The Catholic Left has been at a political disadvantage for decades. As a result, the Democratic Party has suffered the same disadvantage. As proponents of abortion on demand, the Catholic Left has struggled to influence Catholic voters, in spite of their dissent. In fact, transgressing the non-negotiable issues of the Church has become their stock in trade, now that the Catholic Left has added support for same-sex marriage.
The resulting dilemma is this: What non-negotiable can the Catholic Left hoist and wave to the Catholic voter to regain, at least, a veneer of legitimacy? Each presidential campaign since the 1980s has pitted the pro-abortion Democratic Party against the pro-life Republicans, giving the GOP a much-needed boost with Catholic voters, who historically have leaned toward the Democrats. This boost proved decisive in 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004, and 2016, but was a consistent thorn in the flesh for the Democrats, and remains so. The Catholic Left, therefore, has long needed a non-negotiable issue of its own to regain the legitimacy it has lost since Roe vs. Wade and Bill Clinton’s veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1996. The effort to create a non-negotiable issue began with “the poor,” as sacralized in Cardinal Bernadin’s 1983 speech on the so-called “seamless garment.”
However, this appeal never convinced the majority of Catholics who were riveted by the preaching of Saint John Paul the Great on the “Gospel of Life” (1995). His twenty seven year papacy made it clear to religiously active Catholics that abortion was not just one of many moral issues to be weighed equally against one another. In other words, a prudential matter such as social justice for the poor simply could not be regarded as a matter of non-negotiable choice. Why? Justice for the poor involves a variety of judgments and actions which may differ from person to person, community to community, but no one judgment or action trumps all others. Facing the abortion option, there is only one morally licit choice.
Benedict XVI added thirteen more years of the same theological rigor on moral matters. After the failure of seamless garment reasoning to take a firm hold among lay Catholics, the next opportunity for claiming a non-negotiable for Catholic Left was provided by the USCCB with its “Justice for Immigrants” program. It’s fair to say, in my opinion, the US bishops have made this their first priority since the ugly immigration reform debates of 2006. (Their pastoral letter, “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity In Diversity” had been published in 2001.) No doubt the collective effort of the bishops regarding “diversity” was an aid in the election of the first African-American president, Barack Obama. However, when the Catholic Left used immigration as a full court press against Donald Trump in the past election it failed miserably. During the campaign many bishops, priests, and Catholic pundits pounded Donald Trump for his vow to “build a WALL” along the Mexican border.
Such an intention was cruel and racist, an arrow in the heart of Catholic social teaching. The Catholic Left, including its bishops and priests, felt Pope Francis had given them permission to pummel Trump. In February 2016, just as Trump was gaining momentum, Pope Francis said of him, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.” The US bishops, with some notable exceptions, kept harrassing Trump about his “WALL” while remaining silent on the aggressively pro-abortion record of Hillary Clinton. But Catholic voters in 2016 did not fall in line with the bishop’s immigration mantra, rather the results — 52% for Trump, 45% for Clinton, demonstrated that Catholic voters were more concerned about other matters, namely, the Supreme Court, national security, fighting terrorism, Obamacare, and abortion.
Most of the bishops, like the mainstream media, were left in shock by election outcome, but the simple fact is this: The bishops were not of the same mind of most Catholic voters on any of these issues, not merely immigration. With immigration failing to win Catholic voters for the Clinton/Kaine ticket in 2016, and will fail again the future, given the growing alarm in European countries such as France, Sweden, and Germany over their open borders policy. Thus, the Catholic Left, once again, has to look elsewhere for a non-negotiable they can call their own. They are in the process of appropriating an issue that had already become an arrow in the quiver of leftwing politicians — climate change.
After all, the 2014 encyclical Laudate Si’ of Pope Francis provided the perfect cover, as least in ecclesial circles. Pope Francis explains why the “ecological crisis” is the purpose of his encyclical. “It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent….” (Laudate Si’ 15) Readers may remember that forty years earlier TIME announced in 1974 that the “Earth” was headed for another “Ice Age.”
