The Cath­o­lic agenda for the Supreme Court

The Rev. Bernard Survil: The Cath­o­lic agenda for the Supreme Court


We hear a great deal about the Catholic Church’s agenda to overturn Roe v. Wade, with Judge Amy Coney Barrett as our latest agent to achieve it. President Donald Trump even said at the White House announcement of Judge Barrett as the nominee, “The Catholic Church is very well united on this. They are so thrilled that Amy was chosen.”

In reality, we will be thrilled when the Supreme Court upholds laws that care for people across the whole spectrum of life. As Catholics, our concerns include helping vulnerable and low-income people with health care, welcoming immigrants with dignity, and protecting our air, water, and climate. I see especially that the federal courts recently have stood in the way of policies to save lives by reducing pollution.

I am a priest who has been participating in the broad and deep Catholic mission in society for many decades. I have watched climate change grow as a moral concern for the church. Back in 1990, when I was pastoring a rural Guatemalan parish, St. Pope John Paul II declared that the “‘greenhouse effect’ has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth ... I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”

It is immoral and unimaginative that we still burn vast quantities of dirty fuel, leading to the deaths of 200,000 Americans each year from particulate pollution, largely from coal-fired power plants. At the same time, climate disruption is exacerbating wildfires and hurricanes, threatening lives and livelihoods on a grand scale. There is no reason we have to accept this loss of life as a matter of course while we have bountiful clean energy available. God gave humanity an abundant Earth that we might choose life, not death.

Pope Francis, following the moral leadership of his predecessors, issued the highest-level teaching — an encyclical called “Laudato Si” — five years ago about morality and ecology. He wrote clearly: “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications.”

The pope asserted the truth that should be evident to all of us: There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

Pope Francis has boldly urged international cooperation on climate change. His encyclical “Laudato Si,” released six months before the 2015 Paris climate talks, was widely regarded as extremely influential to its success. The U.S. Catholic bishops echoed the popes on the grave moral threat of climate change, with a special focus on advocating for a policy called the Clean Power Plan. This plan provided the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants and was the cornerstone of our nation’s commitment to the world in the Paris climate agreement.

The Supreme Court, however, has at times been on the wrong side of history and morality. In a 5-4 decision in 2016, it put a surprising halt to the Clean Power Plan. Confusingly, this decision came several years after it ruled that the U.S. has a responsibility to regulate carbon pollution through the Clean Air Act.

In the near future, many other commonsense regulations to stabilize the climate and prevent deaths from pollution will come before the federal courts. These include the Clean Car Standards, Methane Pollution Standards, and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which together will save tens of thousands of lives from dirty particulate pollution and mercury poison in our air and water.

Recently, Pope Francis released his third encyclical, called “Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship.” In it, he addresses a range of life issues: building solidarity across the human family; protecting the poor, vulnerable and unborn; caring for immigrants; defending the environment; and ending war and the death penalty.

The Catholic mission is to protect all life. We must question if there is a political agenda behind reducing our teaching and our mission to simply overturning Roe v. Wade.

The Rev. Bernard Survil is active with the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests and is based in Greensburg.

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