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November 23, 2017
Archive of July 17, 2017

Kids in a time of climate change – what's a Catholic to do?

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2017 (CNA) - Travis Rieder and his wife Sadiye have one child.

She wanted a big family, but he’s a philosopher who studies climate change with the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. One child of their own was all the world could environmentally afford, they decided.

In his college classes, Rieder asks his students to consider how old their children will be by 2036, when he expects dangerous climate change to be a reality. Do they want to raise a family in the midst of that crisis?

Many scientists concur that the earth is currently in a warming phase - and that if the earth’s average temperatures rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius, the effects would be disastrous.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries within the United Nations, aims to address just that. Signatory countries agreed to work to keep the global temperature from increasing by two degrees through lowering their greenhouse gas emissions, and to work together on adapting to the effects of climate change that are already a reality.

But reproductive solutions, such as the ones proposed by Rieder, are wildly controversial for the ethical and moral questions they raise.

Penalizing parents

In his book “Toward a Small Family Ethic,” Rieder and two of his peers advocate for limited family size because of what they believe is an impending climate change catastrophe.

They suggest a “carrots for the poor, sticks for the rich” population control policy, which they insist is not like China’s harsh one-child policy.

For poor developing nations, they suggest paying women to fill their birth control and widespread media campaigns about smaller families and family planning. For wealthier nations, they suggest a type of “child tax,” which would penalize new parents with a progressive tax based on income that would increase with each new child.

“(C)hildren, in a kind of cold way of looking at it, are an externality,” Rieder told NPR. “We as parents, we as family members, we get the good. And the world, the community, pays the cost.”

While it might sound strange, the idea that climate change and overpopulation morally necessitate couples to limit their family size (or to have no children at all) is not new.

Since the 1960s, some scientists have been advocating for smaller families for various reasons – overpopulation, climate cooling, the development of Africa – and now, global warming and climate change.

And while the idea isn’t new, neither are the moral and ethical concerns associated with asking parents to limit their family size for the sake of the planet.

Should Catholics limit their family size?

Ultimately, Catholics ethicists said, while environmental concerns can certainly factor into lifestyle choices, those who would ask people to completely forego children simply due to their carbon footprint are approaching the topic from the wrong perspective, not realizing the immeasurable worth and dignity of every human person.

“The proposals (on limited family size)...need to be assessed with a perspective as to the very nature of the human person, marital relationships, and society,” Dr. Marie T. Hilliard told CNA.

Hilliard serves as the director of bioethics and public policy at The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a center designed specifically to answer the moral bioethical dilemmas that Catholics face in the modern world.

What’s problematic about the policies proposed by Rieder and other scientists is that they ask married couples to frustrate one of the purposes of their sexuality, Hilliard said.

“(T)he procreative end of marriage must be respective. Couples cannot enter into a valid marriage with the intent of frustrating that critical end, and one of the purposes of marriage,” she said. If couples are not open to the possibility of a child, “it frustrates at least one of the two critical ends of marriage: procreation and the wellbeing of the spouses.”  

Dr. Christian Brugger is a Catholic moral theologian and professor with St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. He clarified that while the Church asks couples to be open to life, it does not ask that they practice “unlimited procreation.”

“The Catholic Church has never held – and has many times denied – that responsible parenthood means ‘unlimited procreation’ or the encouragement of blind leaps into the grave responsibilities of child raising,” he said.

“It does mean respecting marriage, respecting the moral principles in the transmission of human life, respecting developing human life from conception to natural death, and promoting and defending a social order manifestly dedicated to the common good.”

Considering the common good can include considering the environment, as well as a host of other factors that pertain to the flourishing of the human person, when couples are considering parenting another child, Brugger said.

But he cautioned Catholics against the moral conclusions of scientists whose views on life and human sexuality differ greatly from Church teaching.

“Catholics should not make decisions about family size based upon the urgings of these activists,” he said.  

“Why? Because they hold radically different values about human life, marriage, sex, procreation, and family, and therefore their moral conclusions about the transmission of human life are untrustworthy.”  

“(P)opulation scare-mongering has been going on in a globally organized fashion for 70 years. The issues that population activists use to promote their anti-natalist agendas change over time...But the urgent conclusion is always the same: the world needs less people; couples should stop having children,” he said.

And many worry that legislated policies encouraging and rewarding smaller families could open up a host of ethical and moral problems.