With this apocalyptic warning, “global warming” was introduced to the public mind. The notion didn’t gain much popularity until the cause was taken up by former Vice President Al Gore in his 2006 film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” What Gore proclaimed as “inconvenient” was recognized has become extremely convenient for the Catholic Left because it represents a “life issue” they can embrace. After all, this was a matter of life and death, not merely of an unborn child, but of the entire human race and the whole planet. What could be more pro-life than that! What was called global warming, however, had to be discarded for “climate change” when the bogus content of Gore’s film, and the science backing it, was disclosed. Under the brand of “climate change,” the apocalyptic message of total annihilation was given new life, and millions of dollars in grant monies flowed to university scientists willing and able to read the data in conformity with a pre-determined outcome. To be labeled a climate change “denier” not only meant no grant money, or academic future, it became a moral stigma. (Because, after all, the only previously operative use of the term “denier” was connected with the Holocaust, making it obvious to anyone that extermination of Jews and disputing the findings of scientists are morally equivalent.) Further legitimizing the standing of climate change as a moral issue for Catholics was the climate change conference in April, 2015, hosted by Pope Francis. None of the so-called climate change deniers were allowed to attend.
The Catholic journalist Elizabeth Yore who attended the conference, or I should say tried, with the scientists from the Heartland Institute has chronicled their treatment. More importantly, Yore reveals that the Vatican’s chief “eco guru” on climate change is Jeffrey Sachs. As Yore explains, Sachs was the brain behind the UN Millennium Development Goals and a proponent of the UN Sustainable Goals, both of which rely heavily on abortion, sterilization, and contraception for it population control goals. Pope Francis, by the way, was “gratified” by the September 2015 passage of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, though one of the 17 goals calls on member states to “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health” by 2030. The logic is clear: If human beings are the cause of climate change, then having fewer people will enable the world to avoid catastrophe. It comes as no surprise, at least to me, that climate change advocacy walks hand in hand with the population controllers who kill the unborn, encourage women to undergo sterilization, and distribute contraceptives, including those using abortifacients. But why would Pope Francis invite such guests into the Vatican? Surely he knows they have more than climate change up their sleeves.
The Catholic Left has already voiced their criticism that climate change is not being embraced with the moral fervor it deserves. The outgoing president of the USCCB, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville was accused of dragging his feet, while Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago published a Chicago Sun Times (July 24, 2015) op-ed on the “moral obligation” to address climate change and pledged “to green all 2,700 church properties in his diocese.” Now the Climate Change Covenant is taking center stage as main player in re-scripting climate change as a non-negotiable. Formed in 2006, with help from the USCCB, the CCC boasts fourteen “national partners,” which include a Who’s Who of the Catholic Left: Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development (USCCB); Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB); Catholic Charities USA; Catholic Relief Services; Catholic Health Association of the United States; Columbian Center for Advocacy and Outreach; Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Carmelite NGO; Catholic Rural Life; Franciscan Action Network; Global Catholic Climate Movement; Holy Name Province, OFM; National Council of Catholic Women; Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry; Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
It’s episcopal liason is Bishop Richard Yates of Des Moines who during the election campaign published a column calling on all the candidates to address climate change and held a joint press conference with Davenport Bishop Martin Amos in front of a wind turbine, sponsored by the Climate Change Covenant. Those readers who think I am “crying wolf” should take note of the new Vatican guidelines concerning the education of future priests. “The Gift of the Priesthood” describes “the emerging planetary crisis” and the need for “protecting the environment and our common home – the Earth. . . . They constitute in some way the basis for a sound ecology of human relations (emphasis added). Criticizing both the skeptical and the indifferent, the document demand an “inner conversion,” specifically an “ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”
Thus, future priests will receive “requisite Magisterial and theological guidance.” Nothing is mentioned about who will supply the scientific findings the “planetary crisis” is based upon. Regardless of the truth or falsity of the science behind climate change, it remains a prudential matter in Catholic moral teaching, with varying viewpoints informing the judgment of each individual. But the difference between this attempt to construct a non-negotiable out of a prudential matters and those of the past is this: If the Apocalypticism of climate change ideology takes root, it will take on a life vs. death character. Under this disguise, climate change could take on a non-negotiable appearance, especially when wedded to the authority of the Church.
I am doubtful that “climate change” can become a non-negotiable for Catholics, since it is such a politicized and disputed topic to begin with. Tho, I can believe that it is Francis’ intent to make it so.
I surely hope you are right.