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Sunday, December 10, 2023

President Biden’s commitment to environmental and social justice are perfectly aligned with Catholic values

In parallel with the pope, U.S. must address the impacts of environmental issues on BIPOC communities

On Jan. 22, 2021, President Joe Biden became only the second Catholic president in history, with former President John F. Kennedy being the first. While I personally have no qualms with an Irish Catholic president named Joe, a lot of fundamentalist Catholics in the media and the church have slammed Biden for his moderate approach to issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. The claim that Biden is not Catholic because of his stance on these issues, which I have repeatedly heard over the past few weeks, is incredibly offensive and absurd.

I’ve been a practicing Catholic my entire life. I attended only Catholic schools until I set foot on campus at Davis, and I truly believe in the underlying values which Catholicism encourages. With that in mind, I do not think it is in any way “un-Christian” to criticize Catholic stances or to disagree with them. The church has repeatedly been wrong on many issues—going so far as putting Galileo under house arrest for promoting the theory that the Sun was the center of the solar system, not the Earth. 

Biden’s Catholicism is more in line with the intent of Catholicism in the first place, but you’ll need a bit of background to understand that. Traditionally, Catholicism has been rooted in what would be considered today as “conservative beliefs,” while also being on the fringe of American religious society. With the great social change of the ‘60s, the Catholic Church called together the Second Vatican Council in an attempt to modernize the church. Vatican II made sweeping changes to the church: getting rid of many outdated practices, calling for unity among the Christian churches of the world and, most importantly, officially recognizing the importance of religious freedom under democracy. 

Biden’s brand of Catholicism stems from the culture of deep systemic and progressive change that is best encapsulated by Vatican II. Although a turning point, Vatican II is not unique in the church’s history. From Saint Ignatius to Pope Francis, there have been progressive Catholics throughout the church’s history. And surprisingly, they didn’t always end up excommunicated or dead in a ditch. Pope Francis specifically has been criticized for his stances on a wide variety of topics ranging from gay marriage to the environment. In fact, Pope Francis’ first solo encyclical argues the importance of environmental justice and forming a global movement to fight climate change. This encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” was inspired by his namesake, Saint Francis, and argues that the governments of the world must address the systemic inequalities perpetuated by unregulated capitalism.

In his encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis said, “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world.”

He continued, “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption.”

This is a radical statement coming from the pope himself. It cements the fact that Biden’s commitment to environmental and social justice are perfectly in line with Catholic values. As an Irish Catholic myself, I find it incredibly frustrating when I see Catholics argue against radical climate action. If a directive from the pope can’t convince Catholics that we need immediate climate action, then I don’t know what will. 

An essential component of the pope’s directive is the importance of addressing the impacts of climate change on disenfranchised communities. In America, this means addressing the impacts of environmental issues on Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, who are often disproportionately affected by pollution, climate change and environmental racism. It is the responsibility of Catholics and non-Catholics alike to call and take action for immediate systemic change.

Written by: Joe Sweeney — jmsweeney@ucdavis.edu 
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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