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Further to John Morrissey's disturbing report on Fr Charles Rue's address at the Cardinal Knox Centre, Melbourne, based on his recently launched book, Let the Son Shine, it might help to put Fr Rue's position in context by considering Church teachings in relation to our stewardship of the environment.
Chapter Ten, 'Safeguarding the Environment', in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004, together with paragraphs 48 to 52 in Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI's latest Encyclical, provide us with sound principles to direct our environmental behaviour.
While both documents represent the highest level of Church teaching on environmental questions they need to be read carefully and in toto to avoid misinterpretation due to selective reading; even summarising them is fraught with that risk. Hence my ever-so-brief summary is open to challenge.
In brief, according to these documents, creation is part of the Divine plan for humanity, encompassing the natural environment and humanity in an interdependent relationship whereby nature provides for humanity's material needs (food, health, shelter) so every person has the opportunity to live a dignified and productive life on Earth and ultimately enjoy the reward of eternal life.
Nature and the environment represent a 'collective good' available to be used and developed in a responsible way for the benefit of mankind. Thus, 'God willed that mankind be king of creation' (Compendium, 460) and '... it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person' (CV, 48).
Above all, nature (flora, fauna and landscape) may not be 'divinised' and 'placed above the dignity of the human person', nor is the environment an object to be manipulated and exploited (463); rather, 'human beings legitimately exercise a responsible stewardship over nature' (50).
Therefore, nature may be used and developed through technology 'in the service of humanity' (458) for the benefit of present and enlarged (estimated at nine billion by 2010) future generations (467), but always with respect for the order of creation and the need to satisfy basic human needs, especially in the developing world (486).
Biotechnological developments are strongly encouraged, especially those that 'improve the global human condition' (458, 486).
Non-renewable resources may be used but not hoarded from less developed countries (470, 481) and (49). At the same time technologically advanced countries must reduce domestic energy consumption to slow down depletion of resources (49).
On the issue of climate change, the Magisterium is not prescriptive urging that the 'complex relations between human activity and climate change be constantly monitored' (470).
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 22 No 11 (December 2009 - January 2010), p. 14
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