Teach-in and Lobby for Climate Justice

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Maryland Catholics for Our Common Home

“Teach-in for Climate Justice” and Lobby Night

Monday, March 2, 2020

4:30 PM to 7:30 PM in Annapolis

RSVP to https://forms.gle/N98RDK8zhfnxS5kJA  

Maryland Catholics for Our Common Home 2020 Legislative Priorities

Up to date information on these bills, by number, can be found here:


The Five Priority Bills for “Maryland Catholics for Our Common Home.” If your legislator is a co-sponsor, thank him or her when you meet. If not a sponsor, encourage him or her to support the bill. The names are live links that take you to the email for each legislator. Hold down the Control key, hover over the name and click. Use the legislator’s email to write and show your support. +++++++++++++++

SB 926 / HB 1425: TITLE Climate Solutions Act of 2020 – Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act

SUMMARY Seeks to update the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act goals to reflect the current requirements outlined by the UN report on climate change.

EQUITY CONCERNS: The bill also outlines specific climate action steps and creates task force and working groups to address equity and labor concerns

SB 926 Sponsors: Senators PinskyCarterElfrethHesterKaganLamSmith, and Washington

HB 1425 Sponsors:  Delegates SteinBarveAceveroBartlettBhandariBoyceBrooks,

CainCardinCarrChangCharkoudianClippingerEbersoleFeldmarkForbesFraser-HidalgoGilchristGuytonHarrisonHaynesHealeyHensonHolmesC. JacksonKaiserKellyKerrKormanKrimmLehmanJ. LewisR. LewisLiermanLisantiLoveMcIntoshMoonPalakovich CarrReznikRosenbergRuthShettySmithSolomonStewartTerrasaC. WatsonWilkinsK. Young, and P. Young


SB 887 / HB 1545:  TITLE “Electric Generation Transition from Fossil Fuels – Carbon Dioxide Emissions Rate and Transition Account (Coal Transition)”

SUMMARY Sets a timeline by which the last six remaining coal-fired power plants must stop producing energy from coal, with a community transition plan that invests in the local communities and counties with coal plants.

EQUITY CONCERNS Coal plants are a leading contributor of smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution. Over 85% of Marylanders live in counties that are in non-attainment for federal clean air standards for smog. That number increases to over 90% for African American and Hispanic Communities.

SB 887 Sponsors: Senators WestElfrethKelley, and Pinsky

HB 1545 Sponsors: Delegates BarveFraser-HidalgoKormanLiermanMosbyPalakovich CarrPendergrassStein, and Wilkins


HB 368 / SB 424 TITLETransit Safety and Investment Act

SUMMARY: Requires the Governor to appropriate sufficient funding to address the $2 billion capital needs investment shortfall released by a Departmental report during the Summer of 2019, including both maintenance and enhancement requirements

EQUITY CONCERN: The MTA serves every county in Maryland; however it is most utilized by low-income residents as a means of transportation to and from job sites. The degradation of the transit infrastructure illustrated by the CNI is most harmful to an already under-served population

SB 424 Sponsors:  Senators  ZuckerMcCrayAugustineBeidleCarterElfrethEllisFeldmanGuzzoneHayesKingSmith, and Washington

HB 368 Sponsors: Delegates LiermanAceveroAndersonAttarBagnallB. BarnesBoyceBridgesCareyCarrChangConawayFeldmarkFennellGilchrist,

GuytonHealeyHettlemanHornbergerIveyKerrKormanLehmanR. LewisLoveMcIntoshMoonMosbyPalakovich CarrProctorShettySmithSolomonSteinStewartTerrasaWellsWilkins, and P. Young


HB 438 / SB 560: TITLE Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Eligible Sources

SUMMARY Removes incineration as tier one resource as a subsidized resource comparable to true clean energy sources such as wind and solar.

EQUITY CONCERNS Continued subsidization of trash incineration is a significant environmental injustice, placing a burden of meeting Maryland’s sustainability standards on overburdened communities living under their stacks. If lobbyists say that electric rates will have to go up to offset the loss of subsidies – that is NOT true.  The incinerator industry does not set rates. They participate with other sources that generate electricity and get paid the market rate for the electricity they generate and sell to the Grid. The clean energy subsidies are extra revenue for the industry.

SB 560 Sponsors: Senators HoughBaileyCarozzaCarterEckardtEdwardsElfrethEllisGallion,


ReadySallingSerafiniSimonaireSmithSydnorWashingtonWestYoung, and Zucker

HB 438 Sponsors: Delegates MosbyBartlettCardinCarrCharkoudianFeldmark,

W. FisherFraser-HidalgoHettlemanHillKerrLehmanR. LewisLiermanShettySmithTerrasaTurner, and K. Young


SB 313 / HB 209: TITLE Plastics and Packaging Reduction Act

SUMMARY Bans plastic bags at check-out, requires 10c cost of paper bags. Requires a workgroup to address single-use plastics pollution and recommendations for reducing disproportionate impact on low-income communities

EQUITY CONCERNS Plastic bag pollution is especially pervasive in low-income communities. The requirements of the workgroup, which may begin its work before the implementation date of the ban, will be focused on ensuring that low-income communities are not disproportionately affected by the cost of reusable and paper bags.

SB 313 Sponsors: Senators AugustineBeidleBensonCarterElfrethEllisFeldmanGuzzone,


SmithSydnorWaldstreicherWashingtonYoung, and Zucker

HB 209 Sponsors: Delegates LiermanFraser-HidalgoAceveroB. BarnesBoyceCainCardinCarrCharkoudianClippingerD.E. DavisDumaisEbersoleFeldmarkW. FisherGuytonHealeyHettlemanHillHolmesKellyKormanLehman,

J. LewisR. LewisLopezLoveLuedtkeMcIntoshMoonMosbyPalakovich CarrReznikShettySolomonSteinStewartTerrasaWashingtonC. WatsonWellsWilkinsWilliams, and K. Young






HB 517 TITLE Constitutional Amendment – Environmental Rights

SUMMARY: Proposing an amendment to the Maryland Constitution to establish that every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment; establishing that every person has the right to intervene in an action brought by the State or a political subdivision of the State to protect this right; prohibiting the State or a political subdivision of the State from causing diminution of or degradation to the State’s natural resources which are for the benefit of every person, including present and future generations.

