Pope Francis, the Church and the environment

Concern for the environment is an important consideration for most religions, and with increasing scientific knowledge, greater public awareness, and its heightened political importance, faith groups have become more engaged in improving their own performance and seeking to influence that of others.  It was not surprise, therefore, to hear in his homily at today’s Mass at the beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome, here (It), and here (En), Pope Francis I develop the theme of “protection”, from that within the Holy Family to

“all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”

In this context he asked

 “all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment”.

Some commentators have noted that the pope’s homily was striking for its repeated references to environmental protection, highlighting what is likely to be a central theme of his papacy and setting up the 76-year-old pope as a leading activist against climate change.


CIWEM’s Faith and Environment Digest summarizes the approach of faith groups to the environment, and notes that a key responsibility of Christians is caring for God’s earth and all creation.  The biblical narrative provides the basis for a theology for involvement in environment issues, and may be summarized as: God creating the universe (Genesis 1:26 and 28); God’s ownership of the Earth, (Psalm 24:1, Luke 12:27-280 and man’s responsibility for its stewardship, (Deuteronomy 20:19, Psalm 8); God in Jesus Christ bringing reconciliation to a world gone astray (including environmental degradation), (John 3 v16, Colossians 1 v 20),  and God’s promised redemption of all things in Christ and through his Spirit, leading to the remaking, reshaping and renewal of creation, (Luke 4 v18-19, Matthew 25 v 3 and 41, Romans 8 v 22-25).

Christian teaching includes addressing environmental degradation and working towards justice and good stewardship of the earth,  and environmental initiatives include: the Five Marks of Mission, (Church of England, Lambeth Conference, 1988); the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est (Benedict XVI, 2005) and Caritas in Veritate, (Benedict XVI, 2009). It is also a component of Catholic Social Teaching.

Non-conformists (Baptists, Methodists and the United Reformed church) are strong advocates of sustainable development and the reduction of their environmental footprint; encourage lifestyle changes of their congregations, and campaigning for policy changes at local and national level.  Many climate change action groups are led by Christians including Operation Noah and supported by many Christian charities such as Tear Fund and Christian Aid

Consequently, a re-statement of the Roman Catholic Church’s commitment to the environment is to be welcomed, particularly in relation to climate change issues where subsequent global initiatives have proven ineffective.  Whilst a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of a short post[1], it is clear that there are significant potential opportunities in three areas: the “environmental footprint” of the worldwide church’s infrastructure, (buildings and land); the lifestyle issues of 1.2bn Catholics; and the Church’s persuasive influence as a global player in a number of areas.

[1] DP has undertaken an analysis relating to the Church of England in The role of religion in the development of environmental legislation, LLM Dissertation, (2013, Cardiff University).