July 8, 2009 Update
This Tuesday, the Vatican released the Holy Father's third encyclical letter, "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth), emphasizing that "charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples." Focused primarily on international economic issues, Pope Benedict calls for a "true world political authority" to promote the common good of all and for "greater social responsibility" by businesses.
In this context, Benedict XVI devotes the fourth chapter of the encyclical to "The development of people, rights and duties, the environment." Here, the pope says that, "The environment is God's gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole."
"In nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God's creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation."
Benedict warns against seeing nature as more important than people. But neither should the opposite be held as true: "which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a 'grammar' which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation."
The problem of unequal distribution of non-renewable energy is a global responsibility and, "Here we are dealing with major issues; if they are to be faced adequately, then everyone must responsibly recognize the impact they will have on future generations, particularly on the many young people in the poorer nations, who ask to assume their active part in the construction of a better world.'"
The Catholic response to climate change as articulated by the Vatican and the U.S. Catholic bishops and carried out through the partners who are members of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change has always been about the care of creation and protection of those most vulnerable to climate impacts. Pope Benedict reinforces these twin goals: "the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet."
The document goes on to say: "The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction…the ecological system is based on respect for a plan that affects both the health of society and its good relationship with nature."
Here is the full text of Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical.
Information from the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.