EQUITY CONCERNS: (Borrowed from Our Children’s Trust lawsuit to establish such a constitutional, indefeasible right nationally: “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” – US District Judge Ann Aiken


HB 229 / SB 300 – TITLE: Pesticides – Use of Chlorpyrifos – Prohibition

SUMMARY: prohibiting the use of chlorpyrifos in the State; requiring the Department of Agriculture to provide to farmers, certified crop advisors, and pesticide applicators certain education and assistance under certain circumstances; and generally relating to the use of chlorpyrifos.


SB 928 /   TITLE – Environment – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Construction or Expansion – Manure Transport Plan Requirement

SUMMARY:  On or after a certain date, prohibiting the Department of the Environment from approving coverage under a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) Discharge permit for a certain CAFO, unless the permit applicant submits a certain manure transport plan to the Department as part of the permit application.


HB 656 / HB 53: TITLE Utility Regulation – Consideration of Climate and Labor

SUMMARY: Directs the PSC to consider climate change in its regulation of the electricity sector, based upon the best available scientific information recognized by the IPCC and achieving our state climate goals.  Specifically, the legislation will require the PSC to consider climate impacts when reviewing applications for new electricity generating facilities, and when it approves the sites for new facilities.

EQUITY CONCERNS: Global responsibility of all Marylanders to reduce greenhouse emissions and Care for Our Common Home – for Catholics, see Laudato Si’ papal encyclical.


SB 315/ HB 561 TITLE – Electric Industry – Community Choice Energy

SUMMARY: will give power back to the people by allowing Maryland communities to establish energy aggregation programs like those already successfully operating around the country. Currently only the state can negotiate with utilities, but the CCE bill allows democratically elected local governments to take decisions about energy into their own hands, driving down rates for consumers and enabling investment in clean, renewable energy programs.

EQUITY CONCERNS (Food & Water Watch position): CCE stands in stark contrast to a disastrous energy plan that Gov. Hogan is promoting in 2020, which would move Maryland to heavy reliance on nuclear power production and fracked gas. This would burden Marylanders with heavy financial costs and increase public health risks.


HB 589:  TITLE Solid Waste Management – Organics Recycling and Waste Diversion – Food Residuals (aka the Composting Bill)

SUMMARY: This bill requires certain generators of large quantities of “food residuals” to separate the food residuals from solid waste and ensure that the food residuals are diverted from final disposal in a refuse disposal system, as specified. The implementation timeline for this requirement is staggered, beginning January 1, 2021, based on the tonnage of food residuals generated by a person on a weekly basis. Prevents large organic waste generators from sending that waste to landfill or incinerators if there is a compost or digester facilities within 30 miles. The size of the generator will phase in over time.


SB 423/HB 432 – TITLE Maryland Transit Administration – Conversion to Electric Buses (Electric Bus Transition Act)SUMMARY: Prohibits, beginning in a certain fiscal year, the Maryland Transit Administration from entering into a contract to purchase buses for the Administration’s transit bus fleet that are not electric buses; generally relating to converting the Maryland Transit Administration’s fleet of transit buses to electric buses exclusively.



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Making Lives Not Just Better, but Possible

(Note: I submitted this Letter to the Editor of the Baltimore Sun hoping that it would be published today, 1-8-2020, the opening of the Maryland General Assembly. Our lawmakers must prioritize action on the climate emergency along with the many other bills, especially those related to education, that will better the lives of Marylanders. But this is about making lives still possible beyond this decade we have just begun.)

Reading about the opening of the Maryland 2020 Legislative Session (“Education Tops List of State Priorities” Jan. 5), I had to applaud the emphasis on education. With one daughter teaching at a Baltimore high school and the other working for Baltimore City Community College, I want both to have the resources they need to succeed as educators. Yet much as I think of education as a top priority, I could not help but think of Greta Thunberg, the now 17-year old Swedish child climate activist, who at age 15 chose to sit outside the Swedish Parliament instead of attending school. Her point? Why should she go to school to learn when the adults were destroying her future by burning up her planet? The house is on fire, as she put it (see Australia for the latest example), and the highest priority should be to stop fossil-fueling the fire. Attention must be paid, and right away. Thunberg’s action launched a worldwide climate strike movement, but will we see evidence of that urgency in Maryland’s 2020 legislative priorities? Last Sunday I attended the 43rd District Legislative Town Hall. I heard my Senator and Delegates speak of a host of legislation they will introduce to make our lives better; but I was listening for legislation not just to better our lives, but to make the continuation of our lives possible. I heard too little of that. All my legislators proposed to do were good things but will be meaningless if the climate is in full collapse by the end of this decade. Governor Hogan’s CARES energy legislation has some good elements (like not counting as clean the energy from trash incineration), but falls way short of what we need; and it backtracks by relying too much on widening highways, neglecting public transit and building out the infrastructure for fracked gas. When will the climate emergency and climate action top the agenda for state lawmakers? When my pastor, Fr. Joe Muth of St. Matthew Catholic Church, delivers the opening invocation for the Assembly, I pray that he prays for meaningful climate action this session.


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Environmental Degradation and Climate Collapse – How do they differ?

Pope Francis One Crisis Laudato Si' (2)

Environmental Degradation and Climate Collapse

What’s the difference and how does each affect how we live?

How each relates to Laudato Si’[1]and our faith-based response

by J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD

July 26, 2019 presentation to Colombiere Jesuit Community, Baltimore, MD

So today I am here to speak both about acting on environmental degradation and responding to the imminent climate collapse that poses an existential threat to all life on planet Earth. These are both environmental issues, but of such a different character and import that we decrease the chances of human survival if we overly conflate them.”

Good afternoon, Gentlemen,

Thank you for having me. Little did I know when I first visited your Laudato Si’ study group that I would be asked to come speak to you about environmental degradation and climate collapse, both of which are threatening all life on Earth, all God’s creation

But here I am, and today I will be drawing upon three texts.

  1. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ – On Caring for Our Common Home
  2. David Wallace-Wells book “The Uninhabitable Earth – Life After Warming”
  3. Father Thomas Berry’s book “The Dream of the Earth

It was my intention to take you deeply into each of these texts, but time will not allow that, and so I can only allow a brief glimpse inside each with the encouragement that you have a copy in your library for reading and reflection.

