A Vision of Justice in Catholic Higher Education- Part I
By Daniel R. DiLeo
This fall, the Catholic Climate Covenant (CatholicClimateCovenant.org), of which the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) is a partner, is helping to coordinate care for creation events at nine Catholic colleges and universities. These events will highlight authentic Catholic teaching about care for creation and climate change, lift up the Catholic mission-based sustainability efforts of host campuses and their dioceses, and motivate faith-based advocacy around the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ support for national carbon pollution rules. In doing so, these events will also help illustrate principles and ideas from A Vision of Justice: Engaging Catholic Social Teaching on the College Campus, a recently published book edited by two members of ACCU’s peace and justice advisory committee.
In the introduction to A Vision of Justice, editors Susan Crawford Sullivan and Ron Pagnucco state that the book “aims to introduce Catholic Social Teaching (CST) to a new generation of students” in Catholic higher education. Toward this end, the book’s authors “explore what CST says on a number of pressing issues of our times and provide concrete examples of students, faculty, and staff at Catholic colleges and universities putting teaching into action” (xi).
Like CST itself, A Vision of Justice is a unified whole, the parts of which can nevertheless be separately considered. With this in mind, this essay will reflect on how the Covenant-supported care for creation events will put into practice the ideas explored in the chapter titled, “The State and Civil Society in Catholic Social Teaching” by David L. Coleman. In October, a second essay will consider how these care for creation events will animate the theme of another chapter, “Care for Creation” by Bernard F. Evans. It is the hope of both ACCU and the Covenant that these articles will inspire Catholic colleges and universities to further integrate Catholic Social Teaching into their ministry.
In his chapter, Coleman outlines how the Church understands its relationship to the state and civil society. Coleman observes that the Church is called to love all persons, and that CST thus seeks to promote authentic human flourishing. Additionally, Coleman points out that the Church understands such flourishing to be rooted in the common good by virtue of humanity’s social nature. Moreover, Coleman highlights the Church’s awareness that both the state and civil society can promote and suppress the common good. As such, Coleman points out that in the Church’s teaching Catholics can—and must—engage in political advocacy guided by CST.
One example of engaging with the state and civil society to promote the common good involves advocacy related to the CST principle of care for creation. The Catholic Church has explicitly accepted the reality of human-caused climate change. In addition, the Church has repeatedly recognized climate change as a moral issue that threatens to compromise multiple CST commitments (e.g., care for God’s creation, human life and dignity, and the option for the poor and vulnerable). Based on this, the Church has recurrently called on people of faith and goodwill to address this challenge through national and international policies.
The most recent example: On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) proposed the Clean Power Plan to regulate climate-changing carbon pollution from existing power plants. The EPA is now accepting public comments about the plan until October 15, and some members of Congress are expected to attempt to obstruct the plan.
Shortly before the proposed plan’s release, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent a letter to the EPA regarding carbon pollution rules. Guided by Church teaching on both political advocacy and climate change, the bishops wrote that they “recognize the importance of finding means to reduce carbon pollution” and articulated a CST-based ethical framework to guide subsequent policy deliberations.
Since the plan was proposed, Most Reverend Thomas G. Wenski, Archbishop of Miami and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Most Reverend Richard E. Pates, Bishop of Des Moines and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, sent a second letter to the EPA, stating in part that the bishops “welcome the setting of standards to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants” and reiterating the USCCB’s CST-based ethical framework for carbon pollution rules.
Animated by this advocacy, the Catholic Climate Covenant has created a webpage through which persons of faith can submit comments to the EPA and advocate that the plan adhere to the USCCB’s CST-based ethical framework. In addition, the Covenant will soon publish a second webpage through which Catholics can urge elected officials to support a national limit on carbon pollution.
In order to share this CST-based advocacy with Catholic colleges and universities, the Covenant is helping coordinate care for creation events at ten ACCU member institutions: Saint Louis University (MO), Saint Francis University (PA), College of Saint Benedict (MN), Duquesne University (PA), Marymount University (VA), University of Dayton (OH), Villanova University (PA), Mount St. Joseph University (OH), John Carroll University (OH, date TBD), and Saint Anselm College (NH, date TBD). Please see the calendar for the dates of these events.
Although particular event formats will vary slightly, each will include a panel of speakers who will address various issues. Among the topics are Catholic teaching on care for creation; the mainstream consensus on climate change science; environmental justice, that is, the connection between environmental degradation and poverty; and Catholic advocacy around the Clean Power Plan. Each event will engage both the campus and local diocesan community through panel presentations, and among the confirmed speakers are a bishop, diocesan Catholic Social Action and Catholic Campaign for Human Development staff, university sustainability coordinators, faculty, a retired rear admiral (and former director of the U.S. Navy Task Force on Climate Change), and Catholic Climate Covenant staff.
Through these events, the Covenant and select ACCU universities will put the principles of “The State and Civil Society in Catholic Social Teaching” into action by outlining Church teaching on political engagement, presenting USCCB advocacy on a particular issue, and offering Catholic college and university community members a faith-based advocacy opportunity. In doing so, the Covenant and the participating institutions will bring the themes found in A Vision of Justice into clearer focus.
Daniel R. DiLeo is Project Manager of the Catholic Climate Covenant. He is also a Flatley Fellow and Ph.D. student in theological ethics at Boston College, and writes regularly for both Millennial Journal and Political Theology Today. To inquire about how your institution can become a Catholic Climate Covenant Partner, e-mail email@example.com.