Bishop Stowe: Greater Urgency Needed on Climate Issues and Racism

Here are some highlights from John Gehring’s Commonweal interview with Bishop John Stowe of Lexington:

I do believe that climate issues are not getting enough attention among the Church’s leadership. Specifically, I think we bishops need to help people connect their personal and communal faith to the importance of reverence for creation and the necessary conversion away from personal comfort to the sacrifices that will need to be made for the survival of the planet and for the common good. The pope has effectively led the way, but I still do not see the urgency of climate matters being discussed at the USCCB gatherings or in enough dioceses….

It seems to me that the bishops of the United States need to collectively accept and integrate the magisterium of Pope Francis and defend his role as the universal shepherd from those who publicly work against him….

I have always believed that the Church must be political; Pope Francis talks about the politics of love and the noble profession of politics and public service. We do a disservice to our membership if we call for an apolitical Church, because that would be a Church that is aloof to the concerns of the human family and just the opposite of how the Church is described in Gaudium et spes. At the same time, I also believe that the Church should be nonpartisan. Catholic theology and even Catholic social teaching does not align neatly with any political party…Because of that distaste for partisanship, it was very hard to speak out clearly about the former President of the United States. Yet to speak only in generalities would have been a failure to communicate at a critical time. When as a candidate or in office he was brashly demonstrating his disregard for the truth; spoke of immigrants in dehumanizing language; treated women as objects for sexual pleasure and disregarded their equal dignity; suggested that white supremacists marching in hate included very good people; had no difficulty bragging about never needing forgiveness; expanded the use of capital punishment; undid decades of progress for care of the environment; dismissed the concerns of labor and behaved in so many ways that are antithetical to what the Church teaches about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life, I felt compelled to point out that these words and actions were completely opposed to being “pro-life” as the Church understands it. Catholicism has thrived in the United States, and with its form of democracy; when the exercise of that democracy is under attack and violence is promoted, it is well outside the limits of normalcy and the Church has a responsibility to speak out for the common good….

I’m unapologetic about promoting social justice because that was and is the mission of Jesus. Kentucky certainly is a red state, but it is a state where there is great poverty, where there is insufficient access to healthcare, where educational funding is always reduced and threatened, where drug abuse is rampant—it is where the radical message of Jesus is truly needed….

Of course I would advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQ persons and promote their dignity because they are made in the image and likeness of God. I struggle to understand why treating such persons with respect and taking their stories and struggles, along with their joys and accomplishments, seriously is such a threat to straight Christian.

I sure wish I knew how to convince more white Catholics to be interested in dismantling racism and recognizing its presence in the Church and world.



Pope Urges ‘Radical’ Climate Response

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

via the BBC:

peaking from the Vatican for BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, the Pope talked of crises including the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and economic difficulties, and urged the world to respond to them with vision and radical decisions, so as not to “waste opportunities” that the current challenges present.

“We can confront these crises by retreating into isolationism, protectionism and exploitation,” the pontiff said, “or we can see in them a real chance for change.”

He evoked the need for “a renewed sense of shared responsibility for our world”, adding that “each of us – whoever and wherever we may be – can play our own part in changing our collective response to the unprecedented threat of climate change and the degradation of our common home.”…

“Every crisis calls for vision… to rethink the future of the world,” he said, urging “radical decisions” and “a renewed sense of shared responsibility for our world”.

“The most important lesson we can take from these crises is our need to build together, so that there will no longer be any borders, barriers or political walls for us to hide behind.”


American Culture vs. Parenting

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Stephanie H. Murray writes:

There is a cultural weight dangling from the yoke of modern American parenthood — one that is probably beyond the government to alleviate. The very same logic of self-sufficiency that rationalizes our anemic family policies — “Don’t have kids if you can’t afford them” — underpins our social expectations for children, and by extension, parents. It echoes in the grumbling about unruly kids disturbing the tranquility of public life and the censure of incompetent parents unwilling or unable to manage them.

Children are a personal choice and therefore a personal problem, many people seem to believe. Have as many as you want — just make sure they don’t bother the rest of us.

The problem is that this credo is totally out of step with reality. All babies cry. Even the best-raised toddlers have poor motor control and still-developing emotional regulation. They talk a little too loud and ask a million questions and occasionally lose their minds when they bump up against a boundary and find it doesn’t move out of the way for them. A world full of perfect parents is not a world without tears and temper tantrums. Pretending otherwise sets completely unrealistic expectations for those navigating life with little children in tow.