When I first met with your Laudato Si’ study group, we talked about issues of “environmental degradation.” As our response to such degradation, we discussed: recycling and composting here at Colombiere retirement community. We talked about air pollution and damages caused by harmful particulates put into the air by trash incineration like BRESCO in southwest Baltimore, falling most of all on a poor community with the highest rate of asthma in the city; or the coal-fired generation of electricity, from which Maryland gets most of its energy, and the dangerous particulates it releases into the air in addition to CO2 emissions. We talked about pushing our Maryland Catholic Conference to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act in the state legislature, to commit Maryland to getting 50% of its electrical energy from clean, renewable sources by 2040 and 100% by 2050 – because clean energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal) is better than dirty power, both in terms of public health and the environment at large. We discussed the necessary political actions we could take, within the church and in the state legislature, to get that bill passed, and we succeeded at that small step.

These issues are important to what Pope Francis calls “care for our common home” in his encyclical, but they focus mostly on one aspect of how humanity is destroying the earth by our presence and lifestyle. Such “environmental degradation” issues have long concerned environmentalists – polluting air and water; depleting fresh water supply (Did you know that “As soon as 2030, global water demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40 percent”? – David Wallace-Wells); the loss of land and habitat; millions of rainforest acres cleared for production of food for animals to satisfy our taste for meat; the loss of biodiversity in what scientists are now calling “the Sixth Mass Extinction,” this one caused by humans; the consumption and wasting of resources, including 30% waste of food produced by our farms; dead zones in the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico created by runoff of animal waste and fossil-fuel fertilizers from farms; the same inorganic (oil-based) fertilizers killing our soils; pesticide use killing our pollinators on which we depend for food; Marylanders on the Eastern Shore choking from toxic air pollution wafting out of massive chicken CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations); the destructive practice of fracking to obtain fossil fuels at a cost to public health and water contamination (plus being a greater contributor of “greenhouses gases” than the combustion of coal); the use of this fracked gas to create massive new plants like the $3 Billion “cracker” plant being built outside Pittsburgh to produce billions more single-use plastic products; microplastics found everywhere from the 7-mile depths of the Marianas trench in the Pacific Ocean to the highest point of the Pyrenees mountain range between Spain and France, 100 miles from the nearest city; plastics in our air and inside our blood streams; and so forth. All examples of environmental degradation. (Not a complete list by any means).

These are the issues that caused Pope Francis to write: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (21).

So “environmental degradation” is one aspect on which Laudato Si’ focuses, but there is another, more serious and more imminent threat to God’s Creation, one that goes by several names – i.e., global warming, the climate crisis, and more often now being referred to as “climate collapse.”

At the heart of climate collapse is our extraction and burning of fossil fuels for energy, the very energy that has improved the lives of billions but now threatens to destroy us because our combustion of fossil fuels, and emissions of gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, ignores the laws of Nature, which we dare not do.

We must remind ourselves always, as the writer-farmer Wendell Berry put it:

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”

Pope Francis refers to our destructive energy production and consumption when he writes that “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced…substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.” (26)  He states clearly that “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” (23)

This is our Catholic teaching now, and we better take heed of it.

In this presentation I take global warming caused by humans (to which Pope Francis refers) as an established fact, but instead of speaking of the “climate change” that results from warming, I prefer to use the term “climate collapse” because it more accurately evokes what we are facing.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year that irreversible climate collapse could begin, and not be reversed, if humanity does not slash global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2010 levels by 2030, then reach net zero by 2050. (Net zero means the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere is no more than the amount taken out). So, there we have, for the first time, a solid deadline for action – 12 years from 2018 to 2030 to reduce emissions worldwide by 45% from 2010 levels – but of course emissions continue to rise.

When you see young people from the Sunrise Movement wearing black t-shirts with that one number “12” on it, they are trying to communicate what the UN IPCC has told us.

The “safe” level of carbon in the atmosphere, 350 ppm (parts per million), was exceeded in 1990 and we are now at 415 ppm. The level of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere is rising, by three (3) parts per million in 2016.

If that continues, we will reach 448 ppm by 2030.  Moreover, “the tough reality is that the effects of CO2 already present in the biosphere are irreversible and intensifying rapidly…a consensus of scientific research tell s us that a minimum of three degrees Celsius (3°C) warning is already baked into the system under current global climate pledges.” (Truthout – March 4, 2019 Editorial)

To put this in perspective, David Wallace-Wells, in his book “The Uninhabitable Earth,” writes: “Even if we pull the planet up short of two degrees Celsius (2°C) warming by 2100, we will be left with an atmosphere that contains 500 parts per million of carbon— perhaps more. The last time that was the case, 16 million years ago, the planet was not two degrees warmer; it was somewhere between five and eight, giving the planet about 130 feet of sea-level rise, enough to draw a new American coastline as far west as I-95.” (Note: 2°C equals 3.6°F, and 5°C would mean a global temperature rise of 9°F)

Wallace-Wells opens his book with these ominous words:

It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life undeformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not inescapably within and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down.

None of this is true.”

So now we are talking not only about specific degradations of the environment but an existential issue, an ecocide willfully perpetrated by humans. As Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church, who is quoted in Laudato Si’, puts it: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its Climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”.[15] For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.[16]

The sinfulness is all around us and in each of us. Even the food we eat is being degraded by emission of CO2 into the atmosphere: “Over the past fifteen years, (there has been) a dramatic effect of carbon dioxide on human nutrition unanticipated by plant physiologists: it can make plants bigger, but those bigger plants are less nutritious…Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising…We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history—[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.” Since 1950, much of the good stuff in the plants we grow—protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C, to name just four—has declined by as much as one-third, a landmark 2004 study showed. Everything is becoming more like junk food. Even the protein content of bee pollen has dropped by a third.” (p.57, The Uninhabitable Earth). Add to this that “global food production accounts for about a third of all emissions, (and) to avoid dangerous climate change, Greenpeace has estimated that the world needs to cut its meat and dairy consumption in half by 2050.” (p.54, The Uninhabitable Earth)

Our planet is becoming uninhabitable to much of all life as we know it. Climate collapse is about far more than sea-level rise, as Wallace-Wells makes abundantly clear. Along with that rise in temperature comes droughts and fires and floods and mass migrations of people desperately trying to survive, as some of those detained on our southern border are doing right now, who are just a few from among the 2.8 million people facing hunger in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America hit by drought.

