Washington, Sept. 20, 2019: Young people take part at a climate rally. (CNS/Reuters/Erin Scott)
Panelists at Georgetown University recently stated that young Catholics are frustrated by the silence of church leaders on climate change and other environmental concerns. They could make a huge contribution by pressing bishops into committing dioceses net-zero emissions.
The idea came during a WebinarApril 27 hosted by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life
The conversation highlighted the dissatisfaction expressed by young Catholics, along with others, about how bishops or priests have largely failed engage church teachings regarding creation care and have so far approached climate change less a matter of moral significance and more as a political flashpoint that should be avoided.
Anna Robertson, director of youth mobilization and young adult mobilization for Catholic Climate Covenant, cited recent polling by the Springtide Research Institute that showed 74% of young Catholics (ages13-25) are concerned about environment issues. A separate survey by The Lancet, a British medical journal, found that 84% of global young people (16-25 years old) are concerned about climate change. Half of them report negative effects on their daily lives.
Robertson stated that this was a major concern and a pastoral crisis for the church. “Young people want to see their joys, hopes, and griefs reflected in the church and embraced.
That has not happened yet in the context of climate change.
A Last year’s study by researchers at Creighton University that reviewed 12,000 bishop columns from 2014 to 2019 — a period spanning one year before and four after Pope Francis issued his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” — found less than 1%, or 93, mentioned climate change. Bishops addressed the issues of religious freedom, abortion and gender equality more than 1,500 times.
Dan DiLeo, a Creighton theologian and one of the researchers, stated that the results show that the U.S. bishops are failing to share the fullness of Catholic faith, including teachings about creation care dating back as far as the Book of Genesis and St. Francis of Assissii, and articulated by every pope after Paul VI.
DiLeo stated that Catholics should not only recognize a moral responsibility to address climate change but also that the church has an “extraordinary opportunity to take action” through its vast structure, network of schools, parishes, and other health care centers.
He said, “I think the most important thing that young Catholics could do, frankly, it is to advocate for the bishop to commit the diocese towards net-zero emission.”
About two dozen U.S. Catholic diocesan dioceses have so far expressed their commitment to the Vatican. Laudato Si’ Action PlatformMultiyear churchwide initiative that responds to Francis’ call in his encyclical to all people to better care for the environment. It recommends that Catholic institutions achieve carbon neutrality. This is where emissions are reduced to zero, or balanced with carbon offset programs.
The United States isn’t the only place where bishops have stopped talking about climate change. Suzana Moreira is a Brazilian theologian and coordinator of the Laudato SI’ Movement’s eco conversion programs. She said that she was always concerned about her bodies when she attended youth ministry events.
She stated that “the social and environmental teachings in our church are just like important as the Catholic teaching on homosexuality.”
The Georgetown conversation brought together voices across generations, continents, and roles.
Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life hosted a conversation on April 27 about “Young Catholics and climate change: Living Laudato Si’.” From top left to bottom, Sharon Lavigne and moderator Anna Gordon are pictured with Suzana Moreira, Anna Robertson, Dan DiLeo and Suzana Moeira. (Georgetown University)
Sharon LavigneRise St. James is a grassroots environmental justice group founded by a grandmother of twelve in southern Louisiana. She shared her story about fighting against highly polluting plants in a region of the state known “Cancer Alley.”
“We’ve lived here all of our life, and we didn’t realize that industry could be so powerful and was poisoning the people of St. James, especially the fifth district,” she stated.
Lavigne, Who will be receiving the Laetare medal from the University of Notre Dame in the latter part of this month?According to, the high levels of pollution and cancer in the area from nearby polluting industries have made her community “a sacrifice” and threatens the ancestral lands she and others had hoped for future generations.
Lavigne said that it was crucial to educate children in schools and religion about environmental issues such as those facing her community. She has also discussed the topic with Baton Rouge Bishop Michael Duca.
She stated, “We must educate the people about what’s happening.”
Panelists agreed that young Catholics should meet with their bishop to discuss climate change. They also discussed ways to find inspiration and hope amid the anxiety and despair that often accompany climate change.
Moreira stated that she was inspired to become a Laudato Si’ Movement animator by a group of her friends from Rio de Janeiro. She offered advice to young climate leaders in America, saying that they should “not forget to pray, but don’t forget about partying,” meaning to keep their work in prayer and make time for celebrations of life, as well as small victories in climate activism and action. Another idea is to learn a second language.
Robertson invited young Catholics from all faiths to join the Covenant’s youth programs. This includes a planned legislative initiative with U.S. senators. Robertson encouraged her peers to engage in whatever action was taken, while also “calling for the church to step up its game.”
She said that despite dire predictions about climate change and the future of humanity, it is important to remember that we are not in despair.
“We are not beyond redemption when it comes to the climate fight. Robertson stated that we can be a beneficial species on Earth.
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