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Justice in the World, 1971 Synod of Bishops (excerpts)

Justice and World Society

7. The world in which the Church lives and acts is held captive by a tremendous paradox. Never before have the forces working for bringing about a unified world society appeared so powerful and dynamic; they are rooted in the awareness of the full basic equality as well as of the human dignity of all. Since people are members of the same human family, they are indissolubly linked with one another in the one destiny of the whole world, in the responsibility for which they all share. 8. The new technological possibilities are based upon the unity of science, on the global and simultaneous character of communications and on the birth of an absolutely interdependent economic world. Moreover, people are beginning to grasp a new and more radical dimension of unity; for they perceive that their resources, as well as the precious treasures of air and water - without which there cannot be life - and the small delicate biosphere of the whole complex of all life on earth, are not infinite, but on the contrary must be saved and preserved as a unique patrimony belonging to all human beings. 9. The paradox lies in the fact that within this perspective of unity the forces of division and antagonism seem today to be increasing in strength. Ancient divisions between nations and empires, between races and classes, today possess new technological instruments of destruction. The arms race is a threat to our highest good, which is life; it makes poor peoples and individuals yet more miserable, while making richer those already powerful; it creates a continuous danger of conflagration, and in the case of nuclear arms, it threatens to destroy all life from the face of the earth. At the same time new divisions are being born to separate people from their neighbors. Unless combated and overcome by social and political action, the influence of the new industrial and technological order favors the concentration of wealth, power and decision-making in the hands of a small public or private controlling group. Economic injustice and lack of social participation keep people from attaining their basic human ant civil rights. 10. In the last twenty-five years a hope has spread through the human race that economic growth would bring about such a quantity of goods that it would be possible to feed the hungry at least with the crumbs falling from the table, but this has proved a vain hope in underdeveloped areas and in pockets of poverty in wealthier areas, because of the rapid growth of population and of the labor force, because of rural stagnation and the lack of agrarian reform, and because of the massive migratory flow to the cities, where the industries, even though endowed with huge sums of money, nevertheless provide so few jobs that not infrequently one worker in four is left unemployed. These stifling oppressions constantly give rise to great numbers of "marginal" persons, ill-fed, inhumanly housed, illiterate and deprived of political power as well as of the suitable means of acquiring responsibility and moral dignity. 11. Furthermore, such is the demand for resources and energy by the richer nations, whether capitalist or socialist, and such are the effects of dumping by them in the atmosphere and the sea that irreparable damage would be done to the essential elements of life on earth, such as air and water, if their high rates of consumption and pollution, which are constantly on the increase, were extended to the whole of humanity. 12. The strong drive towards global unity, the unequal distribution which places decisions concerning three quarters of income, investment and trade in the hands of one third of the human race, namely the more highly developed part, the insufficiency of a merely economic progress, and the new recognition of the material limits of the biosphere - all this makes us aware of the fact that in today's world new modes of understanding human dignity are arising.