While we may be able to clean up a degraded environment by a number of means we already have, we are right now, not so far in the future, risking irreversible climate collapse; and although we have means to mitigate that to some extent, we will be hard-pressed to stop and reverse what is already underway.  We may be able to clean the world of plastic pollution (at least its visible forms), but the use of fossil fuel to make plastic, and more of it all the time, until we stop that production, will continue to contribute to global warming and continue changing the chemistry of the oceans so that coral reefs and other marine life die off.  A reported 96% of all warmth created by humans has been absorbed by the ocean and the resulting change in ocean chemistry is making the oceans more inhospitable to life. According to the World Resources Institute, by 2030 ocean warming and acidification will threaten 90 percent of all reefs. “This is very bad news, because reefs support as much as a quarter of all marine life and supply food and income for half a billion people.” (p.96. The Uninhabitable Earth). Our problem is much harder than scooping up plastic or developing means to replace plastic for the myriad of uses it has.

By the way, plastic pollution, that environmental degradation, is also much worse than you think. We have all heard of “the Great Pacific garbage patch” twice the size of Texas, floating freely in the Pacific Ocean. Says Wallace-Wells: “It is not actually an island—in fact, it is not actually a stable mass, …it is mostly composed of larger-scale plastics, of the kind visible to the human eye…(M)icroplastic bits—700,000 of them can be released into the surrounding environment by a single washing-machine cycle[2]—are more insidious. And, believe it or not, more pervasive: a quarter of fish sold in Indonesia and California contain plastics, according to one recent study. European eaters of shellfish, one estimate has suggested, consume at least 11,000 bits each year…The direct effect on ocean life is even more striking. The total number of marine species said to be adversely affected by plastic pollution has risen from 260 in 1995, when the first assessment was carried out, to 690 in 2015 and 1,450 in 2018. A majority of fish tested in the Great Lakes contained microplastics, as did the guts of 73 percent of fish surveyed in the northwest Atlantic… Microplastics have been found in beer, honey, and sixteen of seventeen tested brands of commercial sea salt, across eight different countries…and while nobody yet knows the health impact on humans, in the oceans a plastic microbead is said to be one million times more toxic than the water around it… We can breathe in microplastics, even when indoors, where they’ve been detected suspended in the air, and do already drink them: they are found in the tap water of 94 percent of all tested American cities. And global plastic production is expected to triple by 2050, when there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. (The Uninhabitable Earth, p.104-106)

This is the world we are bequeathing to our children. My children, my grandchildren and their children, your grand-nephews and grand-nieces, and their children, will more than likely be faced with trying to live on a filthy, dying planet.

We have some answering to do our children coming after us, even some repentance, about the filth, but even more so about climate collapse, which we have not completely owned as the generation that has contributed the most to it.

On the issue of culpability for climate collapse, Wallace-Wells makes that clear in this passage:   “Many perceive global warming as a sort of moral and economic debt, accumulated since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and now come due after several centuries. In fact, more than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the past three decades. Which means we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilization since Al Gore published his first book on climate than in all the centuries—all the millennia—that came before.

The United Nations established its climate change framework in 1992, advertising scientific consensus unmistakably to the world; this means we have now engineered as much ruin knowingly as we ever managed in ignorance. Global warming may seem like a distended morality tale playing out over several centuries and inflicting a kind of Old Testament retribution on the great-great-grandchildren of those responsible, since it was carbon burning in eighteenth-century England that lit the fuse of everything that has followed. But that is a fable about historical villainy that acquits those of us alive today—and unfairly. The majority of the burning has come since the premiere of Seinfeld. Since the end of World War II, the figure is about 85 percent. The story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is the story of a single lifetime—the planet brought from seeming stability to the brink of catastrophe in the years between a baptism or bar mitzvah and a funeral.” (p.4, The Uninhabitable Earth)

We each have a stake in acknowledging that, and we each have things we can do personally (as repentance, may I say?), as a community of men, as a parish or diocese. and in the public square of local, state and national politics, such as advocating for Catholic Church divestment from fossil fuel investments and educating our young about care for creation (or is it they who are educating us?).

So today I am here to speak both about acting on environmental degradation and responding to the imminent climate collapse that poses an existential threat to all life on planet Earth. I encourage all of us to reflect on the difference between these distinct but related threats to life, between personal responsibility (like recycling, composting and zero-waste practices where and how we live), and community-scale actions, political action, systems of energy and less waste and municipal level waste disposal that must be created, and other big picture actions at the scale of the problem, to care for our common home. These are both environmental issues, but of such a different character and import that we decrease the chances of human survival if we overly conflate them and rely simply on doing the smaller things we can do (and even those are sometimes hard to do). Recycling and composting, as good and important as they are, will mean nothing if we do not get away from burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation – by car, ship and airplane – or using it to make plastics, or putting it in into our soils for food.

As Thomas Berry writes in “The Dream of the Earth”: “Pragmatic efforts (such as recycling and composting) at establishing a viable way into the future are urgently needed and invaluable. They are indispensable in any effort to deal with that future. I do not wish to diminish what is being done. I wish only to indicate that the basic difficulty lies deeper in the human mind and emotions than is generally recognized. If the reorientation of mind is not effected, then whatever remedy is proposed will not succeed in the purposes it intends. So far, we have not been able to effect a major change in inner attitude.”

Thomas Berry’s “reorientation of mind” is what Pope Francis calls “ecological conversion” (220) which, Francis says, “entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems…We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.”

Thomas Berry makes the point even more succinctly: “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. The devastation of the planet can be seen as a direct consequence of the loss of this capacity for human presence to and reciprocity with the nonhuman world.” (Evening Thoughts, Thomas Berry)

And he tells us how difficult this will be:  “The power of the industrial system is in the pervasive feeling throughout the society that there is no truly human survival or fulfillment except in opposition to the…the natural world. Nothing must be left in its natural state. Everything must be sacralized by human use, even though this is momentary, and the consequence is an irreversible degradation of the planet.”  (p. 213, “The Dream of the Earth”)

(T. Berry): “We might summarize our present human situation by the simple statement that in (our times) the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human. From here on, the primary judgment of all human institutions, professions, programs and activities will be determined by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship. (2006 interview)

(T. Berry): “These consequences are now becoming manifest. The day of reckoning has come.[3] In this disintegrating phase of our industrial society, we now see ourselves not as the splendor of creation, but as the most pernicious of earthly being.

