Why This Issue?

In connection with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ on climate change released on May 24, 2015, we have prepared the following list of previous Church statements on the environment.

Magisterial Publications

  • There is no specific mention of ecology or the environment in the Second Vatican Council documents (published between 1963 and 1965) or in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994).
  • Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2005), Ch. 10, “Safeguarding the Environment,” especially #’s 461-4.

Papal Statements

Pope Paul VI

Octogesima Adveniens (1971), # 21
The first, brief, papal statement on the environment.

Pope John Paul II

Message for World Day of Peace (1990)
The first extended papal statement on “the ecological crisis;” begins with the biblical account of creation and various moral elements of the crisis; offers some general principles towards solutions; emphasizes the need for solidarity between nations.

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1990)
A very general statement in #26, included here for historical completeness.

Centesimus Annus (1991), #’s 37 – 39
Links “the ecological question” with consumerism and “an authentic human ecology”.

Pope Benedict XVI – “The Green Pope”

Christmas Address to Roman Curia (2008)
Briefly mentions “human ecology”.

Caritas in Veritate (2009), #’s 48 – 51
Repeats the themes of authentic development, global responsibility, consumerism, human ecology; “the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society;” if society loses the concept of human ecology, it loses that of environmental ecology.

Message for World Day of Peace (2010)
Links together the themes of all earlier papal statements on the environment tying them to the goal of peace, adding more detail; includes the universal destination of goods, the call to responsible stewardship and intergenerational solidarity; clarifies the difference of worth between the human person and other living things.

Address to the Diplomatic Corps (2010)
Stresses that self-centredness and materialism endanger not only the economy but the environment as well; expresses concern with the economic and political resistance to including concrete goals in the  conclusions of the Copenhagen Climate Change Convention held the previous month; re-emphasizes that protection of the environment must be situated within the larger framework of protecting human life; articulates the urgent need to delineate a positive secularity which recognizes the public role of Christianity and its understanding of the biological basis of sexual differentiation and the limits of freedom.

Light of the World (2010), pp. 42 – 49. (Excerpt)
Elaborates in a more personal tone how to resolve the threats to the environment; points out the lack of national and individual will; “how can the great moral will…become a personal decision? ….This can be done only by an authority that touches the conscience….the Church….is….often the only hope.”

Pope Francis

The current Holy Father has made numerous references to ecology/the environment during his pontificate. A chronological selection with sample links follows.

  • Inaugural Mass (March 19, 2013)
  • General audience responding to the UN’s World Environment Day (June 5, 2013).
  • Visit to Brazil (July 2013).
  • Evangelii Gaudium, #’s 56, 215 (November 2013).
  • Message for the World Day of Peace, #’s 8, 9, (January 2014).
  • Address to the Holy See Diplomatic Corps (January 13, 2014).
  • Comments following the Pontifical Academy of Sciences/Social Sciences Sustainability Summit (May 2014).
  • General audience (May 21, 2014)”… the knowledge that comes from the Holy Spirit….leads us to grasp, through creation, the greatness ….of God,” therefore we must “take care of it and harness it for the benefit of all”.
  • Address at the University of Molise, Italy (July 2014).
  • Letter to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Australia (November 2014).
  • Address to Humanum Conference on the Complementarity of Man and Woman (November 2014) (Excerpt) Brief comment on how “The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis”.
  • Address to European Parliament (November 2014) (Excerpt).
  • Remarks to the World Meeting of Popular Movements (October 2014).

C. General Publications

“The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation” (April 2000)
Father J. Michael Beers, Dr. Russell Hittinger, Fr. Matthew Lamb, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Dr. Robert Royal, Father Robert A. Sirico.

“Catholics, the Environment and a ‘Culture of Waste'” (September 17, 2013) J.J. Zeigler, Catholic World Report
A bibliography of Popes Francis, St. John Paul II and Benedict’s environmental statements plus quotes from the USCCB’s November 2013 conference on “Assessing Pope Benedict’s Ecological Vision”.

Virtually all First World bishops’ conferences, dioceses, parishes, religious orders and Catholic school boards have published their own environmental guidelines.