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2 California bishops meet with lawmakers on papal encyclical

September 11, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

Who could imagine this a year ago?

The president of the California Catholic Conference, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, and Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton met with state Sen. President Pro-Tem Kevin de Leon and other lawmakers to reflect upon Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” in a closed door meeting Aug. 31.

The afternoon included a press conference where de Leon presented framed documents of an approved Senate resolution, SB 37, stating the Senate would take into account the papal encyclical in its deliberations on climate change.

“The pope recognizes what is undeniable: a growing body of scientific evidence that our planet is warming,” said Sen. de Leon, D-Los Angeles, who called the encyclical “a very powerful document.”

In the press conference, Bishops Soto and Blaire tied respect for human life to stewardship of the environment, and reiterated their opposition to assisted suicide legislation that has been reintroduced in a new bill in the extraordinary legislative session.

The Aug. 31 meeting was entitled “Dialogue on our Common Home and Ecological Future,” and included some lawmakers, the executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant and a representative of Catholic Relief Services. The California Catholic Conference is the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.

“We do approach this as pastors,” Bishop Soto said, not scientists or public officials. “As pastors, we share the Holy Father’s concern that our Earth, our common home, can be a home for all.”

In the spring, the California Catholic Conference endorsed two “environmental stewardship” bills, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, which were passed by the state Senate and are now before the state Assembly:

SB 32, introduced by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, would set an enforceable greenhouse gas reduction target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

SB 350, introduced by de Leon and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would require the state to reduce gasoline use by 50 percent, increase energy efficiency in existing buildings by 50 percent and require energy utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources – all by 2030.

“We are not separate from nature,” de Leon said, saying it was time to “correct the abuses of our throwaway culture.”

“We as humanity understand we are very much part of nature and that we need to act in harmony with that nature, the nature of the Earth as well as our own human nature,” Bishop Soto said.

Respecting the environment is consistent with Catholic beliefs and consistent with Pope Francis encyclical, Bishop Soto said. “Almost every Sunday I try to speak to this document,” Bishop Soto said during the press conference.

“The role of the church is to lift up values and to be a voice for what we believe enhances the dignity of every human person,” said Bishop Blaire. Bishop Blaire said that in the encyclical, “The pope points out when we have degraded the earth, we have sinned against God and against one another.”

The two Senate bills face significant opposition in the Assembly, the Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 30.

In the Assembly, some have said they worry that under SB 350’s provisions gasoline consumption regulations will be decided by the unelected California Air Resources Board. Some Democratic Assembly members are threatening to throw out Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, over the bill, the Times reported. SB 32 faces opposition from the state Chamber of Commerce whose president Allan Zaremberg said 35 years out is too far to plan because there is no way to know what the technology will be for achieving those goals, the Times reported.

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