Mark Shea: Be confident in the Gospel

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Students from Catholic schools in the Washington Archdiocese stand outside St Patrick’s Church in Washington in 2019 prior to the climate change rally at the US Capitol. Photo: CNS/Carol Zimmermann
Students from Catholic schools in the Washington Archdiocese stand outside St Patrick’s Church in Washington in 2019 prior to the climate change rally at the US Capitol. Photo: CNS/Carol Zimmermann

Last time in this space we discussed the embarrassment of a Catholic school forbidding its students to wear their uniforms to a climate change protest since (angels and ministers of grace defend us!) “it was not clear if organisers shared the vision of Pope Francis or the Catholic position on a range of social issues”.

I pointed out that this doesn’t slow down Catholic schools who send their kids to Marches for Life filled with Atheists for Life, Jews for Life, Muslims for Life, Pagans for Life, and LGBTQ for Life. Somehow, they can cope with diversity in our pluralist society and keep the focus on the dignity of the unborn in accord with Church teaching.

But when the subject becomes climate change, the risk of non-Catholic cooties becomes so grave that Catholic kids must be sheltered from obeying the Holy Father’s call to fight for the health of our common home.

“We are perfectly capable of defending both the unborn and the environment.”

Whenever such absurd conflicts arise and I point them out, one of the standard replies is that abortion is a “non-negotiable issue” while climate change is a “prudential judgment”.

What is meant by this is that this somehow justifies humiliating kids protesting climate change and suggesting they are trying to compromise their faith, which is patently absurd. Then the claim shifts to the tactic of claiming that protesting climate change “distracts” from abortion.

You may as well say that walking distracts from chewing bubble gum. We are perfectly capable of defending both the unborn and the environment. Sometimes the fog clears and the argument finally shifts to the real question: “Whose side are you on?”

For, of course, what is really meant by all such attempts to pit the unborn against environmental activism is this: We need to weaponise the unborn against any Church teaching that threatens conservative ideology. Opposition to climate change and the concern for environmental sanity is one of the gravest threats that ideology faces. So we will hide behind the unborn as human shields in order to attack Church teaching that is threatens that ideology. The question is not “Are you a Catholic?” but “Are you a conservative?”

St Charles’ Waverley Year 3 students learn how to support the school ecosystem by growing new vegetables.
St Charles’ Waverley Year 3 students learn how to support the school ecosystem by growing new vegetables.

I am uninterested in being either a good conservative or a good liberal. I want to further Catholic teaching. What actual Church teaching says is simple: human life is sacred from conception to natural death. The reason the Holy Father cares about climate change is the same reason he cares about the unborn, because he cares about human life, made in God’s image and likeness. Pope Francis says that the environmental crisis — especially climate change — “threatens the very future of the human family”. Like all sane Catholic teachers, he relates, not opposes, the unborn to all the other forms of human life threatened by, among other things, climate change.

But the motto of Hell is “divide and conquer”, so it pits the unborn against all those other forms of human life and teaches us to assume that to support the unborn is to oppose “liberal” concern about climate change. And Hell is so successful in that propaganda war it has even taught many Catholics to assume the Holy Father is some kind of heretic for taking the classic holistic approach the Tradition has always taken.

Here’s reality: the Catholic tradition has always affirmed whatever truths can be affirmed in common with people of widely differing backgrounds. It is unafraid of cooties. When Atheists for Life affirm the humanity of the unborn Because the Embryology Textbook Tells Them So, the Church welcomes them to the March for Life and makes common cause with them, while never feeling the slight obligation to affirm their atheism.

“… the move to forbid Catholic students to wear their school uniforms to a climate change strike is the fragility of the faith of their schoolmasters.”

Same with a climate protest. What we should be doing is teaching our kids Laudato Si’ and the Church’s authentic tradition of respect for God’s creation. If they learn that, they will be in no more danger of losing the Faith should they meet a neo-pagan tree worshipper at a climate rally than they will be of suddenly converting to Islam at a March for Life sponsored by Muslims for Life.

What is most striking to me about the move to forbid Catholic students to wear their school uniforms to a climate change strike is the fragility of the faith of their schoolmasters.

Catholics should be leading the charge here and showing the world how it’s done. We should not be drawing our skirts around us in fear of contamination. We should be out there speaking the Church’s teaching and confident that it will permeate the minds of those open to truth, not trembling that the gates of Hell will prevail against the gospel.

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