The smell of formaldehyde permeates the institution


To destroy other species carelessly is not only to violate the sacramental nature of creation; it is also to turn away from the promise embedded in all of creation….When we fail to protect our planet, when we hasten the demise of species, we erase testimony to divine goodness in the world.
Sr. Elizabeth Johnson

The ecological crisis is a moral issue
Pope John Paul ll


Often when you go into a Catholic church today, the smell that hits you is formaldehyde. Many of these edifices in the Toronto area are falling down and the poor pastors are on the nut for the necessary repairs.

But I am thinking of deeper repairs as in St. Francis admonition, “Repair my church.” Jelly Roll Morton the great New Orleans composer wrote,”open the windows and let the bad air out.” As a matter of fact this was one of the reigning metaphors when Vatican ll started—open the windows and as the great pope John XXlll said “Surely it is high time, and surely it would be to everyone’s advantage to ‘shake off the dust of the Empire that has gathered since Constantine’s day on the throne of St. Peter”.

Well the stale air has slowly crept back into the institution as the Vatican ll priests are departing and lay people have moved on into kingdom-like movements. Many of course remain hoping that a Vatican ll pope can create some hope at the base. But this is a long term project as reactionary bishops appointed by the previous two popes are running major dioceses.

Many faithful people have departed the institution as more and more it appears that it is either living in a parallel universe wholly disconnected from the great movements of history or it continues to be buried under mounds of earth, the dust of empire. It is   a model of church which has become almost totally irrelevant. These Catholics are indeed responding to the omnipresent and often stark “signs of the time” the rallying cry of the great Council. We were told to pay attention to the outbreak of the divine in history holy sparks and divine shafts of light. They are Spirit moments of the reign of God. We have had some dramatic ones since the early 60s: the cry of women, the cry of the poor and now the dramatic cry of the earth: climate justice.



I look around these churches, read the bulletins and again the smell of formaldehyde. They seem to be in a parallel universe, totally out of touch with “the signs ‘of the times’. They continue to believe that the Holy Roman Church owns the Spirit but John’s gospel warned us that “the Spirit blows where it wills” and today a holy gale force win=d is howling in pain as Mother Earth is being desecrated.



John Paul ll came late to this party but woke in 1990:a new ECOLOGICAL AWARENESS is beginning to emerge which, rather than being downplayed, ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programs and initiatives. The pope flagged poverty, war and consumerist lifestyle as constitutive parts of the ecological problem. At the conclusion of his prophetic message the pope addressed the Catholic faithful:I should like to address directly my brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church, in order to remind them of their serious obligation to care for all creation.



Alas the formaldehyde parishes continue on almost totally ignoring this invitation. It’s business as usual at the local, a massive disconnect from the cry of the earth. We baptize and confirm outside of history As Sr. Elizabeth Johnson says, It’s as though the planet were undergoing its agony in the garden, and we, the disciples of Jesus, are curled up fast asleep. Waking up to our own role in this crisis will require a dramatic course correction, a reorienting of our ethical compass away from ourselves alone and toward all creation. In a word, ecological conversion requires profound humility.

Nietzsche maintained that the churches were the graves of God. more and more that’s how the young are perceiving them. Not that some good band aid charity work goes on but the deep call of justice is not heard. So the young move on.


This weekend 200,000 are gathering in New York City to channel the cry of the earth. The international climate justice movement has stated correctly I believe that the march in New York and mobilizations worldwide will be historic, but that these events are just the beginning

You can bet there will be many Catholics there but not their institutional leaders.

More tomorrow,


1 Comment »

  1. 1
    mushafta Says:

    The Catholic hierarchy are trapped in a medieval time zone, very much either in denial of climate change/environmental issues or just too focused on holiness/ spirituality blah blah blah. And for the most part they and their flock view abortion as far more a serious matter of moral concern than anything like the environment.

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