Vatican meeting requests input on Laudato Si’ implementation and preparation for COP-22

September 30, 2016
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Tomas Insua speaks about decarbonization, sustainability with Pope Francis at meeting on Laudato Si’ and preparation for the COP-22 meeting. Jeffrey Sachs is visible in between them.

This last week in the Vatican a number of people, including Tomas Insua from GCCM, met to discuss implementation of Laudato Si’ and preparation for COP-22.  Tomas said he spoke about decarbonization and the need for sustainability programs across the church.

Meanwhile, a group of scientists, academics, parishioners, and some GCCM members signed and submitted an appeal for urgent action around climate and system change. That letter (signatures still being received at [email protected]) is below:

Feedback to Vatican on Implementation of Laudato Si’ and Preparation for COP-22

Thank you for planning this symposium on 28 September on implementation of Laudato Si’ and Catholic action for COP-22.  the Pope’s encyclical and the Vatican’s call for 1.5 C, supporting both scientists from Potsdam and all those being impacted already in the Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America was a gift to the world.  Thus far, this gift has mostly been received outside the church, and we are grateful for the interest there.  Thus far, Catholic response might be divided into categories as:

  • Praying for care for creation; e.g., GCCM strength/primary interest to date, in addition to global petition to keep temperature rise beneath 1.5 C. We would like to encourage more praying and action, even if only around the church’s own buildings to start.  But alas, too many parishes, including some of ours
  • Never mention Laudato Si’, the environment, or climate though many lives are at stake and change is needed.
  • Taking responsibility for the carbon intensity and inequality of our systems and actively working to change those and create a new system, an economy for life!

We know now that there is not time to take a piecemeal or slow approach.  Our support for life and return to a safe climate means we must turn around now, and get off fossil fuels without delay, as the Holy Father said in LS 165.  All our actions must be geared toward life for all, extending clean and democratic or distributed electricity access to all, which will also support families in education, employment, and health.

The Pope recognizes that we are at a key moment.  The church knows the danger of speaking up or not in key moments, like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.  Fortunately many sisters and some priests were on the frontlines, to their (and by extension the church’s) everlasting credit.  On the other hand, there are times like now, on climate change among the bishops and priests in many places, or with the Doctrine of Discovery/Domination, where the church (inadvertently?) took the side of the most wealthy and extractive in issuing papal bulls, (Steve Newcomb has met with Archbishop Tomasi about this, and suggests here: http;//, to our lasting scandal.  We can and must do better.  We must be willing to change, and we must share the good news, including life, good living, jobs, and health if we can shift out of our emphasis on profit, extraction, and competing for status and position above all else.

  • Renewables are now affordable enough that everyone should shift – no excuses. Any in leadership, including the church, government agencies, those with any sort of advantage should shift now and be willing to go first.  All new electricity should be shifted to wind and solar (or low-head hydro and geothermal where that is available).  New surface transport must go electric.  In our communities, we must take responsibility for the carbon intensity of our electricity and help transition our local systems, insisting on shifting to the clean energy that is life-preserving and now affordable.  Church and ethical leadership is important!
  • No more fossil fuels can be developed and have any hope of staying below 1.5 C or well below 2 C. Once again, such development for profit applies doubly to the North.
  • We are called to go out to the margins and discover our interconnectedness, our brother and sisterhood, with all while solving this problem. We are called to bring what is good (including clean electricity and all that allows) to everyone.  We are called to look at salvation as communal and attend to the needs of everyone, including those furthest from usPAS leader Dr. V. Ramanathan points out that if the top 1 billion causing the climate change problem paid $150 each, that would buy clean electricity systems for 2 billion who either lack an electrical connection or have unreliable electricity.  We can do this!  Our church and parishes and dioceses in the Global North should be able to cover these needs.
  • The earth and the resources within are for the common good/universal destination of goods, not for private profit and destruction. Again, this is something that many of us have never heard mentioned at church.

What can we do?  There is a lot, but it requires courage and persistence, and insistence. 

