Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 16, 2009
Bouchard stands in the Church's prophetic tradition
Oil industry reluctant to take moral stands; bishop is not
Journey to Justice
George Monbiot, Britain’s leading green commentator, recently asked Jeroen van de Veer, the CEO of Shell Oil, a straightforward question. When he received no reply, the intrepid journalist tried again . . . six times! Still, the boss of this energy behemoth was unable to furnish a reply.
Monbiot’s question was, “Is there an investment you would not make, on ethical grounds?”
Bishop Luc Bouchard of St. Paul has asked a similar question of his diocese, but also of all Canadians in his recent pastoral letter, The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands. The bishop’s respectful and well-documented reflection placed the ecological crisis squarely in its place – as a moral issue.
And moral concerns, we all know, do not remain exclusively in the terrain of the experts or locally-affected people – they touch us all and demand a response from everyone. In effect, Bouchard’s pastoral letter asked if there was any greater good than the boom economy created by the (until recently) frenetic pace of oilsands developments.
I was thrilled to read this statement of a pastor who had so judiciously reflected on the reality of his land and people in the light of Catholic social and moral thought.
LACK OF GRACIOUSNESS
Unfortunately, some of the negative commentary that ensued lacked graciousness. From Calgary, someone wrote, “If God was so concerned about the environment, then why is he naturally leaking all of the oil out of the banks into the Athabasca River upstream of communities?”
From Edmonton, “Tell the bishop to mind his own business, he should focus on trying to make the Church relevant again rather than trying to make government policy.”
Another wag stated, “Yes, he is entitled to his opinion . . . point taken, now back to church, eh?”
These types of responses show that not every commentator had bothered to read the bishop’s careful letter. Nor do all Canadians understand the role of good religious practice in the social and political sphere.
Describing the Church’s social teaching on the environment by referencing eight Foundational Catholic Theological Principles Supporting Environmental Ethics, referring to over 40 pastoral letters on ecology from bishops around the globe, quoting the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and statements of the Canadian bishops, Bouchard looked at the environmental and social costs of oilsands development in his diocese.
In summary, he said, “I am forced to conclude that the integrity of creation in the Athabasca oilsands is clearly being sacrificed for economic gain. The proposed future development of the oilsands constitutes a serious moral problem. . . . The present pace and scale of development in the Athabasca oilsands cannot be morally justified.”
As soon as I read Bishop Bouchard’s pastoral letter, I wanted Tony Clarke’s opinion. Clarke was director of social affairs for the Catholic bishops from 1975 until 1994.
During this period he worked on a series of social justice declarations of the Canadian bishops including Northern Development: At What Cost? (1975) and Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis (1983). In late 2008, Clarke authored Tar Sands Showdown: Canada and the New Politics of Oil in an Age of Climate Change.
“Here we have a bishop who is prepared to stand once again in the prophetic tradition of the Gospel and speak the truth to those in power today about the Alberta tarsands,” Clarke said.
“This is not simply another energy project but a colossal industrial enterprise which has the international reputation of becoming the most environmentally destructive development on the planet. Like the building of the CPR, the Alberta tarsands will likely determine Canada’s destiny as a nation in the 21st century.”
In May, a Church leaders’ fact finding mission organized by the ecumenical social justice organization KAIROS, will travel to the oilsands. Winnipeg’s Archbishop Jim Weisgerber, the CCCB president, is planning to make the trip. I advised him to share Bouchard’s pastoral letter with the delegation as required reading for their preparation.
As Tony Clarke summarized, “Hopefully, Bishop Bouchard’s pastoral letter will serve as a rallying cry for Catholics and other Christians to join the emerging social movement that’s calling for a moratorium on the tarsands before it is too late.”
(Joe Gunn is the executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)
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