Rebecca Kukla of Georgetown University told NPR that she worries about the stigma such policies would unleash on larger families. She also worried that while a “child tax” might not be high enough to be considered coercive, it would be unfair, and would favor the wealthy.

Hilliard agreed.

“(A) carte blanche imperative to limit family size can lead us to the dangers the (NPR article) cites, as discrimination and bias and government mandates can, and have, ensued,” Hilliard said.

Women in particular would bear the brunt of the resulting stigmas of such policies, Brugger noted.

“(W)omen will and already do suffer the greatest burden from this type of social coercion. Women have always been the guardians of the transmission of human life. They share both the godlike privilege of bearing life within them and the most weighty burdens of that privilege. Anti-natalist demagoguery is always anti-woman, always,” Brugger said.

All things considered, the Catholic Church would never take away the right and responsibility of parents to determine their family size by supporting a policy that would ask families to limit their size because of climate change, he said.  

It’s not people, it’s your lifestyle

William Patenaude is a Catholic ecologist, engineer and longtime employee with Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management. He frequently blogs about ecology from a Catholic perspective at

The idea that we must choose between the planet or people, he told CNA, is a “false choice.” The problem isn’t numbers of people – it’s the amount each person is consuming.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 1960 the United States produced some 88 million tons of municipal waste. In 2010 that number climbed to just under 250 million tons—and it may have been higher had a recession not slowed consumption. This jump reflects an almost 184 percent increase in what Americans throw out even though our population increased by only 60 percent,” he wrote in a blog post about the topic.

There is a similar trend in carbon emissions, which increase at a faster rate than the population.

“We can infer from this that individuals (especially in places like the USA) are consuming and wasting more today than we ever have, which gets to what Pope Francis has been telling us about lifestyles, which is consistent with his predecessors,” Patenaude told CNA.

Climate change has been one of the primary concerns of Pope Francis’ pontificate. While not the first Pope to address such issues, his persistence in addressing the environment has brought a new awareness of the urgency of the issue to other Church leaders.

In May 2015, Pope Francis published “Laudato Si,” the first encyclical devoted primarily to care for creation.

In it, the Holy Father wrote that the earth “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

But never does the Pope ask families to have fewer children. Instead, he urges Catholics to address pollution and climate change, to make simple lifestyle changes that better care for “our common home” and to work toward a better human ecology.  

“It seems that voices that urge fewer children aren’t interested in new and temperate lifestyles. In fact, they are implicitly demanding that modern consumption levels be allowed to stay as they are – or even to rise. This seems selfish and gluttonous, and not at all grounded in a concern for life, nature, or the common good,” Patenaude said.

Furthermore, the good of any individual person outweighs the damage of their potential carbon footprint, he said.

“The good and dignity and worth of every human person is superseded by nothing else on this planet. If we don’t affirm that first, we can never hope to be good stewards of creation, because we will never really be able to appreciate all life,” he said.

“On the other hand, one way to affirm the dignity of human life – collectively and individually – is to care for creation. Because as I noted earlier, creation is our physical life-support system, and so to authentically care for it is to care for human life.”

Dan Misleh is the executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, which was formed in 2006 by the United States Catholic Bishops in order to help implement Church social teaching regarding climate change.

Misleh agreed that while reducing the consumption of fossil fuels is “imperative” to reducing negative effects of climate change like droughts and rising sea levels, that does not mean mandated population engineering and smaller families.

“As for population, places like the U.S., Japan and many European countries have both high carbon emissions and relatively low population growth and birth rates. So there is not a direct correlation between low-birth rates and fewer emissions. In fact, the opposite often seems to be true: countries with the highest birthrates are often the poorest countries with very low per-capita emissions,” he told CNA.

What is needed is a true “ecological conversion,” like Pope Francis called for in Laudato Si, Misleh said.  

“(P)erhaps we Catholics need to view a commitment to a simple lifestyle not as a sacrifice but as an opportunity to live more in keeping with the biblical mandate to both care for and cultivate the earth, to spend more time on relationships than accumulating things, and to step back to appreciate the good things we have rather than all the things we desire.”


This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 27, 2016.


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Cardinal Simoni to consecrate church of Mother Teresa in Balkans

Prizren, Jul 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis on Saturday appointed Cardinal Ernest Simoni to be his delegate at the consecration of a church dedicated to St. Teresa of Calcutta in Pristina, the capital of the self-declared state of Kosovo.

