Today the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hosted a conference call for reporters with several Catholic partner organizations to announce the Catholic Climate Covenant, which is the Catholic contribution to the debate on how we respond to the challenge of global warming.

One aspect of the effort is a much publicized St Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor, which is being distributed via media and educational packages to all 17,000 Catholic parishes in the United States.

From the press release:

In taking the St Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor, Catholics promise to:

·         PRAY and reflect on the duty to care for God’s creation and the poor and vulnerable;

·         LEARN about and educate others on both the reality of climate change and its moral dimensions;

·         ASSESS their participation-as individuals and organizations-in contributing to climate change (i.e. consumption and conservation);

·         ACT to change their choices and behaviors contributing to climate change and;

·         ADVOCATE Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact the poor and vulnerable.

The idea is that Catholics who pray about the duty to protect God’s creation, which includes the environment and the poor, will then act upon it by learning more about the problem of climate change. Those who learn about climate change will be more likely to assess how they are contributing to the problem, and so on. With around 67 million members of the Catholic Church in the US, any significant proportion becomes a huge pool of activists.

The conference call itself was a coordinated lineup of representatives from a series of major Catholic organizations. Bishop William S. Skylstad, the former chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke passionately of the call for Catholics to live up to this collective challenge, asking, “How does our Catholic community and our nation care for those most affected by impacts and remedies of climate change and reduce harmful behaviors impacting God’s gift of creation?”

Dr. Elaine Bauer, VP of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, pointed out that as the largest chain of non-profit hospitals in the country, not only do Catholic hospitals share much of the burden in responding to human suffering caused by extreme weather conditions and an increased disease vector brought on by climate change, but also a responsibility to change their own carbon footprint.

Bill O’Keefe of Catholic Relief Services and Kathy Brown of Catholic Charities both reiterated the points made elsewhere that the major share of suffering brought on by climate change will be (and already has been) borne by citizens of the poorest and least developed nations as well as the poorest here in the United States.

John Zogby did some polling on behalf of the umbrella group, and when the results are up, I’ll post them. He did say that 55 percent of the 1,001 Catholics polled between March 30 and April 14 believed global warming and climate change were serious problems. Also, 60 percent of respondents felt confident that climate change must be addressed immediately, that we know enough now to act. The most responsive subsample was apparently Hispanic Catholics. He also firmly believed that this was an issue that swung Catholics toward Obama and the Democratic Party in the last election.

I’ll be curious to see how this progresses. The House is considering legislation right now, and all members of Catholic Climate Covenant stressed that as a community they would be very involved in holding all elected leaders to account. But precisely what they would be holding them accountable for is not clear, as they offered no specifics on the call. They did stress repeatedly that they were concerned that much of the effort to stop climate change should involve alleviating the suffering of the poor, and that the faith community as a whole would find it difficult to support a bill that did not provide revenue streams for rebates on higher energy prices, for weatherizing homes and building energy efficient affordable housing, and employing people in poverty stricken communities as well as providing international adaptation funds. They did add that together with representatives of other faiths, they had met with Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy Committee, and he was very receptive and engaging on their concerns.

So again, I’m very interested to see how this all proceeds. I would like to see specifics down to the parish level to see if Catholics are both getting this message loud and clear and responding in a concerted effort. But I am hopeful. This is a very united US Catholic Church moving forward, not just some bishops with a strong point of view, and they in turn are responding in part to Pope Benedict XVI’s and his predecessor Pope John Paul II’s teachings on “creation care.”

Here’s the video that accompanies the launch of this campaign: