Priests’ association calls on parishes to focus on climate change and retrofit churches

Climate change has been at centre of Pope Francis’s ministry, says Fr Seán McDonagh

Every Catholic parish “needs to set up a climate change committee and work with other Churches and other religions to address this critical issue of our time,” the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has said.

“Since most churches are heated by oil, parishes will have to spend significant resources retrofitting these churches during the next 10 years,” ACP co-founder Fr Seán McDonagh has said.

Critical of the Government's approach to the issue, he noted how "34 per cent of greenhouse gases in Ireland come from agriculture" yet [the Government's] Food Vision 2030 [strategy] "plans to increase agricultural exports, mainly dairy and livestock by 50 per cent in the next decade.

“Little thought is given to lowering our methane emissions by reducing our dairy herd, which has doubled in the past 10 years.”

Similarly, there was “little talk of moving to more plant-based agriculture, which would lower Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions significantly,” he said.

“Retrofitting homes will also be quite expensive. In Ireland, it is estimated that retrofitting a house will cost between €25,000 and €50,000. The cost for retrofitting 1.5 million houses will come to between €10-€15 billion. Very few people have access to this kind of money,” he said.

Lifestyle changes

Radical changes in lifestyle were demanded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published earlier this month, he said, “and the time to achieve this is very short”.

Critical also of his own church's approach to the issue, he said that "until the publication of [the 2015 encyclical] Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, the record of the Catholic Church in giving leadership on this vital issue was extremely poor".

He instanced how The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 2004, was “a large book running to over 350 pages, yet there is only one paragraph on climate change”.

However, "climate change has been at the centre of Pope Francis's ministry. He has made it clear that, if his health permits, he will attend COP26 in Glasgow to encourage leaders to make ambitious commitments on reducing carbon emissions."

A Columban priest, with many years service in the Philippines where he witnessed the dramatic effects of climate change locally, Fr McDonagh is a long-time activist on the issue and had direct input to Laudato Si.

He is author of numerous articles and nine books on the issue, including Climate Change: The Challenge to All of Us, Greening the Christian Millennium, To Care for the Earth: A Call to a New Theology, and Dying for Water.

“We can ensure that global warming will not intensify further by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent in 10 years and eliminating them altogether by 2050. This process will not be easy, but we have no other option,” he said.