Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we observe the Season of Creation, instituted by Pope Francis and rooted in his 2015 document, Laudato Si, many Catholics incorrectly assume that he is the first pope to instruct us on the environment. While Laudato Si may be the most recent document, I’d like to highlight the consistency among popes in recent history.
Blessed Paul VI addressed the dilemma of unchecked human activity when he stated, due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation.
Saint John Paul II addressed a plethora of concerns as they related to the environment: human beings frequently seem to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption. Elsewhere, he would call for a global ecological conversion. He also noted that little effort had been made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology. The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system.
Benedict XVI also raised a number of concerns: He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since the book of nature is one and indivisible, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence. Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.
Laudato Si cannot be treated as something separate from the other Catholic Social Teachings. They’re deeply connected because they are each grounded in the same moral framework. Protecting all human life and promoting the common good, when understood with humility, are always compatible. Otherwise, we’re no more than relativists who reject any and all revealed truth.
Faithfully yours in our Father and Creator,