In the continuing teaching of the Church around creation—the Holy Father devoted his World Day of Peace message to it—this article from the National Catholic Reporter gives some history of the ways in which the Church has dealt with the often pantheistic manifestations of the secular religion of environmentalism, which, unfortunately, is all too often driven by dissident Catholic priests.
“The modern point of departure for Catholic environmental theology was a revolutionary: French Jesuit Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who died in 1955. A paleontologist, philosopher and theologian, Teilhard believed that evolution is humanity’s participation in the redemption begun by Christ. When evolution reaches its climax in what he called the “Omega point,” Teilhard said the cosmos will achieve a form of “Christogenesis.” Those views got him into trouble with Church officials, concerned that Teilhard’s thought flirts with pantheism. Seven years after his death, the Vatican censured Teilhard’s work, and in 1981, on the 100th anniversary of Teilhard’s birth, the Vatican reaffirmed that judgment.
“Many Catholics still find much to commend in Teilhard. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, for example, the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the UN, said in 2007 that whenever he goes to upstate New York he stops at Teilhard’s grave in Hyde Park, reflecting in the woods about Teilhard’s vision of the “Christification” of the cosmos.
“Descendants of Teilhard today include eco-theologians and philosophers such as Fr. Diarmuid O’Murchu and Fr. Thomas Berry, as well Rosemary Radford Ruether, Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme. Though each has a distinct outlook, most share a sense that if Catholicism wants to embrace ecology, it needs a radical overhaul. In 1992, Berry said: “We should put the Bible away for twenty years while we radically rethink our religious ideas.” In O’Murchu’s Quantum Theology, he suggests that institutional religion is destined for extinction. “What we cannot escape,” he wrote, “is that we as a species have outlived that phase of our evolutionary development and so, quite appropriately, thousands of people are leaving religion aside.”
“These personalities have a small but dedicated following, and they’ve helped to drive ecological questions to the forefront of the Church’s consciousness, but they’ve also set off doctrinal alarms. Fox drew a Vatican censure in 1988, and was dismissed from the Dominican order in 1992. O’Murchu attracted critical notice from the doctrinal committee of the Spanish bishops’ conference in 2006. The bishops charged that O’Murchu “speaks much of God and constantly talks of human liminal values in a ‘planetary’ or ‘cosmic’ context, but says almost nothing about Jesus Christ.”
“For a less speculative and more pastoral approach, consider a 2000 letter from the Catholic bishops of the Pacific Northwest in the United States and Canada arguing for conservation of the Columbia River Watershed. From the outset, the bishops announce their intention to steer a middle course between “economic greed” and “ecological elitism.” The core principles upon which the letter is based are stewardship, respect for nature, and the common good. They promote the idea of creation as the “book of nature,” a source of revelation and theological insight alongside the Bible. In general, the bishops move quickly from sketching a few brief theological ideas into direct application to concrete environmental problems. They’re apparently less interested in supplying a new theological vision than in mobilizing action.”