Our church should drink more deeply from Laudato Si’, which is truly life-giving.  It and Evangelii Gaudium (EG) call us to evaluate our complicity in death-dealing systems and start dialogue about how we might change those.  Laudato Si’ consolidated key teaching throughout our history.  It is a gift and an indispensable resource that all Catholics should be introduced to:

  • We need to think about and call for how LS & EG will be introduced (and required) in our liturgical life, sacramental preparation, and education. Realizing this has yet to happen from above, we have tried to consolidate resources, at the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) on a voluntary basis, to make things easier for those who are so inclined.  More effort is needed, less optional and low level. Perhaps working groups at the global and diocesan levels could attend to each of these areas, incorporating LS, EG, new training, prayer, and works of mercy into:
    • Our liturgical life
    • Sacramental preparation
    • Catholic formation and education
  • Global and diocesan (3-year) synods. A synod is “about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.  It is about trying to open broader horizons and bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness.”(Pope Francis, 24 Oct 2015).  A synod is also a way for the church to move forward in a systematic fashion, responding to the calls of the gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, and Laudato Si’  to live out our faith and act for justice, with all the baptized picking up their priestly responsibilities and our personal, institutional, and global need for transformation, with responsibility, accountability and leadership.
  • Explicit push and effort around broadening “right to life”. When those outside of the Catholic Church think of our church, they see an organization with a hierarchy and leaders who can carry and implement a message, as our church did with right to life. Now, “right to life” needs to be broadened to all of creation and “all our relations”.   Vatican leadership and insistence and that of the bishops and priests (generally adored and carefully listened to weekly and daily sometimes) is desperately needed.  For levels of the church to not be speaking up in the moral and existential crisis we face now, on the edge of planetary suicide, as the Pope said last year, is unconscionable and requires leadership, even correction, from above.  Our church has had an accountability crisis that has impacted young people especially, who saw how the church did not protect others near their age.  Let’s not repeat such a travesty of lack of care regarding climate.
  • Establish Creation Time or a Season of Creation (1 Sept – 4 Oct). Building on work with other faiths over the past 10-15 years, the Columbans, the Diocese of Manila in the Philippines, and Catholic EarthCare Australia have developed resources for a Season of Creation.  See
  • Issue Sacramental resources; e.g., for Penance & Reconciliation. The Pope’s statement on the World Day of Prayer for Creation provides an excellent starting place for development of sacramental resources for reflection and reconciliation. Resources might be developed for other questions pastors and parishes may have.
  • How do we “cultivate a sense of sin” or realize how we have missed the mark in relation to care and inclusion of others in our communities, society, and economy and care of our common home. As Cardinal Salazar, Pres. of CELAM said, “The Church is working on people’s consciences” and wants to be conscious of our own sinfulness as well.  Pope Francis called conscience “the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful.”
  • How can we move from extraction and domination to an ethics of generativity, altruism, and mutuality – as individuals and families, as parishes and communities, as businesses and in our expectations of businesses, as governments, societies, and economies? What is the role of the church at all levels and how is this incorporated in regular teaching from the pulpit, in religious/sacramental education, schools and training at all levels?  What sort of restoration is involved/will we do?
  • New accountability systems within, such as the global, diocesan, & parish sustainability and energy efficiency program advocated by GCCM and Focolare and demonstrated by Catholic EarthCare Australia and the Diocese of Chicago.
  • School and parish level action. Laudato Si’ animation, program implementation, and learning platforms among parishes and schools:
  • For example, Naturally Smart Places, which supports Catholic schools in the UK and Australia can supply a sharing platform, a toolkit for action, training and support. Schools and parishes can tell their stories, use the site as a depository database, track  their progress against their own stated aims based against common themes around which all report, and see what others are doing.  All can share and build on each other’s solutions as well as connect on joint projects and extend the community.  Staff can help disseminate best practices and support annual gatherings & sharing events.
  • GreenPower, started by the Romero Institute in cooperation with the local diocese and GCCM, supports Catholics and parishes in shifting their electricity systems to clean, renewable energy, not just individual facilities but for the wider community.
  • Parish and facility guides and resources. The Chicago archdiocese has co-developed a method for benchmarking hundreds of facilities and is also now working with utilities.  The Atlanta Archdiocese and the University of Georgia developed a Laudato Si’ action plan and implementation guide.  GCCM developed an eco-parish guide in multiple languages.  Catholic EarthCare Australia developed facilities guides for NGOs across the country, in the most thorough and well-designed set of resources GCCM found on making efficiency and building improvements; see NEEN parishes and resources.  GreenFaith has developed resources and a facility certification program and in the UK 2000 churches belonging to 16 Catholic dioceses run on renewables.
  • Laudato Si’ Animators. Catholic Earthcare Australia regularly offers the weeklong Laudato Si’ Animator Formation Program. This immersive formation program orients participants to a holistic way of mobilising change in an organisation or community. It is aimed at those who are leading change within their organisation.  Participants deepen their understanding and experience of  ‘ecological conversion’ through creative engagement with contemporary social technologies and processes for transformation. By the end of the Program, participants will have an understanding and resources to form learning communities for sustainability in their own context.  Samples of core readings include Deep Innovation,  Points for Shifting Capitalism to a Regenerative Economy for EcoChristian Spirituality, Ecology and Faith in Jesus Christ, Personal Sustainability Action Plan Workbook, and Theory U. GCCM has developed webinars to encourage Laudato Si’ Animators as well.