The consecration will take place Sept. 5, 2017, the 20th anniversary of the death of St. Teresa of Calcutta, and just one year after her canonization in Rome by Pope Francis.

Though in use by Catholics in the area since 2010, the consecration will mark the shrine’s formal dedication to Mother Teresa.

Cardinal Simoni, 88, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Shkodrë-Pult. He is one of the last survivors of the communist persecution in Albania.

Cardinal Simoni was a seminarian in December 1944, when an atheistic communist regime came to power in Albania. In 1948, communists shot and killed his Franciscan superiors. He continued his studies in secret and was later ordained a priest.

Four years later, communist leaders gathered together priests who had survived and offered them freedom if they distanced themselves from the Pope and the Vatican. Cardinal Simoni and his brother priests refused.

On Dec. 24, 1963, as he was concluding Mass, four officials served him an arrest warrant and decree of execution. He was handcuffed and detained. During interrogation, they told him he would be hanged as an enemy because he told the people, “We will all die for Christ if necessary.”

He suffered immense torture, but said “the Lord wanted me to keep living.” He was later freed from the death sentence and given 28 years of forced labor instead, during which time he celebrated Mass, heard confessions, and distributed Communion in secret.

Cardinal Simoni was released only when the communist regime fell and freedom of religion was recognized. Pope Francis made him a cardinal in the consistory of Nov. 19, 2016.

Built in an neo-renaissance and Italianate style of architecture, the Church of St. Teresa of Calcutta will eventually have two bell towers, each 230 feet tall, making it one of the tallest buildings in the city.

It's stained-glass windows include depictions of St. Teresa of Calcutta with St. John Paul II, and Pope Francis embracing Benedict XVI.

Begun in 2007, it is the main Catholic church in Kosovo, though it is still partially under construction.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, and its independence is recognized by the United States, much of western Europe, as well as by other countries across the globe.

There are approximately 65,000 Catholics out of a population of roughly 2 million in Kosovo. They are mainly ethnic Albanians, like St. Teresa of Calcutta. There are also some Eastern Orthodox, but the area is majority Muslim.

Most Catholics in Kosovo live in Pristina, as well as the cities of Klina, Gjakove/Djakovica, Viti and Prizren, where St. Teresa of Calcutta's parents were from.

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Shots fired at people voting outside church in Venezuela

Caracas, Venezuela, Jul 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Armed civilians who support the Venezuelan regime opened fire against a large crowd of protestors who were participating in a symbolic referendum in Caracas on Sunday.

The incident forced hundreds to seek refuge inside Our Lady of Mount Carmel church where they stayed until the local archbishop Cardinal Jorje Urosa Savino mediated their safe exit. One person died from gunshot wounds and several others were injured.

Swaths of locals who oppose the current leadership called for a “consultation of the people” on July 16 to protest President Nicolas Maduro's plans to rewrite the country's constitution on July 30. Some 7 million people participated in Sunday's protest.

In the wake of Nicolas Maduro succeeding former socialist president Hugo Chavez after the latter died from cancer in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval.

Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.

Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

The Venezuelan government is known to be among the most corrupt in Latin America, and violent crime in the country has spiked since Maduro took office.

On July 16, Cardinal Urosa had celebrated Mass in the church located in the Catia section of Caracas. The incident took place following the service.

Father Erick Tovar, pastor of Our Lady of Carmel Church, told CNA that “the voting process was going on just fine. The crowd coming from Catia was huge. There was a celebration because of the fact that they could express themselves."

Unfortunately, he continued, and “in the lackadaisical sight of the National Guard and the National Police, they started shooting. One person died and several were injured.”

The shots forced many to enter the church and in order to obtain their safe exit the Archbishop of Caracas intervened.

“We had gotten all the people out of the church. The cardinal did not want to leave till everyone who was there had left,” Fr. Tovar said. “These are the final abuses of the regime."

In concluding the Angelus prayer this Sunday at the Vatican, Pope Francis said he is keeping the people of Venezuela in his prayers.

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In strongly Catholic Philippines, bishops' conference picks new leader

Manila, Philippines, Jul 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Philippines is one of the most populous Catholic countries in the world. About 80 percent of the country's 100 million people belong to the faith.

Now, the country's Catholic bishops' conference has elected a new president: Archbishop Romulo Valles.

