March- April 2012: "Human Ecology"

human ecology

It is a matter of concern to us when we see the growing anthropological confusion of our times which is manifesting a number of disturbing symptoms. Just to mention a few, we could point to the confusion between sexual orientation and sexual identity, the growing assertion that abortion is a right and an entitlement to be fought for, the declaration that to be a man or a woman is a matter of personal option, the reduction of sexuality to a mere instrument of enjoyment and pleasure, the efforts to redefine marriage... the list could go on...

This confusion shows that there is a need for guidance and enlightenment. The Church, an expert in humanity[1] knows how to give the world the diakonía of truth about the essence of being human, male and female. The Church proclaims this in a clear, creative and new way. In our confused times, the Church might seem increasingly to have the role of a bastion to preserve the natural order in the area of humanity.

In this context, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken on several occasions about the need to defend creation. He is aware that this is a subject that touches the hearts of men and women of our times. However, it is interesting to notice how the pope emphasises that a fundamental part of this defence of nature involves protecting humankind from destroying itself, and so he speaks of “human ecology”.

To what is Benedict XVI referring when he speaks of human ecology? If we read what he says on the subject,[2] it is interesting to see that he is not only talking about a commitment to protect creation that takes human beings into account. His idea of “human ecology” goes much further. It means that we should remember that human beings are part of nature and we should value and accept its proper language, a language inscribed in our very being. It means that we must respect the order of nature in human life, through which we always and only exist as a man or a woman. The Pope notes with concern that when human beings ignore this fact and reject the order of creation, we are heading towards our own destruction. We create an illusion of false freedom and false equality. The Pope has also alerted us to the illusion held by some that human beings are pure freedom that creates itself with no need of taking nature into account. On the contrary, nature is the condition that allows for freedom itself. The Pope has said that the term “gender” is being used in an attempt to find emancipation from creation and the Creator.

In the encyclical Caritas in Veritate he said “If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves”.[3]

As the Pope pointed out, our culture is showing signs of schizophrenia. While respect for nature is quite rightly being fostered in every area, the same respect does not seem to apply with regard to human beings. The human sphere seems to be becoming more artificial and is described with words like “control”, “freedom”, “choice”, “progress” or “victory”.

The pope tells us that the decisive issue in safeguarding nature is “the overall moral tenor of society. ... Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in themselves and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society”.»[4]

When we look back on the history of the Church we see that there have been serious cultural crises and times of rapid change in the Church when the fundamental values of culture were preserved and then passed down to the next generation. With the issues that we are observing in our times when human beings are losing a sense of our own identity and dignity, the Church is being called to be the bastion that safeguards all that is human. This safeguarding does not mean closing in on ourselves and hiding away. It means preserving the truth, freedom, and our human dignity and calling as the Creator decreed, so that we can faithfully pass it on to future generations.

Ana Cristina Villa Betancourt


[1] Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio on the development of peoples, 13; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of men and women in the Church and in the world, Vatican, 31 May 2004, 1.

[2] See: Benedict XVI, Christmas greetings to the members of the Roman Curia and Prelature, 22 December 2008; Visit to the Federal Parliament in the Reichstag Building (Berlin, 22 September 2011).

[3] Benedicto XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 51.

[4]  Ibid.


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