Report: U.S. Catholics say environmental justice is important, but most ignorant about ‘Laudato si’

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Most Catholics in the United States believe environmental justice is an important issue, but only one-third of them have heard Pope Francis’ encyclical on the topic, according to a new study. It is said that attending Mass is the key to understanding the Church’s teachings on caring for creation.

“American Catholics’ Perspectives on Climate Justice” was released March 26 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Data comes from a December 2023 national electronic poll of 1,342 self-identified adult Catholics in the United States.

Most of those interviewed (74%) prioritize the Church’s teachings on marriage over the environment (66%), followed by immigration (56%), abortion (53%), the death penalty (52%), and contraception ( 48%), euthanasia (47%).

72% believe that “environmental justice is a legitimate issue that requires urgent attention,” and 62% are “concerned that climate change will harm them personally at some point in their lives.” , only 33% of those interviewed knew about “Laudato Si”. In 2015, Francis’ encyclical addressed “all people living on earth” and sounded the alarm about the “deterioration of the global environment.”

Jesuit Father Thomas P. Gaunt, CARA’s executive director, told OSV News that the findings of this survey compare favorably with other CARA surveys regarding whether believers are familiar with Catholic teachings on other topics. It’s not that different.”

“It’s pretty common that people don’t realize,” he says.

A file photo shows a Zimbabwean man walking through a drought-affected cornfield on the outskirts of Harare. Droughts and other environmental disasters caused by climate change are impacting some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, according to the Catholic Church and other Christian groups. (OSV News Photo/Philimon Bulawayo, Reuters)

Father Gaunt pointed to a national survey of Eucharistic beliefs in the United States conducted by CARA in September 2023. The survey reveals that 51 percent of the nation’s Catholics incorrectly believe that the Church teaches that the Eucharist is a symbol rather than an embodiment of the real presence of Jesus Christ. became.

The study found that “there is considerable confusion about what the Church teaches” regarding the Eucharist.

Father Gaunt told OSV News that similar uncertainty about the church’s teachings exists when Catholics are polled on other subjects, such as the death penalty and faithful citizenship.

“There are many among us who are actually unaware (of the Church’s teachings), or who actually hold (beliefs) that are contradictory, and who do not realize that they are contradictory. ” he said.

Regarding the environment, a new CARA survey found that U.S. Catholics tend to hold the following general views about environmental justice, without specific reference to religious beliefs.

— Nearly one-third (32 percent) have a broad sense of this issue, and nearly one-third (32 percent) are familiar with the term but unsure of what it means. yeah. and 25% admitted they had never heard of it. Only 11 percent said they were “very familiar” with what environmental justice means.

— One in five people define environmental justice as “equal access (for all people) to a healthy living environment” (22 percent of U.S. Catholics) or “the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental regulations” ( 20%).

— Four in five (76%) believe they have a moral responsibility to do what they personally can to combat climate change, compared to 24% who do not believe so.

— Reducing waste and actively recycling top the list of environmental justice activities undertaken by U.S. Catholics (55%), followed by incorporating environmental justice into consumer decision-making (18%) This was followed by donations to other activities (18%). Activities.

— However, of the 81 percent who participated in at least one environmental justice-related activity in the past three months, two in five (44 percent) reported that they were “somewhat” or “very” motivated to do so. did (not “at all” or “a little bit”) by Catholic beliefs.

When considering environmental justice in the context of their religious beliefs, more than half (54%) of U.S. Catholics do not believe that God has played a role in the changes observed in the Earth’s climate in recent years. However, 46% agree that God plays some role. I am involved in that shift. In this regard, a majority of Catholics (69%) believe that addressing environmental justice is “important” or “very important” for Catholics.

CARA’s report also found that U.S. Catholics’ views on environmental justice vary widely by age and political affiliation.

Young adult Catholics who have considered the issue from a faith perspective are 13 percent more likely to believe that God is involved in observed climate change and more likely to have heard of “Laudato Si’” were 12 percent more likely to have heard of it and 10 percent more likely to have heard of it. They saw the encyclical impacting their communities.

Among study samples of U.S. Catholics, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to be skeptical about environmental issues, both in general and in relation to their faith. was high.

Broadly speaking, Republicans are 32% less likely than Democrats to “strongly agree” that global temperatures are rising because of greenhouse gases, and that greenhouse gas concentrations are due to human activity. Democrats are 29% less likely to “strongly agree” that

Regarding faith and the environment, Republicans are 17 percentage points less likely than Democrats to “strongly agree” that Catholics have a moral responsibility for the environment and are “very likely” to agree that Catholics have a moral responsibility for the environment. were 16% less likely to think it was important to them. justice.

But those political divisions on the issue are actually “starting to ease somewhat” among weekly Mass attendees, Father Gaunt said.

“Political divisions don’t make that much of a difference when it comes to regular Mass attendees,” he says. “There are no obvious differences that you see elsewhere.”

People who take to the pew at least once a week are more likely to “explicitly” link environmental justice to church teachings, he said.

According to the report, Catholic adults in the United States who attend Mass weekly or more frequently have expressed concern for environmental justice within or through a Catholic setting (Mass, online, or Catholic media) in the past three months. are 37% more likely to have encountered this theme. He is 37% more likely to have heard of ‘Laudato Si’. Additionally, regular Mass attendees in the United States are more likely to be very knowledgeable (16 percent) or generally aware (13 percent) about this issue, and believe that this issue requires urgent attention. 12 percent more likely to believe that

Less active and affiliated Catholics tend to make a somewhat “intuitive” connection between faith and environment, Father Gaunt said.

“They may not know about Laudato Si’, but they will know that the church has an interest and an interest here,” he said. “People will understand (the Church’s teaching on the environment) over the years, but they won’t necessarily associate it with Pope Francis’ letter.”

“American Catholic Perspectives on Climate Justice” by Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate is available on the CARA website (https://cara.georgetown.edu).

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