Czech Bishops' Conference

43. Man is part of the created world   Mankind in every generation is a part of the planetary ecosystem. This reality, expressed in the introductory chapters of the biblical message, is often neglected in historical, political, social and economic reflections. The Christian view emphasizes respect for creation. Social-economic systems, too, are rooted in the world of nature; they influence it and, at the same time, are influenced by it. Hence humanity must exercise caution in its economic activities and responsibly think through the impact which this activity can have on nature and the environment. It has been frequently suggested in this context that instead of permanent economic growth it is necessary to establish a dynamic balance between population numbers and a form of sustainable economic development, which would secure the adequate needs of the planet's inhabitants. 44. Europe is growing old and the population dying off but it still has increasing demands on consumption We can say in a somewhat simplified way that the population grows in countries in which consumption is not growing while consumption grows in countries in which the population is not growing. There are positive exceptions, such as Ireland, where both the population and consumption are growing, but also negative cases, such as some post-Soviet countries, in which both the population and consumption are decreasing. This development is unbalanced and not permanently sustainable. In this sense the Czech Republic is part of Europe. We are growing old and without immigrants we are dying out. But our consumption demands are increasing all the time. The idea of permanent economic growth in terms of material wealth and consumption is typical of the Euro-American civilization. An economic system stemming from man's desire to have more and more brings about growing production. As a result we face the exhaustion of non-renewable natural resources and the increasing pollution of nature. Over the past ten years the state of the environment in our country has improved in many respects, but the global danger has remained. The Christian view is based on an understanding that all natural resources are precious gifts from God destined for all people; not only for our generation but also for generations that will come after us. A thoughtful approach towards the environment and frugality in material consumption belong to the basic elements of environmental  ethics. 46. “Real socialism” was a less successful and not an environmentally-friendly variant of development  “Scientific Communism”, as an atheist ideology, considered man to be the master of history. It proclaimed that mankind had its fate in its hand and that it would build a paradise on Earth. Promises of a future age of abundance in terms of material consumption contrasted with the low economic effectiveness of the Communist system. The concept of socialist industrialization with the goals first to “catch up and overtake” and than to distribute “to everybody according to their needs” was only a more vulgar and less successful variant of a discredited (and we stress this!) Enlightenment idea about permanent progress. Owing to the discrepancy between the aspirations and the possibilities, the growth of consumption in an ineffective system was often sought at the cost of the environment. The socialist economy did not even have mechanisms which would allow it to asses natural resources objectively. Consequently the ongoing devastation of water, air, trees, soil and nature in general was economically invisible. Also the effect on the health of the population showed up with a delayed impact. Only after some years the level of consumption (with which we were dissatisfied) turned out to have been achieved only at the cost of environmental damage and gross inter-generation injustice; everything will be paid for by our  children in the future. 47. Economic transformation has already partly redressed the damage caused to the environment. However increasing transport by road is becoming an environmental threat A loss of eastern markets, changes in the industrial structure, an overall decrease in economic activities in the sectors which were particularly damaging nature with air pollution, and the decreasing agricultural production, all this on its own lowered the rate of pollution of our environment. Though we often complain about the decrease and restriction of production, it turned out to have its positive side. However in the 1990's a significant purposeful effort was directed towards the improvement of the environment. With the support of the European Union, and also from the proceeds of privatization, many useful environmental projects were carried out (the establishment of desulphurisation facilities, sewage disposal plants and eco-friendly methods of production). It is necessary to continue in this way and bring our standard up to the level of Western countries. It would not be wise to save on investment in environmental protection and improvement. The countryside is particularly valuable. An intimate relation with the world of nature helps to cultivate the human soul. Measures supporting the maintenance of the cultural character of the landscape as well as those countering the depopulation of the countryside belong to the primary tasks of civilized politics. Also in our country industrial activity and related consumption habits continue to overburden the environment. Hence it is necessary to seriously consider an introduction of “environmental taxes” with the aim to include into the user cost of road transport and other nature polluting activities the full costs of their negative environmental impact. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would most likely be different if it incorporated various kinds of these external costs which, at present, have to be born by citizens, while they remain “invisible” for business calculations. 48. The preservation and improvement of the environment as a source of new jobs New branches of industry and new services aimed at preserving and maintaining the environment are emerging at present; they include sorting, liquidation and recycling of waste, air filtration and containing exhaust fumes, water revitalization, and recultivation of degraded farming land. Environmental taxes have been a well tested tool in other countries; they penalize pollution and, at the same time, create financial sources for remedial measures. Such programs which stimulate related research and development, can also alleviate unemployment since a great deal of this work can be done by less qualified workers. However economic restructuring, which would help to save the environment, also requires a change in the way of thinking of consumers, including politicians. It is dismaying that proposals submitted by environmental experts in our country are still seen as a “disruptive campaign”. It appears that even in the struggle for a healthy environment we need what we call a “conversion”.   The champion and agent of such an “ecological conversion” can be only a responsible citizen. Also the Churches have their irreplaceable role in environmental education, to which they are led by a number of biblical impulses. 49. The economy of voluntary frugality, and the culture of service and giving The economy, as a substantial part of human activities, cannot develop without involving respect for man in his or her inner substance, that is, as a person created in the image of God, who is One and in the Trinity. This reality is the basis of the fact that human nature is relational. The basis of human existence is “to be for somebody”, to be in a relationship with somebody with the aim to seek unity among people, the ideal model of which is given in God. On the journey towards new environmental ethics, towards a culture of service and solidarity of sharing, it is necessary in time, but voluntarily, to adopt a new system of values in which we abandon the exclusive emphasis on quantitative, material growth. Instead, the quality of life aiming towards spiritual values and transcendence would be accorded priority. Such a new system of values would be able to support a sustainable economic development. Also it would be congenial towards a number of other values: the quality of the environment, health, friendship, strong families, associations of common interest and meaningful service for fellow citizens. The New Testament, in particular the example of Jesus' life and his commandment of love, exemplifies this system of values. We can draw inspiration for environmentally friendly behavior, as well as for a search for a new quality of human life from it. “For man is the source, the center, and the purpose of all economic and social life.” (Gaudium et spes, 63). At the same time man is also “homo religiosus” or man with a relationship with God and his neighbor. This is why economic relations cannot be deprived of their religious content. On the contrary, only in a religious context  can they find their full meaning. One of the remarkable personalities and examples worth following is Saint Francis of Assisi, the apostle of poverty, voluntary modesty, and love for all living, as well as for inanimate creatures.   We hope that “peace and good” will rule on our sister – mother Earth – only if humility and voluntary frugality germinates in our hearts.  + Peace and Good, letter on social issues in the Czech Republic for public discussion, November 17, 2000

Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Pacific 

There is a growing realization that there are limits to available resources, and that there is a need to respect the integrity and cycles of nature and to take them into account when planning for development, rather than sacrificing them in favor of economic or political gains which are merely short-term or advantageous to only a few.