As we do the above, we should not fail to draw on the church’s deep legacy in this area, some of which is cited in Laudato Si’, including the rich wells of decades of action and experience in existing communities in/with the church:

  • in frontline parishes, among those living on/from the land
  • in certain religious communities (e.g., Columbans, Loretto Earth Network)
  • teaching farms and model sustainability programs in the Philippines, Bolivia, the US at Genesis Farm and the Benincasa Community’s food & faith & Laudato Si program, Edible Church Yards, church supported agriculture and community dinners, with prayer). In the future, sponsoring college/university/seminaries and buy-in from hospitals and healthcare systems could provide central strength and support for local cooperatives
  • key networks (REPAM, Catholic EarthCare Australia, Naturally Smart Schools, Eglesias e Mineras, and various initiatives to establish cooperatives and commons, where people can work on behalf of and care for the common good; e.g., P2P Foundation)

We can also consider, learn from, and copy repurposing of land in keeping with Catholic values and charisms regarding the common good.  Good examples include the Dominican Sisters creation of Genesis Farm. In other places, schools, churches, and congregation/order grounds that are no longer needed can be transformed to places available for those working for the common good and to create commons/shared resources.  See Michel Bauwens’ letter on this  Original nations, displaced from their lands and deep relations should also be considered as potential new owners who emphasize the common good.  The church needs to withdraw from (including divestment from fossil fuels) and show alternative paths to the system oriented to individual needs, the profit of the wealthy, and environmental extraction and destruction.  Too often, international businesses and agriculture, and sometimes even impact investors (seeking near market and considerably above market rates of return) have considered land that has been cared for by residents for centuries (to be “under-utilized” and subject to diversion for profit or benefit of a subset, leading to destruction and displacement of people, wildlife, and functioning natural systems.

The Pope, Vatican, and Catholic dioceses and the Church globally can support Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples/Original Nations prior to acquisition by governments and outsiders, implementation and enforcement of this, and church alliance in advocacy when this does not occur, including higher level support for church members, religious, and Indigenous/Original Nations and Peoples already on the front lines.  The Global Call to Action, which seeks to double the amount of legally recognized land owned and controlled by Indigenous Peoples by 2020.  LandMark: The Global Platform of Indigenous Peoples and Community Lands is building a comprehensive database that scores countries on 10 indicators of how their national laws protect these rights.  Now 113 countries are included.

We understand that if Laudato Si’ is to gain widespread attention throughout the Church, then priests and bishops must have a way to become comfortable with its scientific underpinnings.  Dr. Phil Sakimoto, Director, Academic Excellence, & Sustainability Instructor, College of Science, University of Notre Dame shares that this situation is similar to the one he faced in his former capacity as Program Manager for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Space Science Education and Public Outreach Program:

Here we wanted to get research scientists involved in education projects, but the vast majority of research scientists were hesitant because they had little or no experience with education.  To solve the problem, we established what we called regional Broker-Facilitator centers in various places around the country.  Each center was staffed with people who were expert in both science and education.  They had the job of building partnerships between research scientists and professional educators in their region, providing expert advice on how to bring research science to bear in educational settings, and teaching the scientists and educators how to work with each other.  In the end, this actually changed the attitude of the entire space science research community towards getting involved in education.  Instead of being hesitant, they became anxious to get involved.

Perhaps we could develop something similar for priests and bishops.  Priests and bishops tend to be hesitant about getting involved in climate change issues because they are not familiar with the science.  So why not build partnerships between scientists and priests/bishops/ theologians for the purpose of promoting Laudato Si’?  Why not provide them with advice on how to work together to promote Laudato Si’ and empower them to do so, in a way that encourages the participation of scientists, priests, bishops, & theologians?

