Portman Lecture: 'Greening' of Catholicism

Inside USD -- The theme of the 12th annual John R. Portman Lecture is “The Greening of Catholicism, Eco-Justice for the Sake of the Common Good” and the message is a timely one, according to this year’s speaker, Anne Clifford, CSJ, PhD.

Clifford, the Monsignor James Supple Chair of Catholic Studies at Iowa State University, noted that this lecture, to be held on Thursday, Sept. 20, marks the three-month anniversary of the opening of Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

There’s a perception that Christianity is not “an ecologically-friendly religion” due to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis’ directive to humans to have dominion over the earth, says Clifford (pictured). But by applying current biblical scholarship to the Genesis texts and drawing on Catholicism’s teaching on the sacramentality of creation, she hopes to show otherwise.

In fact, says Clifford, the Church hierarchy — first the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops back in 1975 and, later, Pope John Paul II in 1990 and Pope Benedict XVI in the last few years — have been calling on Catholics to develop a “right relationship with the planet. This call informed by developments in environmental science is for Catholics and persons of goodwill to give the moral principles of planetary stewardship, solidarity and the common good a role in the formation of one’s conscience where the use, allocation and consumption of the earth’s resources and life-forms are concerned.”

“I am hoping that the persons who attend the lecture will leave better informed about the Catholic belief about creation, especially the sacramentality of creation, and be inspired to make Catholic eco-justice principles part of the rationale for the choices they make, especially those that negatively impact global climate change and the health of fragile ecosystems,” says Clifford, who was a consultant to the U.S. Catholic Conference’s Environmental Justice Program from 1995-96 and was president of the College Theology Society from 2006-08.

The Portman Lecture in Roman Catholic Theology is sponsored by USD’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies. It was funded through a $2 million endowment, donated by the late Frances G. Harpst and several anonymous donors in honor of Monsignor John R. Portman, the founding chair of the department.

-- Liz Harman

Ann Clifford will also attend an informal meet and greet with students, faculty and staff in the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture on Friday, September 21, 2012. This will grants students the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to Professor Clifford’s public lecture, “The Greening of Catholicism, Eco-Justice for the Sake of the Common Good” and find out more about her current research.