Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Dead fish float on the Confuso River in Villa Hayes, Paraguay, in this 2017 file photo. (CNS photo/Jorge Adorno, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' announcement that the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be updated to include a definition of "ecological sin" sent Catholic Twitter into a frenzy.

Reactions ranged from praise for how seriously the church was taking the obligation to care for creation to cynicism or even outrage over the church's involvement in what many considered to be a highly politicized issue.

"This 'create a sin' is absurd," one person tweeted.

Another Tweet argued that "harming people is a sin but not 'harming the common home' as if the environment were a being."

If the wording of the catechism change "is vague or broad," the tweet continued, it will do nothing "except foster politicized interpretations."

Ecological sin was discussed at length during Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in October, and several members of the synod called on the church to deepen its theology in a way that would help people recognize such sins.

In their final document, synod members proposed that the church define ecological sin as "an act of commission or omission against God, against one's neighbor, the community and the environment."

Nearly three weeks after the synod, Pope Francis told members of the International Association of Penal Law that there were plans to include a definition of ecological sin in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The "Twitterverse" often reacts to news with sarcasm, and the mention of "ecological sin" was no exception. One tweeter surmised that a change in the catechism would mean considering "how many extra squares of toilet paper a Catholic can use before it becomes a sin."

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. I turned on the AC four nights, I used 9 pieces of single-use plastics, I forgot to compost, I gunned the engine twice, I ate imported fruit and neglected to recycle aluminum cans 6 times," another Twitter user tweeted.

Theologian Celia Deane-Drummond, director of the U.K.-based Laudato Si' Research Institute, told Catholic News Service in late November that ecological sins "are in one sense simple to understand, but in another sense complex, since they are in between the category of natural evil and moral evil."

"Those natural disasters that happen, for example, with greater frequency due to climate change, can, at least in part, be attributed to human activity," Deane-Drummond said.

While some argue that sins against creation in general cannot be equated with sins against other human beings, Deane-Drummond said ecological sins "join together human suffering and those of other creatures," based theologically "on a doctrine of creation."

"The story of Genesis portrays the fall of humanity as a breakdown of relationships between God, each other and the natural world. Everything, as Pope Francis says dozens of times, is interconnected," she told Catholic News Service.

"It is therefore not surprising and completely in keeping with many centuries of Christian thought for ecological sins to be part and parcel of what it means to sin," she added. "That is, both direct and indirect harms to other creatures and other people that are related to our human activities."

Talking about "ecological sin" is not unprecedented, Deane-Drummond said, pointing to the Common Declaration on Environmental Ethics, a joint statement signed in 2002 by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and St. John Paul II.

The degradation of the environment and its natural resources, the statement said, is not an issue that is "simply economic and technological; it is moral and spiritual."

"A solution at the economic and technological level can be found only if we undergo, in the most radical way, an inner change of heart, which can lead to a change in lifestyle and of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. A genuine conversion in Christ will enable us to change the way we think and act," the document stated.

"This idea has been around for some time," Deane-Drummond told CNS. "What Pope Francis has done is to find a way to embed it more firmly in the church."

Deane-Drummond told CNS that, in a practical sense, providing a definition in the catechism will help Catholics be more aware of detrimental practices such as overconsuming resources, lifestyles that promote a culture of waste, indifference to the suffering of people impacted by climate change and actions that lead to the extinction of species.

"By naming this as ecological sin, it makes our actions more visible," she said. "The problem with the challenge we face is that such changes are both cumulative but also often invisible -- it is hard to take moral responsibility for them as we don't visibly 'see' what is happening."

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

The latest from america

In an interview with Colleen Dulle, Anglican Bishop Jo Bailey Wells talks about attending a meeting of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinal Advisors where she spoke about her experience as an ordained woman.
Colleen DulleMarch 04, 2024
The troubled Catholic outlet's fate was announced by a law firm representing a priest who had sued Church Militant for defamation.
The new recording of “How Great Thou Art” features a new verse, a different beat and a chance to provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans in the midst of war.
Is our intense focus on the form of liturgical celebration placing a disproportionate emphasis upon the Eucharist as the summit of Christian life?
Michael OlsonMarch 04, 2024