Church’s moral power can spur climate action

FAIRFIELD—The Catholic Church must address climate change as a moral and spiritual issue because it is already having an impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people around the globe, said Jose Aguto, associate director of the Catholic Climate Change Covenant in Washington, D.C., at Red Mass Breakfast held at Fairfield University.

Members of the Jesuit community of Fairfield University joined Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in celebrating the Red Mass honoring members of the legal profession in the Egan Chapel.

“We’re in a crisis of epic proportions,” Aguto said to 100 lawyers and others who gathered for the Annual Red Mass. “The Church must bring the same strength to the environmental issue that we have brought to pro-life and immigration,” he said. “Our moral power can turn the nation’s consciousness toward climate action.”

Aguto, who has worked on climate and energy issues with Native American communities on and Catholic environmentalists, said that Laudato Si, the 2015 encyclical by Pope Francis, received a “tepid reception” by many Catholics and is a seldom discussed topic by Church leaders.

However it is a message that has galvanized Catholic youth on college campuses and has the ability to bring young people who identify as “nones” back to the Church, Aguto said, adding that the Church is facing a “crisis of legitimization” with young people.

“The issue is a source of great vitality and spirituality. Catholic youth want to work for climate change in a faith-filled way,” he told the men and women who had gathered for breakfast in the “Dogwood” Room of the student center.

Aguto, who is father of four children and a parishioner of the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria, Virginia, said that the two previous popes, St. John Paul II and His Holiness Pope Benedict, have spoken out about our responsibility for environmental stewardship.

“It was John Paul II who coined the term ‘ecological conversation,’” Aguto said. “And his holiness Pope Benedict has consistently taught our obligation to care for creation.”

Aguto said climate change is already having a devastating effect on farmers in India who face crop failure and starvation as a result of continual droughts.

He cited recent research that found that 67 percent of all American believe climate change is occurring and 53 percent understand it to be a man-made problem as a result of burning of fossil fuels.

Yet the climate debate in the U.S. has people locked into opposing sides and the country is about to withdraw from the Parish Climate Accord, he said.

“Pope Francis has defined climate change as ‘moral and spiritual crisis’ and he has a desire for us to be in dialogue in faith. We as Catholics should be able to talk about it. We must be humble and patient.”

Aguto said when Pope Francis met with oil and gas executives, he asked a question, “What kind of world do you want to leave to your children and grandchildren?”

“The challenge is moving the national and collective conscience toward climate action and the Church can be a leader,” he said.

During the breakfast Attorney John L. Altieri, Jr. of Fairfield was presented the 2019 St. Thomas More Award by Chief Legal Officer Anne McCrory for his distinguished legal career in which he used his litigation talents to protect human rights, freedom of speech and the environment, often on a pro-bono basis.

In particular Altieri was recognized for his work as former chairman of the board of Malta House in Norwalk, a residence for homeless, pregnant and parenting single mothers. Along with his late wife, Maudie, Mr. Altieri helped to guide and develop the Malta House program and to lead the effort to move Malta House to its new location in the former convent of All Saints School in Norwalk. He is member of St. Pius X in Fairfield.

“He is being honored for what he has done to give back. He is an example of what giving back is all about. His service has been a gift to the Church and it is a gift to know him,” said Anne McCrory, chief legal officer of the Diocese of Bridgeport who presented the award along with Malta House founder Michael O’Rourke.

“No one person made the women and children served by Malta House feel the love of God like John. He is thoughtful humble, loyal, kind and unselfish,” said O’Rourke.

In accepting the award Mr. Altieri said, “I have so much to be thankful for. Maudie and I never thought of what we were able to do it as a sacrifice. For us, there we so many blessings, so much joy.”

In his homily bishop said the challenge for both civil and Church law is to be fair and just, and ‘blind to privilege.”

“So much divides us into camps, status levels and the hierarchy between haves and have-not.” All we do must harken back to equality. We are all equal in the eye of God and we are all have-nots without him.”

The bishop thanked all those in attendance and reminded them of their sacred duty to work for justice.

“You come here as legal professionals and also as people of faith. Your vocation is important and also sacred because God is the supreme lawgiver,” the bishop said. “We pray for you.”