Since 2012 Archbishop Valles, 66, has headed the Archdiocese of Davao, on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao. Davao is the largest city in the region.

Over 60 percent of Mindanao’s total population is Catholic, while Muslims make up 20 percent. In the past the island has suffered a communist insurgency and an armed Moro separatist movement, Vatican Radio reports. The region is currently suffering an insurgency of Islamic insurgents who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and have captured Marawi City, burning the Catholic cathedral and taking hostage a Catholic priest and several church workers.

Archbishop Valles served as the most recent vice-president of the bishops’ conference. He has chaired the conference’s Commission on Liturgy.

His election took place at the beginning of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' July 8-10 plenary assembly at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the Manila-area Diocese of Caloocan was elected the conference vice-president.

The newly elected leaders will take office Dec. 1. The Philippines bishops' conference covers 86 ecclesiastical jurisdictions.

Archbishop Valles' archdiocese is the home base of controversial President Rodrigo Duterte, a past mayor of Davao City. The president has vocally insulted the bishops who criticized his harsh crackdown on drugs.

In his final keynote as conference president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan stressed the need to reach out to society with an open hand.

“Closed fists do not love; they hurt. Closed fists do not touch, they strike and injure. Closed fists and prayer do not match,” he said.

Without mentioning by name President Duterte, Archbishop Villegas alluded to how the bishops had been “calumniated and slandered.”

“We have been cursed and ridiculed but you our shepherds have chosen to fly high when the mockers of the Church chose to go so low,” he said.

“I know that the values of an open hands, fortitude and listening will be same pastoral tools that we will use to serve and guide the flock of God,” he added.

Archbishop Villegas’ tenure included a massive earthquake in Bohol province and a major typhoon in the Visayas. Pope Francis visited in 2015. The country also hosted the 51st International Eucharistic Congress.

Politically, during the archbishop’s tenure the Philippines bishops clashed with previous president Benigno Aquino over a population control bill and over issues of corruption, Vatican Radio reports.

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What Civilta Cattolica's analysis of US Christianity missed

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - An analysis piece in La Civilta Cattolica alleging an “ecumenism of hate” between Catholics and Evangelical Fundamentalists is seriously flawed in its presentation of religion in public life, experts said.

Speaking about the article, which claims religious and political elements of society should not be “confused,” Elizabeth Bruenig, a writer on Christianity and politics, said: “this is a departure from most of the historical writings the Church has produced on how Catholics should think about politics and religion.”

On Thursday, the journal La Civilta Cattolica published an analysis piece co-authored by its editor, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and Marcelo Figueroa, a Presbyterian pastor who is editor-in-chief of the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano.

The piece made a number of claims, alleging that many conservative Christians have united on political issues like immigration and have ultimately promoted an “ecumenism of hate” in policies that would allegedly contradict Pope Francis’ message of mercy.

With the U.S. motto “In God we trust,” adopted in 1956, the authors stated that “for many it is a simple declaration of faith,” but “for others, it is the synthesis of a problematic fusion between religion and state, faith and politics, religious values and economy.”

This “problematic fusion” has manifested itself in recent years with the “Manichean” rhetoric of politics “that divides reality between absolute Good and absolute Evil,” the authors said, drawing examples of this from the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

This rhetoric is rooted in the evangelical-fundamentalist movement beginning in the early-20th century, which continued through other problematic interpretations of Christianity like belief in the “prosperity gospel” and in the dominion of man over creation, beliefs “that have been gradually radicalized,” the authors said.

Furthermore, this Christianity feeds off of conflict where “enemies” are “demonized,” which would today include Muslims and migrants who are not welcomed into the U.S., the authors wrote.

Pope Francis, by contrast, has advocated for “inclusion” and “encounter,” and has been opposed to “any kind of 'war of religion,’” they wrote.

Thus, for Catholics, religion and politics should not “confused” lest Christians promote a fundamentalist theocracy which is being pushed in this case, the authors said.

However, religious experts have pointed out inaccuracies, exaggerations, and false summaries of Church teaching within the article.

Dr. Chad Pecknold, a professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that although the authors alleged that many American Christians have a “Manichean” outlook on politics, of good versus evil, “the authors themselves sound quite Manichaean in their absolute opposition to their caricature of Christian conservatives in America.”

