From the pews to the bishop: a parishioner shares her letter on responding to our pro-life call

December 6, 2016

Dear Honorable Bishop _____,

I met you at Blessed Sacrament parish in ______ when you came for the confirmation ceremony. Blessed Sacrament is the parish that I grew up in; the one where I received First Holy Communion and was confirmed in; the one that I took my wedding vows in and that hosted my parents’ and grandparents’ funerals. While there was no time to speak with you at Blessed Sacrament, I was excited when I met you again in _____ for the festival and blessing that parish held in late summer and where I asked you if we might sit down and talk about Laudato Sí and Pope Francis’ call to “hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the Poor” and the environmental work I do. You told me to reach out to you to set up a meeting. I regret that I did not seek out that meeting with you quickly enough. You are held in high esteem by Catholics across our diocese. I mean no disrespect by writing to you today, but I feel I must share my thoughts and feelings on important issues instead of doing what many friends have done and are continuing to do, which is to walk away from the Catholic Church.

You see, I am a strong pro-life advocate. I believe in the sanctity and value of life, including that which we cannot see. Like many friends, I was incredibly excited when Pope Francis released Laudato Sí in June 2015 and spoke eloquently of the interconnectedness of all God’s creatures. His words were poignant, thoughtful and inspiring. During the summer of 2012, when we were experiencing a devastating drought, I had trained with the Climate Reality Project and have served as a presenter of information and education on climate change. I was moved to tears when Pope Francis praised the work of climate activists and environmentalists like me. In the past, I had felt adrift in a sea of Catholics, including my own family, who seemed to recognize only one pro-life issue, that of abortion. It seemed as if Pope Francis was speaking directly to me.

In January 2015, Tomas Insua, a graduate student from Argentina, started the Global Catholic Climate Movement with support from the Franciscan Action Network. Tomas had participated in the climate march held in New York City in September 2014 and was surprised that he did not see Catholics represented. What he did not realize is that we were there; we were just not under a Catholic banner. We were there as members of the Climate Reality Project, Citizens Climate Lobby, the Sierra Club, 350.org, Greenpeace and more. You see, many Catholics serve as leaders in these organizations. In fact, our regional SW Michigan Sierra Club group is filled with Catholic men and women, serving in its top leadership roles.

In the fall of 2015 I took a temporary job with Global Catholic Climate Movement and helped organize climate marches around the world ahead of COP21, the global climate summit. Catholics in over thirty countries mobilized and marched to bring attention to our world leaders of the need to address and take action on climate change. Nearly one million Catholics signed a petition that was presented to dignitaries at the COP 21 last December, asking for serious action to hold atmospheric carbon under 350 ppm and hold global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics from countries heavily impacted by rising sea levels and catastrophic storms, including Catholics from the Philippines, lent their voices. I discovered that I was not alone. There are thousands – no millions of Catholics – who care about the pro-life issue of climate change, including the impacts it has on the lives of millions of displaced people who are now climate refugees.

Then the election season hit and once again we were thrown back into old rhetoric and told that we must, as good Catholics, vote for the “pro-life” candidate, the one who “promises” that he will address the issue of abortion. Heavy, thick pamphlets were sent out and a letter appeared in the bulletin from you. This time the candidate with the honor of being designated as pro-life was Donald Trump. No counter argument was given. When it was time to vote, Catholics across the region, state and country voted to put aside any question of fitness or temperament of the proclaimed “pro-life” presidential candidate. Everyone turned a deaf ear to President-Elect Donald Trump’s misogynistic and racist words and tweets and his xenophobic rants. We, as a Catholic voting bloc, sent the message that we are willing to sanction EVERYTHING he espouses. Every action he takes, every word he utters, every choice and decision he makes is now on us.

As you can imagine, I came away from this election profoundly disappointed. I am disappointed in our choice of candidates, disappointed in the lack of meaningful dialogue on a myriad of issues that matter, disappointed in myself for not starting the conversation and disappointed in YOU.

