Our diocesan newspaper carried a Catholic News Service report stating that “Catholic organizations welcomed President Barack Obama’s Feb 24 veto” of the Keystone pipeline bill. The article cites only one organization, the Franciscan Action Network, quoting its executive director Patrick Carolan as saying “The Keystone pipeline would be very damaging to the environment.” The CNS report brings to mind a number of questions.
The article implies that more than one Catholic organization opposes construction of the pipeline. Who are the other Catholic groups standing in opposition, or was use of the plural reflecting a reporter’s political view? Does something about construction of the pipeline violate Catholic moral teaching? Is this particular project inherently dangerous to the environment? How are attitudes toward the Catholic Faith affected when Catholic organizations take a public stance on issues that are not necessarily faith related? Unless I am missing something, nothing in Church teaching would prevent us Catholics from favoring a pipeline.
Yes, we are morally obligated to protect our environment, but constructing a properly designed pipeline to transport a God-given resource is not an intrinsic evil. According to the American Petroleum Institute, more than 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines traverse the United States. Most are underground and go largely unnoticed. Could something bad happen? Perhaps, but most human endeavors involve some environmental impact, not necessarily significant or irreparable. The question here is not whether the pipeline should be constructed, but rather should the laity or clergy take a public stance on a morally neutral issue under a Catholic banner? And, does doing so diminish the public impact of Catholic teaching on the real moral issues facing us today?