Minnesota Catholic Conference (USA)

In this final year before the new millennium, we reflect on the fullness of God’s creation and give thanks for the bounty of the land and natural resources of Minnesota. Ours is a state with fertile areas ranging from the Red River Valley of the North through the valleys of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to the Blue Earth River in the South. We are blessed with rich soil and clean water. Generations of Minnesota farmers have tilled this land to provide a healthy sustenance for themselves and for hundreds of rural communities. These gifts are a support to all of Minnesota binding us together in a web of life. But Minnesota’s web of life is threatened. Our clean air, fresh water and rich soil are being tainted. Thousands of farmers on small and medium size farms are forced to leave the land, no longer receiving an adequate income to compensate them for labor and cost of production. Some of our rural communities are dying. These changes have moral and ethical implications, which cannot be ignored. As religious leaders, we call on the people of Minnesota to reflect on what is happening to our land, our farmers and our rural communities. We invite all Minnesotans to meet the challenge of our stewardship of God’s gift of creation.    It is not crop failure alone that forces the closure of small farms, but faulty policy decisions favoring large agri-business operations concentrating both land and means of production into the hands of fewer and fewer while taking control out of the local community. The shift toward large animal confinement operations in rural Minnesota raises serious concerns for the quality of land, water, and air in our state. The continued overuse of chemicals and the lack of land stewardship adversely affect both environment and health. Pope John Paul II has challenged Catholics throughout the world to highlight justice and peace in this final year of preparation for the millennium. This preparation calls us to pray, reflect and dialog on what justice demands for our rural brothers and sisters. As participants in a democracy, we must also bring to those who form public policy the call for both justice and stewardship. The Church offers several principles to help us in this dialog and to guide policy decision-makers.   We call on our tradition of respecting the life and dignity of the human person, promoting the common good, practicing stewardship of the land and expressing a preferential option for the poor. Ultimately, the test of any agricultural policy is its concern for human life and dignity.           The good of people is always first. Human dignity demands just compensation of farmers and rural people for their labor and capital expenses. The preferential option for the poor urges that we judge policies concerning rural communities by how they affect the least among us.   The “poor” today includes many people living in our rural communities, not only because they are economically poor, but because they are among the least powerful and their way of life is marginalized, ignored or easily forgotten. Finally, we ask public policies that Ensure farmers a just income that adequately compensates them for their labor and cost of production; Promote sustainable agriculture practices; Restrict vertical integration practices which place ownership and control of production, processing and marketing operations outside of the local community;         Protect and preserve agricultural land; Create opportunities for beginning farmers; Support health care access, education, jobs, housing and other services in rural areas. Farming is about production. It is also about people and a way of life. As we have stated on many occasions, the bottom line in economic justice is people – not the dollar. The rights of those on the land and in farming communities demand just policy that respects the dignity of their work. The rights of all demand stewardship of land and environment." + Statement on the Farm Crisis, circa 1999.        On a planet conflicted over environmental issues, the Catholic tradition insists that we show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an earth day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral  and ethical dimensions which cannot be ignored.   + Minnesota Catholic Conference website, 2001  

Catholic Bishops of Northern Italy

The fundamental misunderstanding that threatens the relationship between man and the resources of the earth has been denounced in a concise and penetrating manner by the Sermon on the Mount. Here the attention of the disciples is called to the model of life offered by the birds of the sky and the lilies of the field. Every human being has the fundamental right to live in an environment suitable to his health and well being. A suitable habitat for human life is certainly not the “virgin forest” nor is it any other ecosystem achieved solely through the forces of nature. The appropriate setting can only be a civilized habitation built through the work of man. The real challenge is not to preserve nature from the work of civilization, but to design civilization with an appropriate quality so that it verifies and maintains the balance of nature... Even more fundamental, the appropriate quality of this work must stem from listening to the voice of the earth: for the earth has a voice. This voice speaks a language which re-echoes the very Word of God.


