In this podcast, a leading Catholic campaigner on climate change and bio-diversity, Fr Sean McDonagh SCC, explains why the Church should be in the forefront of the struggle to protect our natural environment.

[display_podcast] This podcast made available from Vatican Radio



The following biography and summary of Fr McDonagh’s extensive published work was written by Fr Michael Gormly, Columban Centre for Mission Reflection,Wellington New Zealand. It appeared on the website of ‘Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice‘ Fr McDonagh was a speaker at their 2009 gathering in Washington DC

Introducing Sean McDonagh

Sean McDonagh writes and lectures on the relationship between faith, justice and ecology. He became involved in tackling global poverty and environmental degradation during his missionary years in the Philippines. His research and writings have since extended to species extinction, fresh water depletion, the patenting of life forms by the corporate world, and making a connection between global warming and poverty.

In his more recent writing and lectures Sean declares that global warming is the biggest issue facing agriculture over the next 50 years. For him it is a moral and religious issue because taking no action will mean suffering and death. He calls politicians to stop bowing to vested interests. He urges the churches to join the debates with more commitment. Unless attitudes change the well-being of millions will be undermined and future generations will be condemned to live on an inhospitable planet.

On the relationship between faith, justice and ecology, he strongly urges the church to take up John Paul II’s challenge to undergo ‘ecological conversion. As he sketches the theological and social justice aspects of such issues, he keeps advocating that environmental justice be a core Catholic activity. He calls church people to play a central role in raising awareness on the moral aspects of global warming, holding that while climate change is a technical, scientific and economic issue, ultimately it is a moral one.

The following paragraphs introduce some of the major themes from Sean McDonagh’s books on ecology, justice and religion:

Care for the Earth (1986)

Sean’s experience in the Philippines as a missionary priest alerted him to the danger that threatens the Earth in terms of an environmental catastrophe. Awareness of the crisis has grown, and many groups call for profound changes in the way human beings relate to the natural world. Sean notes that Christian churches have been slow to give a lead in this crucial area, and examines some of the reasons why. He traces the cosmology and theology that underlie our modern thinking about the place of the human in relation to the rest of the earth community and finds it wanting on a number of counts. In a passionate appeal for a new theology, he looks for a new story of creation and finds it in the writings of Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry. This leads him in turn to take a fresh look at the Bible and to highlight the rich spirituality in Christian tradition as a response to the gift of creation. He offers new insights into sacramental practice, contemplative prayer and missionary responses. Above all, he seeks a new appreciation for the sacredness of the Earth.

The Greening of the Church (1990)

Next, Sean unpacked some of the theological and pastoral implications of his earlier passionate appeal to the church to respond to the ecological crisis facing the Earth. He linked together the controversies surrounding the stranglehold of international debt on the Third World, the crisis of over-population and the destruction of the rainforest. In the Christian context, the events unfolding in front of our eyes call for a choice between living in a way that enhances all life, or continuing to hurtle down the road to disaster. This book showed how and why we must hand on our precious heritage to the next generations.

Passion for the Earth(1994)

Sean then focused on the fact that modern economic patterns of production, distribution, consumption, trade and development are taxing and even breaching the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. This is a very serious indictment as it entails diminishing life on Earth for all future generations of humans and other creatures. The constant teaching of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is that the goods of this world are meant to sustain all human life on earth. The thrust of the Gospel is in favour of life. The cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth challenge the dominant institutions in our society, especially the church. If abundant life for all is to be attained, then every institution, including religious institutions, must begin to bring ideas about justice, peace and integrity of creation into the very core of its message as a matter of urgency.

Greening the Christian Millennium (1999)

Next, Sean asked what help the Christian tradition gives towards understanding the environmental concerns of our time. Can Christianity help us understand green issues? Can our faith be a source of energy, helping us to tackle the enormous problems facing our world today? This book included chapters on global warming, a Green Christology, nuclear power, ethics and genetic engineering, third world debt and further suggestions for a Catholic response to the global environmental crisis.

Why are We Deaf to the Cry of the Poor? (2001)

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. We are destroying our air, water and the life-giving quality of sunlight. Every part of the globe and every ecosystem has been affected. In some situations, like the extinction of species, it is irreversible. Unfortunately, church leaders of all traditions, in common with their counterparts in the educational, industrial, political and financial establishments, have been slow to understand the magnitude of the destruction and the urgency with which we must halt environmental degradation and heal the Earth.

Patenting Life? Stop! (2003)

The question arises: is corporate greed forcing us to eat genetically engineered foods? This book argued that transnational corporations are promoting biotechnology in agriculture even though many independent scientists have genuine fears about the safety of foods produced by current genetic engineering technology. Other scientists argue that GE agriculture will have a major negative impact on the environment and will further undermine biodiversity. Patenting Life? Stop! Shows how corporations stifle supervision by public authorities or criticism by the scientific community. If the coporations are successful, a handful of them will control the seeds of all staple crops globally. This would be a nightmare for food security. The claim to patent life is a break with all previous cultural and religious traditions and an affront to them. Sean contends that the rush to patent life will devalue all life and, instead of feeding the world, will exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.

Dying for Water(2003)

Sean here detailed the causes and consequences of an environmental problem that is set to become a major crisis of the 21st century. Human activity is polluting waters in rivers, lakes and oceans around the world. Water quality has deteriorated dramatically. However, water is not only an environmental issue; conflicts between countries over access to water are becoming common. He examined these issues in the light of the role of water in Christian tradition.

The Death of Life : The Horror of Extinction (2004)

Sean considers many habitats under threat of destruction, such as coral reefs and mangrove forests, well as the different types of species threatened. This passionate book is a plea for action before it is too late to save 11,000 species currently under threat of extinction. Again, Sean looks at the position of the church on these issues, and especially the work of Thomas Berry. He follows the historical relationship between church and nature, with a section on current Catholic teaching, plus Celtic spirituality. The final section is one of hope, looking at how different organisations and cultures might proceed in order to preserve biodiversity and save the many habitats and species currently under threat.

Climate Change : The Challenge to Us All (2006)

In his latest book, Sean describes how the threat of climate change comes about and shows the consequences of global warming. He then examines various responses to global warming and questions various solutions. Finally he examines how the churches have responded to this threat to date and calls for a wider ecological pastoral approach to minstry, respecting both social teaching and good science. Again, Sean writes with passion and a deep sense of urgency. As individuals and as institutions, we must make choices in favour of life. This is a prophetic call, calling for a radical change in the way we view ourselves in relation to the rest of creation.

Author – Fr Michael Gormly, Columban Centre for Mission Reflection,Wellington New Zealand.