Tuesday, September 27, 2016

'Catholic Church has been in denial on environment'

This week's INM Irish regional newspapers' column.

Michael Commane
Some months back a group of people in the Three Patrons' Parish in Dublin's Rathgar came together to form an environment group. The majority of the group lives within the parish and then there is Deirdre. She is a young dynamic Waterford woman who is a doctoral student at Trinity. She's in her late 20s and nothing or no one is going to distract her in her mission to make this planet a cleaner and better place. She is irrepressible.

The group has a busy programme outlined for the months ahead. To kick off the  schedule, renowned eco theologian Sean McDonagh came to the parish last Monday and spoke on the environment. The hall was packed to capacity. It was a great mix, young and not-so-young, women and men. Another sign of how people are interested in theology/religion/environment. When they know the topic is going to make sense to them they are only too delighted to turn up.

Sean McDonagh is a Columban priest who has spent his working life concerned with issues on the environment.

He told us that it was by accident that it happened. He had been teaching in a Muslim area of the Philippines in 1978 when a young student brought him to a tribal area and there for the first time he saw with his own eyes what was happening in the hills and forests. "It was there I saw the real link between the well-being of people and the environment," he says

He came to Rathgar to talk on the environment but with special reference to Pope Francis' encyclical LAUDATO SI'. He has no hesitation in saying that it is the most important papal document of the 20th and 21st centuries.

"The Catholic Church has been in denial. The environment is not a Catholic thing. 

There are no Catholic lakes or Muslim forests," he stresses. He points out how tropical forests in the Philippines have been destroyed.

Right through his talk he dips in and out of the encyclical. His first reference is to Number 21 where the pope says:  "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."

Sean points out how it was never taught that it was wrong to devastate the forests and drain the marshes.

"In my 50 years of priesthood I never once heard anyone confess that they had sinned against the environment," he says.

Fr McDonagh sees how the church overemphasised the supernatural against the natural. He cites how the Black Death was seen as a punishment from God. It was a matter of not engaging with the world - withdrawal from the world.

He quotes from a Post Communion prayer in the Missal of Pius V which goes: "Lord teach us to despise the things of the earth and to love the things of heaven."

For McDonagh this type of theology is opposed to everything to do with the God of creation. He believes the church is badly in need of new forms of worship, which will involve thanking God for the life around us.

He wants to know what Ireland is doing about its meat production. "Agriculture is responsible for 40 per cent of greenhouse gas in the country," he tells the packed hall.

McDonagh quotes Pope Francis: "Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. "

Certainly people were challenged by Sean McDonagh's talk. Isn't that what the Gospel is meant to be about? Challenging us.

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