“The authors make a great number of errors, both historically, descriptively, and in their diagnosis of what ails America, and Christian conservatives more specifically,” he continued.

A chief flaw of the piece is its suggestion that religion and politics should be separated, Bruenig added. While distinctions should be made between the eternal, spiritual realm and the temporal one, the piece is “ahistorical and very un-Catholic” in how it approaches the relationship between religion and politics, she said.

Fr. Spadaro and Figueroa wrote that “the religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other.”

The article also says that “[Pope] Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women.”

This compartmentalization of faith and politics is part of flawed Enlightenment thinking, Bruenig said.

“The notion that politics and religion should basically function in separate domains is one of the original liberal Enlightenment positions on politics, and there’s a reason that most of the leading thinkers of the liberal Enlightenment were severely anti-Catholic,” she stated.

“There’s nothing special about the realm of governance that would cut it off from moral considerations, or give it its own special brand of irreligious moral consideration,” she continued, saying that politicians “are still beholden to the same moral precepts that they are in every other decision they make in their lives.”

Such a claim flies in the face of centuries of Church teaching, Bruenig continued.

P.J. Smith, who writes at the website, agreed that the article contradicted Church teaching on the relationship between faith and politics which was put forth by Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Ven. Pius XII, who wrote that the Church has the authority to speak on matters of economics and politics.

“More to the point, Spadaro and Figueroa set themselves against Pope Francis himself when they articulate a bizarre liberal atomization of man,” he wrote. “According to Spadaro and Figueroa, in church, man is a believer; in the council hall, he is a politician, at the movie theater, he is a critic; and he is apparently supposed to keep all of these roles separate.”

Smith cited Pope Francis who, at an April conference on Bl. Paul VI's 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, said that no system, whether it be the family, economy, or work, “can be an absolute, and none can be excluded from the concept of integral human development which, in other words, takes into account that human life is like an orchestra that performs well if the various instruments are in harmony and follow a score shared by all.”

Furthermore, valid critiques can be made of the current administration and the political order “from a Christian position,” Bruenig said, exploring the policies of the administration that do not conform to Church teaching. This would have been “a much stronger argument,” she said.

However, “instead of saying that those are not Christian activities to be undertaking and they’re governing badly,” the authors “said they have confused a religious element with the political one.”

Furthermore, some of the claims made in the piece about U.S. Christianity are inaccurate, Pecknold and Bruenig said.

For instance, as an example of what’s wrong with the Catholic-Evangelical ecumenism, the piece cites the website cheering the election of President Donald Trump as an answer to the prayers of Americans, comparing him to the Roman Emperor Constantine whose military victory enabled the legal acceptance of Christianity throughout the empire.

This is an example of the flawed understanding of religion and politics, the authors said.

However, this is “a fringe publication” that the authors cited, Pecknold said, and not one that is representative of Catholics in the U.S.

The article warned about a “mingling of politics and religion” that is expressed, at times, in a Manichean rhetoric of good versus evil to justify political policies. Trump, for instance, acts in such a way by decrying the “very bad.”

However, Bruenig said, “Trump himself is almost comically indifferent to religion, and can’t even really explain what Presbyterians – what he’s supposed to be – believe.”

A CNN report had noted that, according to two Presbyterian pastors who met with Trump just before his inauguration, he apparently was uncertain that they were Christians until they affirmed to him that they were.

Also, although the article mentions the “prosperity gospel” and “dominionism” as problematic strains of U.S. Christianity today, it ignores a major tradition, Smith wrote.

It fails to “engage with the liberal tradition within American Catholicism, exemplified by the Jesuit John Courtney Murray, which might have provided an interesting strand in their argument—not least because it remains the dominant strand in American Catholicism,” Smith wrote.

Stephen White, a fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., wrote in the Catholic Herald that the authors’ critique of the Christian Integralists purports to be an accurate summary of mainstream religious problems, but is rather a critique of only a small population of Christians.

“Fundamentalism is not the mainstream of American Protestantism, nor does it have the influence in American politics that the authors imagine it does,” he said.

He wrote that “the suggestion that there’s some close affinity between the Biblical literalism of fundamentalism, on the one hand, and the God-wants-you-to-be-rich hucksterism of the Prosperity Gospel,” is false.

“America’s maddeningly complex religious landscape needs thoughtful analysis and critique,” he wrote, adding that such nuance is lacking in the piece.

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