Indiana Catholic Conference (USA)

Catholics have a sacramental vision of the universe. Water, oils, bread and wine are channels through which the grace of God is communicated to us. But that is a superlative moment in a more general vision: all creation we see as the work of God, and the universe reveals to us the glory of its Creator. Thus reverence for life and for the vast universe we've come to know is a fundamental Christian moral attitude. In past and current socio-political debates in our country - abortion, child-care, quality of life for the marginalized, capital punishment, euthanasia - Catholics have worked out and clearly presented to our fellow citizens a consistent ethic based on the inviolable dignity of each and every human being on this planet. What we need to do now is extend a similar dignity to all God's creatures and to the whole Earth. Our ethic for the twenty-first century - our Jubilee ethic - must incorporate respect for all life. The scriptural preferential option for the poor is likewise involved in ecological issues. The poor suffer twice. They suffer from the problems - pollution seems to get cleaned up, or is prevented in the first place, where the privileged live - and the poor suffer from the alleged solutions which others apply to those problems. Fair treatment, meaning justice, of people and of the environment are connected, for “the poor” now includes other species of life. Moreover, it has been a basic principle of Catholic social justice for many years that the Earth and its resources are a common heritage for all the inhabitants of our planet.  The basic attitude that we must adopt is reverence for an order in creation that doesn't come from us but from the Creator of the heavens and the earth. In Catholic moral theology and philosophy this has been the starting point of natural law ethics for centuries, but we need to expand this reverence, and this humility, to a broader range of application beyond respect for other people. The variety of forms of God's creatures - biodiversity - is one of the gifts of the Creator that we must cherish. The Fathers and the theologians of the Church were convinced that the diversity of creatures was essential to show forth the glory of God: no creature can adequately reveal God to us but the great variety of created beings does better at this than any single species. Thus, if we cause the extinction of a species, we are diminishing the glory of the Creator. The encyclicals of three recent Popes - John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II - have all reminded us of the principle of the universal purpose of the goods of the Earth. The common good is global! In commerce and politics humanity has finally learned economic and ecological interdependence, but we have not yet learned the moral lesson that the Creator intended the resources of the Earth for the nourishment and flourishing of all people, and indeed of all life on Earth. To be even more explicit, the poor and the marginalized demand special attention, the Gospel's “preferential option for the poor”. The ecological crisis is clearly a moral crisis, and that necessarily means, for followers of Jesus, that justice and love must be joined to scientific know- how in resolving any and all problems. What we need to develop in more specific form is a holistic ethic of care for the Earth for the twenty-first century that joins together the demands of ecological stewardship, social justice, and world peace. We need to pray. Celebrate the goodness of the Creator and of creation in our liturgies. Mourn the hurts that we have inflicted on the Earth and its inhabitants. Beg for the gifts of the Spirit - for knowledge and wisdom about what to do, and for the new heart that will give us the will to change what needs to be changed in order to heal the Earth and to do justice. After, yes after, learning and praying, we need to act - to join voices, talents, and forces on behalf of social and environmental justice. In keeping with the attitude of reverence for God's work that has run all through this message, our appeal is made with full confidence in the presence of God's Spirit guiding us and working with us in these endeavors. In this confidence, we pray… Send forth thy Spirit, Lord And renew the face of the earth. + Care for the Earth 

Catholic Bishops of New Mexico (USA)

The moral challenge begins with recalling the vocation we were given as human beings at the beginning of Creation. Genesis 1.26 tells us that God created humankind to "have dominion" over all creation. However, the use of "dominion" in Genesis does not imply unrestrained exploitation; rather it is a term describing a "representative" and how that person is to behave on behalf of the One who sends the representative. We are God's representatives. Therefore we are to treat nature as the Creator would, not for our own selfish consumption but for the good of all creation. The first step in responding to this mounting crisis is to reclaim our vocation as responsible caretakers of the earth, its living and natural resources. The parables of Jesus indicate quite clearly that we will be called to give an accounting on how we have managed our stewardship responsibilities. The second step comes from another part of the creation story (Gen 2. 15) where humans are made in the image and likeness of God. This part of the story suggest that we are brought into being to continue the creative work of God, enhancing this place we call home. In addition to representing God's creative love for the earth, humankind is also responsible for ensuring that nature continues to thrive as God intended. Catholic tradition has consistently seen the universe as God’s dwelling, and therefore affirms a sacramental dimension to it. Perhaps no one person better represents this tradition than St. Francis as illustrated in his Canticle of Praise: "Praise be my Lord for our mother the Earth, which sustains us and keeps us, and yields diverse fruits, and flowers of many colors, and grass." + Pastoral Statement, May 18, 1998 Read more ->
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