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Why green Catholics are not communists

  • 04 September 2009

As various commentators have indicated one of the significant features of the recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate by Pope Benedict XVI is its explicit mention of environmental themes.

The Pope's contributions are not startling or unusual. He emphasises the importance of stewardship over all creation, the grave duty to hand on to future generations something worth having, the dangers of consumerism, the squandering of resources and the deep interconnections between human existence and the rest of creation.

Two significant elements are his linking our concern with the environment with the larger issues of respect for life, creating a new 'seamless garment' of social teaching; and his constant concern for the impact on the poor of environmental degradation. These are welcome and timely observations.

Interestingly this new development in social teaching is not in tune with some of the Pope's natural constituency. Many conservative Catholics have shown scant regard for environmental issues and publicly expressed scepticism in particular about global warming. For them environmentalism has become the new communism.

Indeed environmentalists are sometimes called 'watermelons, green on the outside, red on the inside'. They are painted in extreme terms as 'neo-pagans' and anyone showing concern for the environment is tarred with the same brush. The parallels with the Church's attitude to communism in the '50s and '60s are clear. Anyone with an interest in social justice was suspect then, as those with environmental concerns are now.

Things changed a bit for the former when Paul VI issued his encyclical on development issues, Populorum Progressio ('On the development of peoples'), which the Wall Street Journal referred to as 'warmed up Marxism'.

Now with the issuing of Caritas in Veritate perhaps environmentalism will be less anathema among conservative commentators. With the Pope showing tinges of green it will be less difficult to attack those interested in protecting the environment.

But the question has arisen, just how green is the pope? In a recent article on the Acton Institute website, commentator Samuel Gregg has responded, 'not so green', concluding that 'Benedict's 'greenness' turns out to be rather pale'.

He rightly notes that Benedict upholds the priority of human life and grounds his environmentalism in the Christian notion of stewardship. In this regard Benedict is no different from the majority of Christian environmentalists who do the same.

Again he rightly notes the Pope's insistence on the interconnectedness of being, as do the