We are the termination, not the fulfillment of the earth process. If there were a parliament of creatures, its first decision might well be to vote the humans out of the community, too deadly a presence to tolerate any further. We are the affliction of the world, its demonic presence. We are the violation of earth’s most sacred aspects.” (p. 209, “The Dream of the Earth“)

And to this I would say that there is a parliament of creatures, and collectively they are called Nature, and Nature does not need humans to continue, and Nature will make this world a place where humans are thrown out of the community, denied the means to live because of our own assaults against Nature and destruction of millions of Nature’s beautiful life forms, so that Nature can, slowly, remake the Earth without destructive human beings.

Pope Francis concurs with Thomas Berry in Laudato Si’ – that all human institutions, especially the church, which we think of as a divine institution, albeit a quite sinful one at times, will be judged by how we show respect for life and care for God’s creation in how we relate to Nature, and in the actions we take (or fail to take) to continue the creation story or to end it.

If we say all will be well if we reduce our community’s energy use, get more LED lights, replace inefficient appliances with energy-efficient ones, move away from a diet built around meat to one that is plant-based, recycle all our plastic, collect all our food waste for the compost pile, bicycle (if we are able) to the store or take the bus, or even put a solar array on our roof or on our grounds, we would be wrong in saying all will be well, much as these things need to be done. We must get to scale on building a clean energy world, and even that may not be enough, which is why some are calling for more than fixes and mitigation, but for “deep adaptation” based on a “loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures but joined in a splendid universal communion.”

Truth is, we really do not know how we will live and survive even 30 years from now if warming feedback processes overtake our best laid plans at fixes and mitigation.

Again, Pope Francis: “(Our sister Earth) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor…We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” (2)

“If we approach nature and the environment without…openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs… (11) “(Ecological conversion) entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. (220)

Thomas Berry puts it like this: “The visible world about us is our primary scripture, the primary manifestation of the divine, and this for human communities throughout the entire planet…We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet. The first consequence is that we destroy modes of divine presence. If we have a wonderful sense of the divine, it is because we live amid such awesome magnificence. If we have refinement of emotion and sensitivity, it is because of the delicacy, the fragrance, and indescribable beauty of song and music and rhythmic movement in the world about us. If we grow in our life vigor, it is because the earthly community challenges us, forces us to struggle to survive, but in the end reveals itself as a benign providence. But however benign, it must provide that absorbing drama of existence whereby we can experience the thrill of being alive in fascinating and unending sequence of adventures…If we have powers of imagination, these are activated by the magic display of color and sound, of form and movement, such as we observe in the clouds of the sky, the trees and bushes and flowers, the waters and the wind, the singing birds, and the movement of the great blue whale through the sea. If we have words with which to speak and think and commune, words for the inner experience of the divine, words for the intimacies of life, if we have words for telling stories to our children, words with which we can sing, it is again because of the impressions we have received from the variety of beings around us.” (p.11 – “The Dream of the Earth” by Thomas Berry)

So, what can we do? Should we hope or despair? Is the world we have made doomed to die of climate collapse? The sources I read have differing answers:

Thomas Berry sees a science that is awakening us to who we really are as part of Nature and the Universe, with Nature revealing itself in a special way now: “Here we might observe that the basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.” (T. Berry, “The New Story,” in The Dream of the Earth, p.137.)

David Wallace-Wells is not so sure, says that what happens next is more a question of the social sciences than the physical and biological ones: “But while there are a few things science does not know about how the climate system will respond to all the carbon we’ve pumped into the air, the uncertainty of what will happen—that haunting uncertainty—emerges not from scientific ignorance but, overwhelmingly, from the open question of how we respond. That is, principally, how much more carbon we decide to emit, which is not a question for the natural sciences but the human ones.  Climatologists can, today, predict with uncanny accuracy where a hurricane will hit, and at what intensity, as much as a week out from landfall; this is not just because the models are good but because all the inputs are known. When it comes to global warming, the models are just as good, but the key input is a mystery: What will we do?”  The lessons there are unfortunately bleak. Three-quarters of a century since global warming was first recognized as a problem, we have made no meaningful adjustment to our production or consumption of energy to account for it and protect ourselves.”  (p.43-44, The Uninhabitable Earth)

In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis writes: “Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. Still, we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation (61)…Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities. (165)

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year old autistic Swedish schoolgirl who ignited a worldwide boycott of classes on Fridays, saying “Why should we study for a future that may not exist anymore?” – has put it this way. “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act…The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue we have ever faced. The easiest because we know what we must do. We must stop the emissions of greenhouse gases. The hardest because our current economics are still totally dependent on burning fossil fuels, and thereby destroying ecosystems in order to create everlasting economic growth…We have to act urgently, because we simply have to find a way…When we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope – look for action.” 

The youth of Our Children’s Trust who are in court trying to establish a constitutional right to a life-sustaining climate, have already convinced one federal judge to say what may turn out to be historic words: “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” US District Judge Ann Aiken

Gentlemen, this is our challenge. You and me. We can look around and see the children leading us, because we have not done so, not in the degree needed; but nonetheless we’re not dead yet. Given the seriousness of what I have described today, we need to be reaching out to all our families, our friends, sounding the alarms, changing our lifestyle practices, expending what energy we have left to rescue God’s creation, our Common Home, from a death of our own making. This is not just another discussion topic. This is a topic that should impel us to take the kind of action that gives hope.

Our grandchildren, our grand-nephews and grand-nieces, could well be facing the end of all life on Earth, and a violent, chaotic world of desperate people scrambling for resources, one of worldwide desperate migrations beyond imagining. What can we do in the time we have left to protect the children who must live in the deeply damaged world we are leaving them?

[1] “Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home,” an environmental encyclical by Pope Francis. 2015

[2] Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers — all of which are forms of plastic — are now about 60 percent of the material that makes up our clothes worldwide. – Wikipedia

[3] Berry wrote these words in 1998, 31 years ago, before the worst decades of CO2 emissions began.

