The One-Year Anniversary of Laudato Si’- – Where is Bishop Zubik?

(Dateline: June 21, 2016)

 Saturday, June 18 marked the one year anniversary of the release of an encyclical that was intended to get the entire world, especially the Roman Catholic world, talking about and taking action on climate change as a moral imperative.

About a month before the anniversary I asked a diocesan official if Bishop Zubik would be doing a special event to mark the anniversary of Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis’ path breaking encyclical about climate change. Here is what she said:

 “Typically, the Church marks significant anniversaries of Papal Encyclicals, such as the 25th or the 50th” she said, adding this: “I am not sure of definitive plans at this point.”

“I wish you the very best in your noble endeavor to care for God’s creation,” she said.

All across the world in the week leading up to the anniversary, and especially in poor communities likely to be hit hardest and first by climate change, Catholics gathered as part of the Global Catholic Climate Movement to mark the anniversary, committing to take action toward sustaining the planet for future generations. However, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh there will be no such public acknowledgement of the anniversary of Laudato Si’ according to the diocesan official with whom I have been communicating for several months.

An Associate General Secretary of the General Secretariat of the Diocese of Pittsburgh had called me into her office last February after I circulated to parishes in the diocese a blog post about the experience I had at St. James Catholic Church in Sewickley.

My pastor at St. James had told me emphatically “end of discussion” as I pressed him on why we could not have a study group on Laudato Si’ or a sermon or two about it.  He said that he would preach on the subject only when the Bishop and the Vicars of the diocese told him to do so.

Obviously the topic is a sensitive one in an area built on fossil fuels. This region of western Pennsylvania is going full bore on building a new cracker plant in Monaca and stringing pipelines to carry fracked gas to export terminals to sell it abroad. These kinds of economic development projects will lock in dangerous and polluting shale gas extraction for the next 50 years.

Many people in fossil fuel industries are pillars of their local Catholic parishes and major contributors to church coffers, so this is a sensitive topic indeed.

When we met six months ago, the official and I started our meeting with prayer, and we ended it with prayer. In between we talked about how the diocesan website resources on Laudato Si’ were good insofar as their content, although (in my view) were not enough to reach the people of the diocese.

“Who reads the diocesan website?” I asked. “Where is the Bishop Zubik’s letter on the encyclical to be read from the pulpits?” We brainstormed about how the bishop might make an address to Catholic schoolchildren to communicate the essential themes of the Pope’s encyclical. That was encouraging.

Then she sent me away with some pastoral letters that the bishop had sent to parishes of the diocese as examples of his leadership. I read through those. I searched the PDFs for a single mention of climate change. Nothing there.

Next came weeks of silence as I pressed the official about marking the anniversary with an event to be convened by Bishop Zubik, as we had discussed.  Finally she answered that the bishop did have the Vicar General share information with pastors to assist them in marking the anniversary.

I asked her if I could see the email that the Vicar General had sent out, but she was not at liberty to share it. “Is it a state secret?” I asked her, but now she has gone silent again.

As to the answer she did give me, the problem with marking the encyclical’s anniversary at 25 years from its release (2040) is that the planet is warming rapidly. “We are currently headed into uncharted waters when it comes to the rate of climate change we are now seeing” says Michael Mann at Penn State’s Earth System Science Center.  Arctic warming is expected to rise by 1.1°F per decade by 2040. Sea levels will continue to rise and cause widespread flooding and loss of coastlines.

“Present climate is warming to a level associated with significant polar ice-sheet loss in the past.” Dr. Andreas Dutton, a geochemist at the University of Florida, states that “Once these ice sheets start to melt, the changes become irreversible.”

It is time, past time, for Bishop Zubik to do his own pastoral letter on climate change. Pope Francis needs his help. We all need his leadership.

See also:

About jstephencleghorn

My name is Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn. I am now a resident of Baltimore, MD. I continue to own a 50-acre certified organic farm in Jefferson County, PA that I operated with my late wife Lucinda between 2005 and 2011 when she passed away from cancer. The farm is now under lease to organic farmers and protected by "The Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez Conservation Easement” which protects it for organic agriculture and against the threats of industrial development that would violate the Rights of Nature. The blog’s name is taken from the writings of Saint Augustine who believed “Hope” to be the greatest of spiritual gifts. And, says Saint Augustine, Hope has two lovely daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger so that what must not be may not be; courage so that what should be can be. Anger and Courage. Now in late 2016, after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, these are the spiritual gifts that must come to the fore if we are to have “Hope” for a loving culture and a sustainable world for future generations. When I first created this blog it was focused on the extreme form of fossil fuel extraction known as “fracking” that was threatening much of the state of Pennsylvania and many other parts of the United States. At the root of that struggle was and is a struggle to halt and reverse climate change. Now the struggle has turned to resisting an incoming Trump Administration that is an existential threat to the climate with its plans to ramp up extraction and use of fossil fuels. This blog will be about having the courage to stand up to the massive global corporations that would ruin our planet and its climate, take their profits and leave the mess to future generations of to clean up. We need to rise up, my friends, and be not afraid.
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2 Responses to The One-Year Anniversary of Laudato Si’- – Where is Bishop Zubik?

  1. gneustadt says:

    An excellent article Stephen! The Bishop should be ashamed of himself and should spread the word of the Pope not defend, in any way, the power of an evil empire! Was Christ afraid to speak out against tyranny? I think not. Was Christ representing the wealthy 1%? I think not. Did Christ turn his back on the relationship between man and God? Heavens NO! Come on Bishop Zubik, get with the real program, God’s plan not the industry’s plan. We want wine representing Christ’s blood at Mass, not Kool Aid served up by the propagandists who want to suck the life blood out of our earth, pollute our drinking water and foul the air we breathe!

  2. Russell L. Jenkins says:

    “We all need his [Bishop Zubik] leadership.” The Bishops ordained over the past 30 years, under Popes John Paul II and Benedict were not selected because of their leadership skills. Quite the opposite, they were selected because of poor leadership skills. They are followers, not leaders. Exactly what those two Popes wanted, mindless followers who would do what they were told by the Vatican. You will have to wait for Pope Francis to leave his mark on our Church before you can expect any leaders in the USCCB.

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