In this sense, parenting is an inherently social occupation. Trying to cram it into an individualist framework, where the costs and consequences of children fall on parents and no one else, distorts the whole endeavor.

Gracy Olmstead writes:

The longer I inhabit life as a parent, the more I see caring for bodies as the most important thing I do. The life-and-death, dire responsibilities of my life are those which have to do with caring for tiny humans: changing diapers, filling hungry stomachs, and bandaging scraped knees. If we structure our economy and culture around ideas that disdain or devalue those forms of labor, seeing them as degrading, or as distractions from “real” work or “real” living, for instance, we incentivize a dangerous apathy toward the needs of society’s most vulnerable humans—as well as toward our own holistic wellbeing.

Valuing embodied, embedded human beings means valuing the work of our hands: seeing our housework, maintenance, and care work as dignified and worth doing, not just as drudgery.

It means valuing others’ care and maintenance: supporting day care workers, construction workers, and house cleaners, and making sure they’re compensated fairly for their work.

And it means valuing the subjects of care: tiny babies, individuals with special needs, or elderly humans, for instance, who are unable to “contribute” to society through work, but whose lives depend on the work of caregiving.


A Reminder on All Saints’ Day

Photo by Adrienne Merritt on Unsplash

Tish Harrison Warren writes:

For a religious holiday, All Saints’ Day is surprisingly earthy. It reminds me that for all of us — so-called religious or non-religious people alike — faith and spirituality are shaped in profoundly relational ways. No one is a “freethinker.” None of us come to what we believe on our own.

For good or for ill, we believe what we believe because of our particular encounters with people and human communities. All systems of belief and practice are handed down in ordinary ways by people with particular names, faces, languages, traditions, limitations and longings.

In popular imagination, a saint is someone who is perfect and selfless, who dwells in holy ecstasy and impeccable goodness. “Don’t call me a saint,” Dorothy Day said. “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”

But saints are imperfect people. And this is what draws me to this day. Christians don’t remember these men and women because they were perfect. We remember them because, like us, they were broken, selfish and fearful, yet God wrought beauty and light through their lives….

This broader global and ancient family expanded my vision of what Christianity is beyond the small confines of my culture, race and moment in time.

I learned about how Christians created orphanages and hospitals. I encountered Ephrem the Syrian, a poet and musician, who began women’s choirs and composed some of the earliest hymns for female voices, spreading literacy among women in the fourth century. He died tending the sick in a plague.

I read about Felicity, an enslaved woman who was martyred in the third century while offering forgiveness to her executioners. I learned about Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Catholic priest who hid thousands of refugees during the Nazi regime. Kolbe died in Auschwitz after volunteering to take the place of another prisoner who was to be executed.

But learning church history was also deeply disillusioning as I discovered how parts of the church have been complicit in white supremacy, colonialism, abuse, misogyny and astonishing evil. All faith stories are shaped by human communities, and these human communities often disappoint us.

In a cultural moment where want to divide all people and institutions neatly into “good guys” and “bad guys,” those on the right side of history and those who aren’t, the righteous and the damned, this day reminds us of the checkered and complicated truth of each human heart…

All Saints’ Day reminds me that God meets us, saints and sinners, despite our contradictions, and makes good out of haphazard lives. It tells me that all of us, even the best of us, are in need of unimaginable mercy and forgiveness.


Pope Francis on Building  ‘Bridges of Love’

Photo by Elijah Macleod on Unsplash

via the Vatican:

I also want to refer to a silent pandemic that has been afflicting children, teenagers and young people of every social class for years; and which I believe, in this time of isolation, has spread further still. It is the stress of chronic anxiety, linked to various factors such as hyperconnectivity, disorientation and lack of future prospects, which is aggravated by the lack of real contact with others — families, schools, sports centres, parishes, centres for young people — and ultimately the lack of real contact with friends, because friendship is the form in which love always revives….

This year twenty million more people have been dragged down to extreme levels of food insecurity; severe destitution has increased; and the price of food has risen sharply. The numbers relating to hunger are horrific, and I think, for example, of countries like Syria, Haiti, Congo, Senegal, Yemen, South Sudan. But hunger is also felt in many other poor countries of the world, and not infrequently in the rich world as well. Annual deaths from hunger may exceed those of Covid. But this does not make the news. It does not generate empathy….

Personal change is necessary, but it is also indispensable to adjust our socio-economic models so that they have a human face, because many models have lost it….

