As Francis Preaches Environmentalism, Bishops Sell Drilling Rights. So What?

Pope Francis waves to faithful upon his arrival on St. Peter's square at the Vatican to lead his weekly general audience on September 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read
Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

A Reuters piece Tuesday accuses certain U.S. bishops of open opposition to Pope Francis’ call for respect for the environment, citing several new contracts for drilling rights to oil and gas companies.

In his triumphant “gotcha” essay, Reuters writer Richard Valdmanis says that in the Oklahoma City archdiocese alone, “Church officials have signed three new oil and gas leases since Francis’s missive on the environment.”

Moreover, the Church’s direct links to the fossil fuels industry through Oklahoma and Texas lease deals, he writes ominously, “highlight a potentially deeper moral dissonance in the wake of the pope’s unambiguous attack on human-caused climate change.”

Valdmanis seems to take for granted that ever since the Pope published his encyclical letter on the environment, fossil fuels have somehow become a sin, or at least a “near occasion” of sin.

He may have failed to notice that the Pope himself arrived to the U.S. on Tuesday in an airplane powered by (fossil) jet fuel, that his Jeep popemobile similarly runs on gasoline and that the Santa Marta residence where he stays in Rome is heated by natural gas, another fossil fuel.

Granted, Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict had immense solar panels installed on the roof of the Paul VI Hall, so there is plenty of green energy in Vatican City, but this doesn’t mean that suddenly the production or use of fossil fuels is morally evil.

And while the author clearly did a little research to see where Catholic dioceses are investing their funds, he unfortunately did no research at all with regard to where the Pope stands on important moral issues.

In a howler of a misstatement, Valdmanis wrote that Francis held “liberal views” on “homosexuality and Catholic re-marriage.”

Even ten minutes surfing the internet would have informed Valdmanis that the Pope’s views on homosexuality and re-marriage are anything but “liberal.” He has been railing against efforts to foist gay marriage on society all year, calling it a demonic project, and has repeatedly affirmed the permanent nature of sacramental marriage.

Furthermore, had Valdmanis read the Pope’s encyclical on the environment more closely, he would have realized that Francis nowhere says that drilling for or using fossil fuels is sinful, though he does suggest that gradually moving away from them toward renewable sources of energy seems a better long-term course.

Valdmanis did correctly mention, however, that Catholics are called to responsible administration of their goods and to invest ethically.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Jordan McMurrough, said that the archdiocese “currently does not plan changes to its long-standing practice of granting oil and gas leases,” adding that Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller “is well aware of and deeply respects” Pope Francis’ encyclical.

The next time Reuters plans to release a “gotcha,” hopefully they will do a little fact-checking first.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome


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