Catholic belief includes both the terms “dominion” and “stewardship” in discussing the relationship of human beings to the physical world. Lucia A. Silecchia definitely prefers “stewardship.”
Drawing especially on papal encyclicals, including those of Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict XVI, Silecchia said in the Simmons Lecture at Eckstein Hall on Thursday that stewardship is an appropriate model for care for the environment because the world has been entrusted to people and, as trustees, people need to put broader interests ahead of their own interests. Silecchia is a professor of law at Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Individuals need to put aside their narrow self interests to serve the larger, enduring needs of all people, Silecchia said. Indeed our own best interest is actually served by enlarging our sense of ourselves as members of communities and even the earth as a whole.
In a lecture titled, “’More Will Be Expected’: Catholic Social Thought and international Environmental Stewardship,” Silecchia discussed basic principles of Catholic teaching that provide a framework for dealing with ecological issues. Silecchia said the principles include: Human life and dignity must remain at the forefront of any ecological issue; obligations to the future must influence environmental decision making; there is a right to private property, but there is a need to use private property in ways that contribute to the greater good; and environmental concerns are, at root, moral concerns.
Silecchia said a challenge for lawyers who want to get involved in environmental issues is to create effective systems to deal with issues while being sensitive to the needs of people who are affected, especially if they are poor. She said there have been times when people who are looking at an issue from a broader perspective have not paid enough attention to the consequences of what they are advocating when it comes to the lives of people whose lives may be affected adversely.
Silecchia said Pope Benedict XVI had made a stronger priority of environmental concerns than many, including her, expected when he became pope.
Referring to the quote from Luke that was the basis of her title, Silecchia said if people who have been given much approach stewardship of the world with love, wisdom, and commitment to humanity, they will more than exceed that which is expected of them.