There are existing organizations that might be recruited to cause such partnerships to happen.  Within the U.S., the Catholic Climate Covenant could provide the administrative infrastructure necessary to oversee such a program.  Networks of scientists committed to speaking to the public about climate change can be found in the University Center for Atmospheric Research’s Climate Voices Science Speakers Network and in the NASA Earth Science Education Forum

Thank you again for organizing this meeting and opening the question of what more can be done to implement Laudato Si’ and undertake the action the world called for last December in Paris.  As Paulo Freire stated, “knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”   We thank you for opening the windows!

Respectfully and in gratitude,

Marie Venner

Chair, National Academy of Sciences & Engineering, Transportation Research Board, Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability Subcommittee

Steering Committee, Movement Sharing & Resources Coord., Global Catholic Climate Movement


Pablo Canziani

IPCC Member and Senior Scientist CONICET (National Research Council Argentina)

Member Academia Argentina de Ciencias Ambientales

Unidad de Investigación y Desarrollo de las Ingenierías. Facultad Regional Buenos Aires

Universidad Tecnológica Nacional


Philip J. Sakimoto

Director, Program for Academic Excellence, and Instructor in Sustainability, Univ. of Notre Dame, Former Program Mgr. & Acting Director, NASA Space Science Education & Public Outreach Program


Lou Arsenio

Director, Ecology & Faith Program

Archdiocese of Manila, also Steering Committee of the Global Catholic Climate Movement


Michael Pirson

Professor and Director Center for Humanistic Management, Fordham University

Research Fellow, Harvard University

Distinguished Fellow, Case Western Reserve University

Full Member, Club of Rome


Hunter Lovins

President, Natural Capitalism Solutions

Full Member, Club of Rome


Darcia Narvaez

Professor of Psychology and Moral Development, University of Notre Dame


Libby Comeaux

Colorado Attorney

Sisters of Loretto Co-Member and Loretto Earth Network


White Standing Buffalo


Daniel Peter Sheehan

Co-Founder of the Harvard Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Law Review

General Counsel for the US Jesuit Headquarters National Office of Social Ministry

Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Fund for Constitutional Government

Co-Counsel for Native American Rights Committee of ACLU National

President and General Counsel of the Christic Institute and now the Romero Institute

Director of the Strategic Initiative to Identify the New Paradigm of the State of the World Forum (Baker-Gorbachev), Legal Counsel for the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers Case, Chief Counsel in the Karen Silkwood Case and the Three Mile Island litigation, Chief Legal Counsel Federal Civil Rights Lawsuits against the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party in the Greensboro, NC case (’82), Chief Counsel in the American Sanctuary Movement, Lead Counsel in Iran-Contra case


Bruce E. Johansen

Frederick W. Kayser University Research Professor

Communication and Native American Studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha


Catherine Perry

Associate Professor of French Emerita

University of Notre Dame


David W. Everson

PhD Candidate, Notre Dame

Research Fellow, Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies

Tom Meyer

Clinical Social Worker/Case Manager at UNC Hospitals

Newman Catholic Student Center Parish, Liturgical Minister and Co-facilitator of RCIA Inquiry


Vernon Dixon

Doctor, North Carolina and parish Creation Care group leader


Anne S. Tsui

Adjunct Distinguished Professor, Department of Management

Mendoza College of Business


Nathan Schneider
Scholar-in-residence of Media Studies, University of Colorado Boulder
Columnist, America magazine


Michel Bauwens

Founder, P2P Foundation


Victor Maqque

Instructor and Guest Scholar, Kellogg Institute of International Studies

University of Notre Dame


Nancy Roof

Founding Editor of the Journal for Global Transformation in Harmony with all Life


Michael H. Shuman

Author, “The Local Economy Solution”


John Izzo, Ph.D.

Co-Founder, Men’s Initiative-University of British Columbia
Author of Awakening Corporate Soul
Distinguished Fellow-The East West Institute


Leah Ashe
Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values
Notre Dame University


Paul Clarke

Director, Naturally Smart Places Program


Anna Koop, SL

Sister of Loretto and long-time member of the Catholic Worker Movement


Mary Gorham

Professional Certified Coach, MBA, PCC


Andrew Winston

Author, Green to Gold and The Big Pivot, and Sustainability Advisor


Mary Evelyn Tucker

Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology


John Grim

Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology


Susan Kusz, SND

Associate Director, Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, WI


Arthur (Tex) Hawkins

Sustainability Advisor, Winona State University


Dennis & Mary Lou Wilwerding

Engineer & science fellow, former parish council and marriage preparation program leads