In its new guidelines on the formation of seminarians, the Vatican summons future priests to be “highly sensitive” to the “emerging planetary crisis” and to be active promoters of environmental concern in their future ministry.
Citing Pope Francis, the text censures “committed and prayerful Christians” who under the pretext of realism and pragmatism “ridicule expressions of concern for the environment.” The document, titled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” calls on these Christians to undergo an “ecological conversion” so that their faith in Christ will “become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”
This ecological conversion must be “profound” and “interior,” the text states, because being protectors of the environment “is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”
The guidelines say that “it will be necessary for future priests to be highly sensitive to this theme and, through the requisite Magisterial and theological guidance, help to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face.”
“This must then be applied to their future priestly ministry, making them promoters of an appropriate care for everything connected to the protection of creation,” it reads.
Some Catholic scholars were quick to point out that being responsible stewards of creation should not be tied “to particular alarms which so often owe as much to politics and public funding as anything else.”
Since, “the Church has no competence in scientific questions,” writes Dr. Jeffrey Mirus, “to push priests in a particular direction on this would require either that she arbitrarily back some scientific conclusions against others, or that she demand of her priests the necessary expertise to evaluate the various claims and counter-claims.”
Urging priests to adopt a secular agenda carries “grave dangers,” Mirus writes, such as “the failure to prioritize the spiritual and salvific mission of the priest in favor of popular causes” and the risk of confusing “Christian virtue with popular movements.”
Pope Francis has made environmental concerns one of the central social issues of his pontificate, preaching about the need to protect God’s creation in his very first homily as pope in March 2013.
In 2015, Francis published a teaching letter on the environment called Laudato Si, urging nations and individuals to exercise more responsible stewardship of the created world.
At the same time, Francis claimed that he was seeking to encourage debate rather than impose his own understanding of environmental concerns.
“On many concrete questions,” he wrote, “the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.”
“Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics,” Francis said. “But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”
Francis also said it is necessary to create “a social debate” in which of those involved in any way can explain their problems and “have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good.”
One supposes that future priests will continue to encourage this debate, rather than simply aping secular opinions on a question as vast and variable-laden as “climate change.”
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