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For granddaughter Sage, on the occasion of her 18th birthday

Dear Sage –

Welcome, voter! And Happy 18th birthday.

Because of what happened on July 5, 1971 (when I was 21), when the voting age was lowered to 18, you are getting a 3-year head start on me for being a fully enfranchised American. The context for me was this:

“Leading up to that period, the demand had grown that young people be given the opportunity to vote. Tens of thousands of young Americans were drafted into the military for the Vietnam War, and the Korean and other wars before that, when they turned 18. Yet, because they were unenfranchised, they had no say whatsoever in making the policies that determined whether the nation – and their own selves – would be involved in a bloody war overseas or not.”

President Nixon had not supported the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age nationwide to 18, was forced by public opinion to bring on new voters, but nonetheless said this when signing the amendment:

“As I meet with this group today, I sense that we can have confidence that America’s new voters, America’s young generation, will provide what America needs as we approach our 200th birthday, not just strength and not just wealth but the ‘Spirit of ’76’ a spirit of moral courage, a spirit of high idealism in which we believe in the American dream, but in which we realize that the American dream can never be fulfilled until every American has an equal chance to fulfill it in their own life.”

Now comes your 18th birthday when you will be called upon to identify political leaders (maybe become one yourself after you complete your education) and support those who will provide what America needs. As you know that means addressing many issues of racism, mass incarceration, homophobia and equal rights for LGBT+ people, equal rights for women, immigration, militarism, war and peace, the elimination of nuclear weapons, affordable healthcare for all, sensible gun control, ending violence in our cities, protecting ourselves from predatory drug companies who bear much of the blame for the opioid crisis that had killed many thousands, getting corporate and dark money out of politics, protecting our air and water from pollution and contamination, and of course voting out Donald Trump in 2020. This is not even a complete list of what an enfranchised Sage Ella will be confronting, but you get the idea.

Yet towering above all those issues will be the issue of your lifetime – climate change and the atmospheric and social chaos that will result from a warming planet. Never has there been a generation which could say “I want to save the world” with that task being precisely what they are called to do, without hyperbole.

There is a movement underway that will be about making more fundamental changes in how we live and what we eat, where and how we get our energy, and how we relate to Nature that will be the most important movement in human history, without precedent. Either we do what must be done to eliminate fossil fuel emissions and begin drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere, or your children (if you choose to have children) will be condemned to witnessing the complete destruction of living systems that sustain our lives and the lives of millions of plant and animal species with whom we share the planet. Even the clouds may disappear from the sky, the science is telling us now.

Can you imagine living with no clouds?

Your peers are leading that movement now in groups like the Sunrise Movement (you have the T-shirt!) or the Extinction Rebellion or, perhaps quite importantly, the court challenge lodged by Our Children’s Trust, which seeks to establish that “through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

That case has been fought tooth and nail by both the Trump and Obama administrations who have not wanted a jury of peers to see evidence that the government and fossil fuel companies knew what they were doing would warm the world and threaten the sustainability of all life, yet government subsidized dirty energy anyway and fossil fuel companies raked in profits while making the public clean up their environmental messes.

There is statement by a judge in the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit that may go down in history as among the most important words in our collective history, if the young people get a chance to go before a jury:  “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” – US District Judge Ann Aiken

So, I persist, maybe even harangue my granddaughter on her benchmark birthday which should be an occasion of joy. But just as those in my generation insisted on the right to vote because we were faced with being drafted into war, so too have you been drafted into a collapsing climate, caused by a literal war against Nature for quick profits, and you must be the advocate for peace with Nature. You must join a movement to end that war against Nature, as much as you can, through efforts like a Green New Deal, taking part in political arena or entering there yourself someday.

Finally, as one of my favorite writers, the poet-farmer Wendell Berry, says in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” – I say to you with this enclosed gift by which you can celebrate your birthday: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” Never forget to have fun and share the beauty of life with those around you, even as you are perforce required to be involved in protecting our planet and all it beautiful beings. Go have some fun, and I wish I could be there to give you a big hug and kiss.

I love you,


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Maryland Environmental Leaders’ Extraordinary Appeal for Clean Energy Jobs Act 2019

This is an advocacy letter, to be sure, but not one like you have seen before. This is not asking Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch to support a bill that can wait until next year if it does not pass now.

“Mr. Speaker, we appeal to you not to read into this letter any sense of commonplace advocacy. Our tone is unprecedented here because the science of global warming has changed dramatically. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October – for the first time – gave the world a deadline.”

Please take a look at the letter and pass it on to Maryland residents. The time is now to start addressing climate changer seriously in Maryland.

Enviro leaders’ ltr to Speaker Busch FINAL

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A Facebook Dialogue on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church – re the PA report

RE: More than 300 accused priests listed in Pennsylvania report on Catholic Church sex abuse (Washington Post, August 14, 2018)

GORDON: Oh dear – mind if I take a moment from needling you on climate change to pose a nettlesome question about the Catholic Church, Stephen? As a good person and a good Catholic, your anguish over this latest revelation is palpable. But the key words to me are “latest revelation.” While the world abounds with good Catholics like yourself, the institution of the Catholic Church abounds with child abusers.

Whatever the reason(s) you think it’s happening – and I would dare anyone to suggest let alone prove that it isn’t still happening – child abuse is endemic in the institution of the Catholic Church. It’s a global problem (just read the list at the end of “Spotlight”), it’s been going on for decades (if not centuries), and far from being able to police itself, the Church hierarchy has been actively covering up the problem forever. If any other private or public organization in the world had this track record of criminal sexual predation, rape and child abuse, they would have been put out of business long ago. Why is the Catholic Church exempt?

I’m not on a crusade or anything, to me it’s just another sign of our world falling apart at the seams, but if it were up to me I would a) jail every priest who is shown to be abusing children, b) jail every bishop and cardinal who directly aided in any cover up of these crimes, c) relieve every other cardinal of their position (like they didn’t all know what’s going on?), d) end the Catholic Church’s tax-exempt status, and e) take all of the Church’s money and divide it up among all the individual parishes, with instructions to start a new church. They couldn’t possibly do worse than what exists already. (Although I’d let you all keep Pope Francis, he seems like a good guy!)

I don’t mean to be offensive at all, I am simply struck by a profound paradox – I find many Catholics (like you) to be among the most beautiful people I know. And I find the Catholic Church to be one of the most irredeemably corrupt institutions I can think of.


