ROME — Pope Francis told a group of lawyers that he could like to introduce the category of “ecological sin” into official Catholic teaching.
“We must introduce – we are thinking about it – in the Catechism of the Catholic Church the sin against ecology, the ecological sin against the common home, because it is a duty,” the pope said Friday in addressing participants in an international conference on penal law.
More specifically, Francis said, are all those actions that can be considered as “ecocide,” for instance, “the massive contamination of air, land and water resources, the large-scale destruction of flora and fauna, and any action capable of producing an ecological disaster or destroying an ecosystem.”
Ecocide “is to be understood as the loss, damage or destruction of the ecosystems of a given territory, so that its utilization by inhabitants has been or can be seen as severely compromised,” he said, adding that such a sin is “a fifth category of crimes against peace, which should be recognised as such by the international community.”
The pontiff said that such actions are “usually” caused by corporations, and “an elementary sense of justice would require” that they be punished for them.
An ecological sin is “an action or omission against God, against one’s neighbour, the community and the environment,” Francis said, quoting the Fathers of the recently concluded Pan-Amazon Regional Synod. “It is a sin against future generations and is manifested in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment, in transgressions against the principles of interdependence and in the breaking of networks of solidarity between creatures.”
Above and beyond its sinfulness, failure to care for the environment is an injustice and a crime, Francis suggested and should be legally enforced. “I would like to appeal to all the leaders and actors in this area to contribute their efforts to ensuring adequate legal protection for our common home,” he said.
The pope’s words coincided with the release of a new survey by the Pew Research Center, which found that church-going Americans accept their clergy’s on spiritual matters, but generally distrust their advice on issues such as climate change.
Pew found that 68 percent of U.S. adults who attend religious services at least a few times a year say they have “a lot” of confidence in the advice of their clergy on growing closer to God, yet just a small fraction of this number (13 percent) say they have this confidence when the topic is “climate change.”
Pope Francis has thrown his moral weight behind the battle against anthropogenic climate change, but has also acknowledged that the Church has no authority on scientific questions.
In his 2015 encyclical letter on the environment, Francis urging nations and individuals to exercise more responsible stewardship of the created world, but insisted that he wanted to encourage debate rather than pronounce on environmental issues.
“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.”