21 May 2021, The Tablet

Catholic climate group criticises bishops' Pentecost letter

'Bishops fiddle while Rome burns.'

Catholic climate group criticises bishops' Pentecost letter

Alok Sharma, president of COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow this year.
Sandy Young/Alamy

Vatican-trained Catholic climate activists have hit out at the Catholic bishops of England and Wales for failing to refer to the Pope’s landmark encyclical on the environment in their Pentecost pastoral letter on climate change.

The Laudato Si’ Animators group, trained by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, based at the Vatican, criticised the bishops for issuing a letter they regard as weak, because it does not refer to Laudato Si’.

The group, already well-established, has worked with Journey to 2030, Cafod and Justice and Peace networks to present “Global Healing”, an online Lent course with the Bishops’ Conference films and speakers which reached around 900 people, and carries weight in the Christian environmental movement.

The bishops’ pastoral letter on the environment for is prepared for use in churches on Pentecost, this Sunday. The week running up to Pentecost, this week, is officially designated Laudato Si’ Week. 

Calling Catholics to local action and concern, and stating that everyone has a part to play, the bishops’ pastoral letter says: “This Pentecost comes at a time of remarkable challenge and opportunity. We are gradually emerging from the tragedies and restrictions of the pandemic. We have the ability to make changes. Our countries are also hosting two most important meetings this year, the G7 in June and COP26 in November.”

It was recently confirmed by President Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry that Pope Francis, whose encyclical Laudato Si’ on the environment is likely to be a long-lasting legacy of his papacy, will be attending COP26 later this year, along with other heads of state. 

But, bizarrely, the bishops in their Pentecost letter make no mention whatsoever of Laudato Si’.

In their statement, the Laudato Si’ Animators say: “In order to ensure the proper care of our common home, we must become a ‘we’ that is ever wider and more co-responsible, in the profound conviction that whatever good is done in our world is done for present and future generations. #LaudatoSiWeek 

“The Pope’s tweet on 18 May, reminds us that we all have a part to play in the recovery of our world. This emboldens us to present our response to the Pentecost Pastoral Letter on the Environment by the Bishops of England and Wales.”

The animators do welcome the bishops’ letter. They say it brings the urgency of the environmental crisis to the mass of Catholics at grass roots level. “It urges us all to action, pointing out that there are a great many resources available, and suggesting areas in which we can make the right choices, for instance in diet, energy, travel and waste. This promoting of environmental action from our bishops is much appreciated by Catholic activists.”

However, they wish the pastoral letter had gone further. “We would have liked to have seen reference to the Vatican's Laudato Si Action Platform, which is being officially unveiled on 25 May. Like Vatican ll, the action platform is somewhat ‘revolutionary’ by Catholic Church standards, and needs explanation and encouragement. It is a bold initiative whose success is very much dependent on the backing of our bishops.


In this blog for The Tablet, Bishop John Arnold and Bishop William Nolan do mention Laudato Si’. They call for a lifestyle reset in the face of the climate change. “We face an environmental crisis, but we have hope,” they say. 


“We would also have liked to have seen mention of and praise and encouragement for the work already being done by Catholics to reverse environmental damage. This support would be some thanks for what can often be thankless activities and would encourage others to take up the cause. 

“We are surprised that no specific mention is made of the Laudato Si’  encyclical, which is the umbrella under which Catholics have most recently become mobilised for environmental action. The encyclical has been acclaimed by people of goodwill worldwide, yet many Catholic parishes in the UK know very little about it, because they haven’t been made aware of its importance.

Laudato Si’ obliges us to confront our treatment of the millions of species that we share the planet with. Indeed, the Vatican, because of Laudato Si’, now urges us to consider how we have treated other creatures when we examine our consciences. It is disappointing that the letter makes no mention of our fellow creatures and the respect and love we owe them as part of our Christian duties.”

The animators also say it would also have been “heartening” to have some commitment from the bishops to considering how the liturgy could better reflect our greater awareness of our Christian duty to the natural environment. And they say the bishops should have urged parish priests and parishioners to set up parish green teams and to develop parish environmental policies.

The animators say: “It is proving difficult in many parishes to get the approval and support of the clergy for environmental action. We welcome the appointment of environmental leads in many dioceses and hope the bishops will soon have an environmental lead in every diocese, which will be a great help towards getting parish priests to back local action. We look forward to the leads working with existing networks such as the National Justice and Peace Network, Cafod and our own Laudato Si’ animators.”

Bishop John Arnold, lead bishop on the environment, told The Tablet: “After six years, people understand the call of Laudato Si’. Its prophetic teaching has merged with the thinking that we must have about the essential place of the Holy Spirit in guiding and strengthening us for all that we need to do in what we clearly recognise as our common home and in our care for all our brothers and sisters.”

A similar letter from the Scottish bishops on the environ- ment was read out last weekend in parishes.

The Scottish Laity Network told The Tablet: “It was heartening that the bishops of Scotland have finally addressed the current climate emergency and encour- aged us to act with a sense of urgency to discern what needs to be done and to make the changes required.”

However, the network was not sure that the letter “conveys the sense of urgency that is required” or encourages governments to reduce CO2 emissions urgently.

The bishops stated they are in the process of divesting from fos- sil fuel investments and aiming for carbon neutrality in as sustainable and timely way as possible. But, the network points out, there are “no deadlines, just aims and nothing really specific”.



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