STEVE: Gordon, the week that this horrible news broke was also the week that Richard Sipe died. My pastor had been a student of his in Baltimore seminary 50 years ago. In grieving the Pennsylvania news of clergy abuse and the ongoing pain of victims, Father Joe mentioned that Richard Sipe was a prophet often scorned and turned away by the church hierarchy who did not want to hear what he had to say.

Sipe was the source that the Boston Globe reporters used for their “Spotlight” series. He is considered the best expert on how many priests are pedophiles and why sexual abuse of that kind and other abusive sexual relations by clergy persists. His research led to an estimate of 6% of American priests being pedophiles. Sipe later raised the percentage to 9%. Reports I’ve read put the percentage of pedophiles in the adult population at about 5%, so the prevalence among priests may be worse than in the general population, but it is hard to get a definitive prevalence statistic for the general population by which to compare. From the perspective and reports of the victims, I have read reports that 7% of adults report that they were sexually victimized as children, with the figure for women being more like 15%.

There were about 38,000 priests in America in 2015, so that might mean about 2,280 were pedophiles, or 3,420 at the 9% figure.  That’s a lot. Recall that in “Spotlight” the reporter heard Sipe’s 6% figure and exclaimed something like “that’s 90 priests!” – which would be 6% of 1,500, but in 2002 the Boston archdiocese actually had 1,678 priests (down to 1,088 in 2015), so even more than 90.

Sipe’s research connects the problem to the general issue that about half of all priests are sexually active, either as heterosexuals or homosexuals, and so a cult of secrecy has developed to prevent scandal to the institution, and that cult of secrecy has suppressed facts about pedophilia among the church’s clergy. As bad as the cases of abuse are, the cover-up by the church hierarchy makes it all even worse. That is why this Pennsylvania grand jury has done a great service, and why I will be asking the Maryland Attorney General to do a similar investigation in my state.

This truth must come out. Yes, the first reaction to a report of pedophilia should be for those in church authority to call the police and have it investigated, and yes priests should go to jail along with bishops and cardinals who can be convicted in a court of law of obstructing justice, and yes to priests being removed from any contact with minors by church authorities at the first credible report of such a problem (and stop the practice of passing them off to another parish or diocese), and yes the statute of limitations laws should be changed so that victims finally able to voice their pain can get justice – which of course is a secular change, but one the church lawyers have been fighting for fear of more lawsuits –  and yes to more compensation of victims, whatever that means to the divestment of church properties.

And you are on to something in suggesting that individual parishes are where “church” happens, and that they could (and in my view, already do) a better job of presenting a church of love, compassion, justice and mercy without having to worry about a hierarchy or corruption at the top. That is how many of us Catholics experience our “church” in one another, and in the sacraments, and we laugh it off when one of the bishops asks that we not be so overt in our acceptance of LBGTQ people in our church and our communion.

The great majority of Catholics do not experience their priests as predators (because the great majority are not), and I would say we are bewildered and angry and not sure what to do when we hear again not only how much of it goes on and how depraved it is, but also how our “leaders” cover it up again and again.

As for Pope Francis, it is all on the line with him now in how he responds to this. Things are better than they were in 2002 when the Boston Globe issued its Spotlight report, in that after that there were measures put in place at the parish and diocesan levels, such as background checks on church volunteers to prevent such abuse, and the bishops committing to act swiftly to remove offending priests, including reporting them to the police.  It is my reading that the cases exposed in the Pennsylvania AG investigation were mostly before 2002. Reports of abuse are down since then, it is reported. Yet things are by no means okay right now. There are lingering questions about the degree to which all bishops are abiding by the 2002 reforms, and church lawyers are still fighting the expansion of statutes of limitations.

The real reckoning must come at the level of the hierarchy, where Pope Francis needs to be demanding the resignation of people like Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, to use just one example now that credible evidence exists of his past behavior to cover up abuse.

Then also the church must get serious about no longer requiring celibacy as a condition of being a priest, allowing a married man (and for that matter, a married woman) to be a priest, and of course welcoming women into the priesthood. It is a big agenda.

In the meantime, for me this is not about numbers or prevalence. This is about creating a beloved community with others. I go to church to praise God and be with people who know that the church is not God (not an idol to be protected), only God is God, and God calls them to go out into the world to heal the sick, tend to immigrant families, advocate for peace, fight for the rights of LBGTQ+ persons, provide relief to some of the most desperate people in the world all across the globe, seek to end the violence in Baltimore streets, make affordable housing possible, fight the climate crisis and support our church with a lot of hard work to put on great chicken and crab fundraising dinners. Then they come back into church to take communion with one another and say these words before communion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” which echo the words of the Roman centurion (the enemy, the occupier) who asked Christ to come heal his servant (“my servant will be healed’), but believed on what he had heard that Jesus had the authority to do that without coming to his house. I worship and pray with humble people who do good in the world and break bread with one another in a spirit of God’s healing love that crosses boundaries and leads us beyond the brokenness of the world. It’s all about love for us.

I pray to Jesus to bring that healing to the church I have never stopped loving, even though I detest some of its institutional ways and behaviors.

Articles about the work of Richard Sipe




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Dear cousin, can we talk?

Dear Cousin –

Gump Meme from Marcus

Since you made public on Facebook this post based on a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump,” may I also comment publicly back to you, perhaps toward some serious dialogue?

As you may have seen in my blog post entitled “He Did It. Trump Broke My Family” (which I shared on Facebook without specific identification of my family members), I am very upset over the “zero tolerance” policy that separates immigrant children from their families. In fact, to the extent that you support that policy, then we need to talk about the barrier that creates between us. As of August 9, 2018, there were still 559 children separated from their parents in what will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in American history.

For my Clark family, embedded in the Catholic faith, that policy should be understood as morally wrong and an affront to the teachings of Our Lord. Jesus said a lot about welcoming the stranger, especially in Matthew 25:31-46. That passage, which we read at my late wife Claire Marie’s funeral back in 1990, is known somewhat ominously as “the judgment of nations” and ends with these words: “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’”

Is our nation ready to be judged by this standard? Yes, I know there are countless acts of individual charity by millions of caring Americans, but I think Jesus had justice on his mind when he spoke those words. Are we ready to subject our public policy – be it on immigrants or abortion – to a standard of justice such as this one?

