April 22, 2018


This Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day. Last year I was embarrassed that the day came and went without mention in the church bulletin. This year I’m more attuned. I was/am befuddled by the negative response so many Catholics have to Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment (Laudato Si). I’m flabbergasted at the number of people who believe that the Pope should stick to religion and leave concern for the planet to the scientists. This subject is very clear to me because I just read two books about the Pope. Both were written by men who are not fans, in fact they are critical of his theology and pastoral approach.

One book is “To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism” by Ross Douthat. The other is “Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock” by Philip F. Lawler. Phil Lawler is a local boy and a Catholic Memorial graduate. 

I have to admit I’m always skeptical of anyone that says, “as we have always taught” because I question what they mean by “always.” Could it be from Christ’s time, the middle ages, the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the 1st Vatican Council (1869-1870), the 2nd Vatican Council (1962-1965)? How does Catholic teaching qualify to warrant the adverb “always”?

Obviously, those who agree with the theology and ecclesiology of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict had underlying allegiance to the papacy during those years and question the direction and leadership of Pope Francis. On the other hand, those attracted to the message of Pope Francis are thrilled that the Church finally has a pope who identifies with their concept of church and Christ’s message. Their allegiance to the pope is a trust they did not have in Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. 

As usual, for me, it comes down to your concept of God and your understanding of the life of Christ and the beginnings of the Church. It comes down to your understanding of how God is revealed in the world today or whether that revelation ceased sometime over the last 2000 years with a declaration made by a pope or a council?

Can the Catholic Church change its approach to issues that affect humanity and the environment today, which were not even conceived or imagined in the past? Does everything taught by the Church carry the same authority? If not, who decides? The pope, the college of bishops, a council, the faithful? Can the leadership of the Church learn from the faithful when they are looking at Church teaching?

In September 2016, Pope Francis, in his message for the World Day of Prayer for Creation, caused an uproar for some when he suggested that care for the environment should be added to the Church’s traditional list of Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

Something to think about on Earth Day.

Enjoy life!
Fr. Coyne


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