Bishop Donald Bolen

Bishop Donald Bolen

April 15, 2013

Canada's Catholic bishops say there is an "urgent need for action" on the environment to protect the common good and promote international cooperation.

Governments need to protect the environment through clear policies that preserve the common good from "selfish interests, whether corporate or individual," the bishops' justice and peace commission says in a statement issued April 8.

The bishops also warned, "Nations cannot solve environmental problems alone." Because of the interdependence of ecosystems, environmental policies must be developed internationally.

The costs of solving environmental problems must be borne by those states that created the problems rather than nations "who are its victims and who represent the poorest populations," they said.

The bishops also called on developed nations to decrease their consumption levels. "Developing nations must take care to use the earth's limited resources wisely."

The justice and peace commission's document aims to spur reflection and action on environmental issues by outlining principles from papal statements of the past 25 years.

Entitled Building a New Culture: Central Themes in Recent Church Teaching on the Environment, the document illustrates each of eight themes with relevant quotes from Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II and includes a short reflection. The document is available at

Building a New Culture steers clear of addressing specific political and economic issues of what it calls "the threatening situation" arising from the neglect and misuse of God's gifts.

"The Church does not propose or evaluate specific technical solutions to our current environmental problems," it says. "Rather, her task is to remind people of the relationship between creation, human beings and the Creator."

Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon, a member of the commission, said having "an overarching vision" of God's purpose and humanity's place in creation provides a basis for examining moral questions.

That vision encompasses "serving the dignity of human life at all stages and working towards the common good," he said in an interview.

"Our document may be critiqued because it doesn't address particular policy questions in Canada about the environment," Bolen said. "What we're trying to offer is a kind of meta-reflection, and give the resources to engage in that discussion."

But Bolen stressed the document is not calling Catholics to "keep the discussion on the level of principles."

"We are encouraging our communities and our faithful to engage in dialogue with governmental policies and giving them the principles from which they should do that," he said. "It's not shying away from party policy. It's a call to action."

In its first principle, the document emphasizes the uniqueness of humanity in that "Human beings are creatures made in God's image."

It quotes Pope Benedict who warns against the extremes of unbridled dominion over nature on one hand or on the other "absolutizing the environment or by considering it more important than the human person."

The second principle stresses that creation is the fruit of the love of God and has an intrinsic order that human beings can understand.

The third principle emphasizes "human ecology," the value of human life, the family and the need to protect those marginalized by society.

It quotes Pope Benedict, who wrote, "The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when human ecology is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits."

Other principles include: responsible stewardship; care for the environment as a moral issue; and solidarity.


"Since environmental degradation is often related to poverty, solidarity demands that structural forms of poverty be addressed," the bishops write. Solidarity also means care for future generations as well as for the poor.

Another "principle" is the relationship between creation and spirituality. "The created world is not simply a place to live, or material for our use; it possesses an aesthetic element which can lift our minds to God," the bishops said.

Bolen said there is "a rich resource in papal teaching which is not terribly well-known." The bishops say that teaching can guide reflection on how the People of God engage questions of the environment.

The Church's "moral vision is a large one" and not single-issue oriented. However, groups within the Church are working on various particular issues, such as pro-life matters or the environment, Bolen noted.

Because the Church cannot work on all issues at once, it also needs to address the interrelations among issues, he said.