In your letter you extolled regional Catholics to “vote in a way that is guided by the Gospel of Jesus,” and “to vote according to what our conscience guides us to know is right and true.” These are beautiful words and I was initially encouraged. You went on to quote Pope Francis from his September 2015 visit to the United States, however, you failed to mention Laudato Sí and the powerful words he spoke to Congress on climate change and environmental degradation. You failed to mention how Laudato Sí should guide our behavior in regards to the interconnectedness of all God’s creatures and the need to respect and value ALL life.

Instead, you wrote that “not all goods are equally good and not all evils are equally evil” and went on to ignore the bulk of Pope Francis’ message. You wrote, “as Catholic Christians and followers of Jesus, we cannot in good conscience vote for an individual candidate or support a political platform, that openly advances what Pope Francis continues to call ‘a culture of death,’ whether that is in the form of abortion, capital punishment, the death of our society’s most stable institutions, restrictions to our religious liberty or the exercise of euthanasia.” In other words, you extolled Catholics to vote on only two issues – gay marriage and abortion, at least this is how Catholics, including my family members, understood your words. This is in spite of the fact that these two issues have very little to do with the lives of your average parishioner. In other words, you let everyone off the hook. All we have to do is vote and then we can turn our backs on everything else – all the injustices of the world, all the inequalities. Catholics, like other Christians, don’t have to look at wanton consumerism and consumption, something Pope Francis touched on in Laudato Sí. We don’t have to address income inequality or the plight and abuse of women and the poor. We don’t have to look at how our actions individually and collectively impact and exacerbate runaway climate change, at how our oceans and sea life are full of plastic and how our food system is failing us.

There are many problems with the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in our land, not the least of which it has emboldened hate talk and bullying. However, there are other threats that are equally grave.

We have a President-Elect who promises to roll back environmental regulations that protect water and other resources. We have a President-Elect who promises to gut the EPA and pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. We have a President-Elect who promises to bulldoze over the rights of indigenous peoples and who wants to fast track construction of pipelines carrying bitumen. We have a President-Elect who vows to take a hard-line approach to refugees, in spite of the fact that most have nowhere to go.

Yet, we can sit back in our air-conditioned and well heated homes and feel smug and righteous, because we voted for the “pro-life” candidate. We don’t have to do anything else, because we are “saving” babies. However, we never talk about whose babies we are saving. We are certainly not saving Syrian babies born of climate refugees. And, we don’t discuss what we are saving all these babies for, considering how seriously impacted their future will be with runaway climate change on the horizon. We never ask if we are saving these babies to die in a world plagued with devastating droughts and a lack of clean water. We don’t mention how we might be forcing them to live with regular and frequent catastrophic storms, hurricanes and wildfires. Will they be able to feed themselves in an Earth that is polluted and dead? What will our beautiful, beloved babies be up against? Shouldn’t that be our concern?

I know you did not mean for a lack of caring to be the message that you sent to hundreds of Catholics across the region. I know that you care deeply about people and about being a shepherd to us in how to live out Jesus’ teachings. Unfortunately, climate change and all these accompanying problems are not going to go away. Our refugee crisis will only get worse as weather related catastrophes displace more and more people. In truth we cannot demonize anyone, including our President Elect and the fossil fuel industry. We can, however, look at ways that we can take action to mitigate the problem of climate change and lessen the potential for human suffering. We might even be able to, if we act together as a bloc, get our President-Elect to be the “pro-life” candidate he has promised us to be. We might be able to get him to take action on climate change, but we will need to act quickly. There are dozens of Catholic bishops and cardinals across the world calling for action on climate change, including the most Holy Cardinal Peter Turkson. Here is an article from Vatican Radio where he addresses the UN. http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/06/30/cardinal_turkson_addresses_un_meeting_on_climate_change/1154935

I would like to sit down with you and talk about ways that our local church can be a leader in addressing climate change. I can also arrange for you to meet with other local Catholics who feel as I do, including those who serve as leaders in the Sierra Club. Can you arrange a time for me to meet with you? I would like to show you the presentation I created that incorporates the words of Pope Francis along with the science and impacts of climate change. There is nothing in the presentation that speaks of any controversial topics, including population control, abortion or euthanasia. It truly is a presentation that focuses on the sanctity of all life in the spirit of Pope Francis and St. Francis.

Thank you for allowing me the chance to express my concerns of the gravity of this situation. I hope that we can meet and work together.

Thank you,

Mary  & Joe ____