As we enjoy the beauty of the outdoors this summer, we are reminded that part of our duty as Catholics is to care for God’s Creation. In fact, this is such an important aspect of our faith that some Vatican representatives are discussing inserting the legal obligation to improve the environment into the Church’s universal canon law.
Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, the Vatican’s former top advisor on canon law, recently suggested at an event that the law clearly state that Catholics have a legal duty not only to not harm the environment, but to improve it.
Cardinal Coccopalmerio suggested that the canon law could be worded as, “Every faithful Christian, mindful that creation is the common house, has the grave duty not only not to damage, but also to improve, both through everyday behavior, and through specific initiatives, the natural environment in which each person is called to live.”
Drew explained, “What makes this a little bit different is that we are called to improve it. Not just make sure we don’t litter, or that we’re not using too many plastic bags or straws, that we’re not damaging the environment. But there’s a call to improve it, to maybe leave it better off for the next generation.”
Monsignor Swetland agreed that this call to improve rather than to not harm when it comes to Creation is in line with Catholic Social Teaching, and the standard to which Catholics should be holding themselves. “I would say that is part of our commitment to social justice, of the care for God’s creation, that we hand off an Earth, a cosmos, a common home that is at least in as good shape as the one we received.”
“It’s already in canon law that to be a faithful lay Catholic you have to promote social justice,” Msgr. Swetland continued. “And the bishops of the United States, in talking about Catholic Social Teaching, always include care for God’s Creation as one of those major themes of Catholic Social Teaching.
But is all this just a response to modern concerns about climate change? Is this proposed change in canon law a result of Pope Francis’ emphasis on the environment? Msgr. Swetland explained that the Church’s concern for Creation is not new, nor is Pope Francis the only pope who has seen the connection between respecting the environment and respecting human life.
“This is not a new teaching of Pope Francis, this is something we see in much of the modern social teaching,” he said. “St. John Paul II, for example, said on January 1, 1990 in his World Day of Peace message that respect for life and the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of Creation, which is called to join man in praising God.”
“It’s right there in the Psalms as well,” he continued. “All Creation gives glory to God, all Creation plays a role in the cosmic liturgy, and we have a duty to respect it and promote its care.”
Listen to the full conversation below: