Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Robert M. Wilson


Catholicism, Clergy, Climate Change, Environment-Society, Laudato Si', Religion

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Interest in the relationships between the Catholic Church and the environment has grown in recent years, especially following Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, or On the Care for Our Common Home. His letter was widely praised by many Catholic and non-Catholic scholars, journalists, and activists who suggested that this encyclical marked a massive shift in Catholic views about the environment, particularly the climate crisis. Yet despite this early hope, policies around the world remain generally unchanged and the promise early commentators saw in Laudato Si’ lies unfulfilled.

This thesis investigates whether the Catholic Church has attempted to act on Pope Francis’s encyclical, and if so, how the Laudato Si’ has led to changes in Catholic teaching and practice. I use the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, NY as a case study. I contend that the parochial clergy must be central to any successful effort to implement Laudato Si’ and Catholic environmental teaching. Drawing on fieldwork from the summer and fall of 2018, I argue that few clergy are using Laudato Si’ to change their lives or those of their parishioners. This thesis does not blame the Catholic clergy for this but instead contends that, due to both internal and external pressures, Catholic clergy are not currently able to implement the changes the encyclical demands, though many want to. This thesis thus adds important empirical information to discussions about Catholicism and the environment. However, its contributions go beyond this particular case, as the thesis also argues that Catholic environmental teaching is a distinct subset of Catholic social teaching and should be considered as such. It also offers a corrective to ongoing academic and public discourses about religion and the environment that are often overly focused on texts to the exclusion analyzing practices, arguing that discussions of religion should foreground practical and lived methodologies. Speaking directly to such practical concerns, this thesis also argues that far more must be done by Catholic actors if Laudato Si’ is to transform the world, as well as suggesting possible steps Catholic parochial clergy could take to bring environmental themes into their parishes.


Open Access



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