In addition to what Jesus said, the “zero tolerance” policy denies United States of America legally-approved access to asylum for people fleeing dangerous situations, punishing desperate people for even trying. Our Attorney General and President have lost in court over their attempt to ignore or twist the law that applies to asylees.

As for abortion, Jesus said nothing about that specifically, although I agree with one biblical scholar who says “There’s an impetus in the Bible toward the protection of the innocent, protection for the weak, respect for life, respect for God’s creation.” I like that part of the Bible most of all. And so, it is our Catholic teaching developed over the time since Jesus was here with us that abortion is morally wrong – and we Catholics must consider the church’s teaching on this carefully. However, I offer the qualification that it is not for me as a Catholic to oppose, as a matter of law, the choice for an abortion – given the multiple complications possible. There is also the fact that not all faith traditions or conscientious persons of faith agree that life starts at conception and therefore abortion is wrong. You might want to consider, for example, a Jewish position on abortion. It is as complex as the issue itself, which is precisely what a blanket prohibition of outlawing abortion refuses to recognize.

That is ironic because many proponents of making abortion illegal have a lot to say about attacks on their religious liberty, but they fall silent about religious liberty when it comes to prohibiting the choice for abortion. Here they want to impose their religious belief on others and deny to others the liberty of exercising their religiously-informed consciences. If we are to live as some of our founders fleeing religious persecution intended, in a pluralistic society of many faith traditions, and not live in a theocracy governed by a slice of people calling themselves Christians who rule over us, then we must constantly affirm and negotiate religious liberty as it applies to how we govern ourselves, given the differences between us.

There is this, also. At the heart of it all this is a matter of individual conscience as to whether to carry a child to term, based on often complicated and very individual circumstances. Even our Catholic faith assigns a high priority to the individual’s conscience on all matters. In that sense it is the woman’s conscientious choice before God, if she believes in God, as do many who choose an abortion. A Catholic woman would have to consider the church’s teaching in coming to a conscientious decision, but the Catholic teaching opposing abortion (or for that matter, the condemnation of abortion by some evangelical Protestants) cannot be the “law of the land” without trampling on the deeply- and conscientiously-considered choice of women, Catholics and non-Catholics and non-believers alike.

Perhaps I can see things this way because my Dad was brought up in a Protestant faith tradition that was based on a “personal relationship” with God, or Jesus Christ, and a direct one at that, not mediated by any church hierarchy. He believed that one stood before God without need of any intercession by a church authority. He did convert to Catholicism, on behalf of Mom, but not until after his Church of God mother died, to spare her feelings. To the extent that he took on some of the top-down “rules” of the church after becoming Catholic, that had mixed results in terms of his remarrying, but that is another matter to discuss with you at another time.

So, here is how I see the abortion issue as a moral choice, in the broader “respect for life” context. We Christians have not done a very good job of convincing our fellow Americans that we respect life – given our quietude on perpetual war, our atrociously high military budgets such as the $717 Billion FY2019 budget that President Trump just signed (“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” – said President Eisenhower), our failure to maintain a real safety net for people in poverty or the elderly (such as massive cuts being proposed for Medicare, Social Security, food stamps and affordable housing), our silence in the face of police violence unfairly directed at African-Americans and other people of color, our support for the death penalty (although Pope Francis is trying to guide us away from that), and too little concern over a climate crisis that threatens all life on this Earth.

You do not have to agree with me that this list I just made is about “respect for life,” but many of our fellow citizens do, wanting to see a public policy that protects the poor and elderly and infirm among us, and they are not even Christian. That is why some see it as hypocritical for Christians to oppose abortion while allowing these other assaults on life to go by. In that sense we have not won the argument in the political square that would reduce abortions. We are trying to get to respect for life on the cheap – asking for what the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called in another context “cheap grace” (“the grace we bestow on ourselves”). We want to say that we respect the life of the unborn but then turn around and enact public policies that put lives of the living at risk of grave suffering and even death.

Winning the political fight on abortion, including by any politically coercive means necessary when it comes to Supreme Court appointments (see the blocking of Merrick Garland and now the fast-tracking of Brett Kavanagh), is a “cheap grace” form of self-gratification in my view, if we cannot show the Love of Christ in respect for life across the whole range of issues that I mentioned. If we showed what Cardinal Bernardin once called “a consistent ethic of life,” then we would be dealing with the matter of procreation and child-bearing in that context of love and a supportive, fully pro-life society – which would reduce abortions to a minimum, but also provide that they be safe and legal for any woman who decided that was her best choice. Yes, we can outlaw abortion again, make it criminal, but it will not solve any of the problems that underlie choices to have an abortion. That will take a more holistic approach to exhibiting our respect for life, including welcoming the stranger and standing against the forced separation of immigrant parents from their children.

Given that, Forrest Gump in this meme you have shared does not know what he is talking about, and he really should not have such words put into his mouth because his character was wiser than this meme conveys. The simplistic and false equivalency between “freaking out” over zero tolerance policy and “freaking out” over making abortion illegal again is meant as a pejorative accusation of hypocrisy against people with whom you disagree (if the posting of this meme means you are okay with taking children from their parents and in favor of making abortion legal). Moreover, the meme infers that people are acting only emotionally in both cases (“freaking out’), when in fact those who oppose zero tolerance and support legal abortion do so on deeply-considered principles and after having given both issues a great deal of thought.

Thus, as often happens in divisive political rhetoric these days, the accuser (of “freaking out”) is in fact the one who is showing by memes like this that it is they who are “freaking out.” The meme accuses others of the very behavior it exhibits. If I am wrong about that, then write back and tell me how you justify from the Gospels that we have been hearing all our lives that we should not welcome the stranger or that we have a right to separate parents from their children when they come seeking asylum from us. Think about those 559 or so children still unable to be with their parents. And while you are at it, tell me why we Catholic Christians get to tell other people – get to tell women, to be more specific – with their different deeply held religious or ethical principles, that we will strip them of their ability to choose an abortion according to the lights that guide them?

Surely you must have thought through these issues before you shared a meme such as this? Sorry to go on and on about a meme, but it just struck me as dangerous thinking to reduce our differences and our need to dialogue to this kind of false equivalency broadside.

Can we still dialogue about such matters?



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