March 10, 2008

Vatican Proclaims Pollution a ‘New Sin’

The seven deadly sins and the Ten Commandments have not yet been modified, but the Vatican seems to be rallying to do so.  During a week-training seminar in Rome intended to encourage confession, Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti listed some "new" mortal sins.

Girotti, who is the Vatican's number two man in the area of penance, lamented the fact that fewer Catholics are attending confession than ever, and proclaimed that these modern sins truly put people in the danger zone.

Milan's Catholic University carried out a study 10 years ago, and according to its result 60% of Italians have completely quit going to confession. Those statistics have not improved in the past 10 years. According to Catholicism, those who are Catholics should confess their sins to a priest once a year, at the very least. If they do not do so, according to Pope Benedict, "they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm."

In Girotti's opinion, two of the greatest sins of our time are abortion and pedophilia, but the most dangerous areas of new sins are in the arenas of ecology and bio-ethics. Within this largely uncharted territory, "there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control," Girotti claimed.

Genetic manipulation is simply one area of which the Catholic Church does not approve. The Vatican is completely opposed to stem cell research which involves embryo destruction. It also warns against cloning. Other modern sins include drug trafficking and social and economic injustices.

The Pope is determined also to protect the environment. The Vatican has begun its journey to being green by installing photovoltaic cells on buildings to produce electricity. A conference was also called to discuss human use of fossil fuels leading to global warming.

A former professor of moral theology at the Papal University in Rome, Father Gerald O'Collins believes that priests who are still hearing confessions are not necessarily knowledgeable in regards to these modern sins, what he calls the "real evils in our world".  He claims that they should be more aware of social inequalities, as opposed to individual sin.  He is thankful for this new "catalogue" of sins and hopes that it will help direct priests' concerns toward the troubles of our world today such as social injustice and environmental pollution.

It is not only the Catholic Church who is in an uproar regarding these new, environmental sins. The Southern Baptist Convention has also decided to take a stand on environmental issues. The largest protestant group in the country has finally decided to engage itself in responding to issues such as global warming. The leaders of the Convention have declared, "We believe our current denomination engagement with these issues has often been too timid"¦we can do better," in a written statement signed by some of the group's most influential figureheads.

The main reason why religious groups are favoring climate action is twofold. One of the reasons is that Christians believe that they have a duty of stewardship to the planet, which was formally articulated in a document in 1993 entitled the Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation. Another factor is the idea that Christians in wealthy nations need to help prevent climate impacts from falling heavily on the underprivileged.

Environmental issues such as these may have a distinct influence on the electoral process, as evangelical religious leaders who preach environmental protection may find more Democratic than Republican policies to favor.