I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines. There are countries where only three or four per cent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated.
In the name of God, I ask financial groups and international credit institutions to allow poor countries to assure “the basic needs of their people” and to cancel those debts that so often are contracted against the interests of those same peoples.

In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries — mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness — to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people….

In the name of God, I ask the technology giants to stop exploiting human weakness, people’s vulnerability, for the sake of profits without caring about the spread of hate speech, grooming, fake news, conspiracy theories, and political manipulation.

In the name of God, I ask the telecommunications giants to ease access to educational material and connectivity for teachers via the internet so that poor children can be educated even under quarantine.

In the name of God, I ask the media to stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander and the unhealthy attraction to dirt and scandal, and to contribute to human fraternity and empathy with those who are most deeply damaged….

Together with the poor of the earth, I wish to ask governments in general, politicians of all parties, to represent their people and to work for the common good….

Let us build bridges of love so that the voices of the periphery with their weeping, but also with their singing and joy, provoke not fear but empathy in the rest of society….

Solidarity not only as a moral virtue but also as a social principle: a principle that seeks to confront unjust systems with the aim of building a culture of solidarity that expresses, the Compendium literally says, “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”.[6]

Another principle is to stimulate and promote participation and subsidiarity between movements and between peoples, capable of thwarting any authoritarian mindset, any forced collectivism or any state-centric mindset. The common good cannot be used as an excuse to quash private initiative, local identity or community projects….

Shortening the workday is another possibility: the minimum income is one, the reduction of the working day is another possibility, and one that needs seriously to be explored. In the 19th century, workers laboured twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day. When they achieved the eight-hour day, nothing collapsed, contrary to what some sectors had predicted. So, I insist, “working fewer hours so that more people can have access to the labour market is something we need to explore with some urgency”. There must not be so many people overwhelmed by overwork and so many others overwhelmed by lack of work.


Most US Bishops Silent on Climate Change, New Study Shows

Millennial writer Daniel R. DiLeo, Sabrina Danielsen, and write Emily E. Burke:

The publication of Laudato Si’ was a landmark moment in the fight against climate change. Secular environmentalists were encouraged to see such a prominent global leader devote one of his most powerful tools to their cause. Many American Catholics hoped the encyclical would inspire their bishops to make climate change a priority.

Almost as soon as the document was published, however, the U.S. bishops showed signs that they would largely ignore the pope’s exhortation in their teachings and action.

In 2019, we began looking at the American bishops’ writings to their flocks to see what they have said about climate change and Laudato Si’ over the previous five years. We asked: Did the American bishops faithfully communicate church teachings on climate change before and after Laudato Si’?

Our research shows clearly that U.S. Catholic bishops’ communications collectively diminished the impact of the encyclical on climate change….

Overall, American Catholic bishops have been overwhelmingly silent about climate change.

Of the 12,077 columns we studied, only 93 (0.8%) mention climate change, global warming or their equivalent at all. Those 93 columns come from just 53 of the 201 bishops in our data set. The other 148 (74%) never mentioned climate change in their columns.

Secondly, when the bishops did mention climate change, they distanced themselves from church teaching on this issue: 44 of the 93 columns (47%) that mention climate change do not refer to church teaching on the issue.

Of the 49 columns that do, many fail to substantively communicate the contents of church climate change teaching. In six columns, the bishop downplayed the pope’s authority to teach about climate change. In nine columns, the bishop minimized focus on climate change within the church’s broader ecological teachings….

When the bishops did mention climate change, they downplayed the parts of Laudato Si’ that conflict with a conservative political identity or ideology.

Because U.S. political conservatives have a history of denying, ignoring  and sowing doubt about climate change, it’s reasonable to assume that many bishops — who are recognized as becoming increasingly aligned with the Republican Party politically — may have experienced tension between their political ideology and their duty to communicate church climate change teaching.

The bishops, after all, fall into other demographics besides being faith leaders: They are by and large older, white Catholics. In 2016, 47% of U.S. bishops who responded to a survey said the conservative Fox News Channel was their primary source of cable news….

Our findings raise questions about whether U.S. Catholic bishops will embrace the Vatican’s new Laudato Si’ Action Platform. Our findings also suggest the U.S. bishops are squandering opportunities to connect with youth and young adults who as a demographic prioritize climate change and are increasingly less affiliated with religion, including Catholicism.

Bishops’ silence on climate policy raises serious questions about how many U.S. bishops will support Vatican advocacy for an international climate agreement at the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference, which begins Oct. 31.