bullet 1993: Veritatis Splendor: It restates Catholic moral teaching, but is silent on extinction. 2
bullet 1990: Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all Creation: It is devoted exclusively to environmental concerns, but fails to acknowledge overpopulation threats. 1
bullet 1990: The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility: It discusses the emergence of a new ecological awareness, and views the ecological crisis as a moral crisis.6,7
bullet 1988: Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: Three paragraphs on environmental degradation were inserted at a later stage of drafting. Anthropocentric tone. As below, the Pope briefly admits that there is a problem with population growth. 3,1
bullet 1987: Familiaris Consortio: The Pope briefly admits that there is a problem with population growth. 3
bullet 1979: Redemptor Hominis contains references to the environment which are not prominent. It is written from a human perspective. 3
bullet 1971: Octogesima Adveniens: The pope’s letter speaks about the threats to environment. 1
bullet 1968: Humanae Vitae: This presents the Catholic Church's position on birth control. 3,2
bullet 1967: Populorum Progressio: Quotes ‘fill the Earth and subdue it’. It  states that the introduction of industry is necessary, but is silent about the negative impact of industrialization on the biosphere. 1,3
bullet 1965: Gaudium et Spes states that all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown. 3
bullet 1962-65: Vatican II Documents are favorable towards technology, but contain no appreciation of its dark side or on its impact on the biosphere.

This is a relatively large group of encyclicals and other of documents. However, they express little sense of urgency. The environmental problems that are dealt with by Vatican are mainly First World problems. Deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, chemical poisoning of the soil, not to mention the effects of overpopulation, are not emphasized. The few Vatican texts mentioning the growth mania of the modern industrial consumer society. However, the data are not clearly arranged, and the analysis is not sufficiently rigorous to challenge one of the most strongly held tenets of our modern society. 1 The Vatican environmental teaching is underreported 4, and appears to have little or no effect at the parish level.

Pope John Paul’s the Second (belated) concern for the environment was not shared by Joseph Ratzinger who succeeded John Paul II as Pope Benedict XVI. In 1986, Joseph Ratzinger (former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) considered the Greens a blend of ill-defined romanticism with elements of Marxism and even stronger strains of liberalism – none of which he had much time for. 3,5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Sean McDonagh, "Care of the Earth Moves Higher on the Church Agenda," at:
  2. Sean McDonagh, "The Death of Life. A Challenge to Christians," at:
  3. Sean McDonagh, "The Greening of the Church," Geoffrey Chapman, (1990).
  4. Web of Creation, "Quotations on the Environment," at:
  5. Gary MacEoin, "Ratzinger Knocks Green Party, Dialogue with Jews," National Catholic Reporter, 1987-NOV-06.
  6. Mad Dog, "Weighing in on Obesity," The Mad Dog Weekly. at:
  7. Peter Smith, "A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith," Oneworld, (2000)

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Copyright © 2006 to 2007 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-AUG-16
Latest update on: 2007-MAR-03
Author. Vladimir Tomek

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