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Laudato Si’ – Chapter Three: The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis (Part 2)

New biological technologies

130. In the philosophical and theological vision of the human being and of creation which I have presented, it is clear that the human person, endowed with reason and knowledge, is not an external factor to be excluded. While human intervention on plants and animals is permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only “if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to caring for or saving human lives”.106 The Catechism firmly states that human power has limits and that “it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly”.107 All such use and experimentation “requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation”.108

131. Here I would recall the balanced position of Saint John Paul II, who stressed the benefits of scientific and technological progress as evidence of “the nobility of the human vocation to participate responsibly in God’s creative action”, while also noting that “we cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention to the consequences of such interference in other areas”.109 He made it clear that the Church values the benefits which result “from the study and applications of molecular biology, supplemented by other disciplines such as genetics, and its technological application in agriculture and industry”.110 But he also pointed out that this should not lead to “indiscriminate genetic manipulation”111 which ignores the negative effects of such interventions. Human creativity cannot be suppressed. If an artist cannot be stopped from using his or her creativity, neither should those who possess particular gifts for the advancement of science and technology be prevented from using their God-given talents for the service of others. We need constantly to rethink the goals, effects, overall context and ethical limits of this human activity, which is a form of power involving considerable risks.

132. This, then, is the correct framework for any reflection concerning human intervention on plants and animals, which at present includes genetic manipulation by biotechnology for the sake of exploiting the potential present in material reality. The respect owed by faith to reason calls for close attention to what the biological sciences, through research uninfluenced by economic interests, can teach us about biological structures, their possibilities and their mutations. Any legitimate intervention will act on nature only in order “to favour its development in its own line, that of creation, as intended by God”.112

133. It is difficult to make a general judgement about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations. The risks involved are not always due to the techniques used, but rather to their improper or excessive application. Genetic mutations, in fact, have often been, and continue to be, caused by nature itself. Nor are mutations caused by human intervention a modern phenomenon. The domestication of animals, the crossbreeding of species and other older and universally accepted practices can be mentioned as examples. We need but recall that scientific developments in GM cereals began with the observation of natural bacteria which spontaneously modified plant genomes. In nature, however, this process is slow and cannot be compared to the fast pace induced by contemporary technological advances, even when the latter build upon several centuries of scientific progress.

134. Although no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings, and in some regions their use has brought about economic growth which has helped to resolve problems, there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated. In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to “the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production”.113 The most vulnerable of these become temporary labourers, and many rural workers end up moving to poverty-stricken urban areas. The expansion of these crops has the effect of destroying the complex network of ecosystems, diminishing the diversity of production and affecting regional economies, now and in the future. In various countries, we see an expansion of oligopolies for the production of cereals and other products needed for their cultivation. This dependency would be aggravated were the production of infertile seeds to be considered; the effect would be to force farmers to purchase them from larger producers.

135. Certainly, these issues require constant attention and a concern for their ethical implications. A broad, responsible scientific and social debate needs to take place, one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name. It sometimes happens that complete information is not put on the table; a selection is made on the basis of particular interests, be they politico-economic or ideological. This makes it difficult to reach a balanced and prudent judgement on different questions, one which takes into account all the pertinent variables. Discussions are needed in which all those directly or indirectly affected (farmers, consumers, civil authorities, scientists, seed producers, people living near fumigated fields, and others) can make known their problems and concerns, and have access to adequate and reliable information in order to make decisions for the common good, present and future. This is a complex environmental issue; it calls for a comprehensive approach which would require, at the very least, greater efforts to finance various lines of independent, interdisciplinary research capable of shedding new light on the problem.

136. On the other hand, it is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit. As we have seen in this chapter, a technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power.

81 John Paul II, Address to Scientists and Representatives of the United Nations University, Hiroshima (25 February 1981), 3: AAS 73 (1981), 422.

82 Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), 69: AAS 101 (2009), 702.

83 Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th ed., Würzburg, 1965, 87 (English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 82).

84 Ibid.

85 Ibid., 87-88 (The End of the Modern World, 83).

86 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 462.

87 Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 63-64 (The End of the Modern World, 56).

88 Ibid., 64 (The End of the Modern World, 56).

89 Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), 35: AAS 101 (2009), 671.

90 Ibid., 22: p. 657.

91 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 231: AAS 105 (2013), 1114.

92 Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 63 (The End of the Modern World, 55).

93 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 38: AAS 83 (1991), 841.

94 Cf. Love for Creation. An Asian Response to the Ecological Crisis, Declaration of the Colloquium sponsored by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (Tagatay, 31 January-5 February 1993), 3.3.2.

95 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 37: AAS 83 (1991), 840.

96 Benedict XVI, Message for the 2010 World Day of Peace, 2: AAS 102 (2010), 41.

97 Id., Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), 28: AAS 101 (2009), 663.

98 Cf. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium Primum, ch. 23: PL 50, 688: “Ut annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate”.

99 No. 80: AAS 105 (2013), 1053.

100 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 63.

101 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 37: AAS 83 (1991), 840.

102 Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 34: AAS 59 (1967), 274.

103 Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), 32: AAS 101 (2009), 666.

104 Ibid.

105 Ibid.

106 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2417.

107 Ibid., 2418.

108 Ibid., 2415.

109 Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, 6: AAS 82 (1990), 150.

110 Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (3 October 1981), 3: Insegnamenti 4/2 (1981), 333.

111 Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, 7: AAS 82 (1990), 151.

112 John Paul II, Address to the 35th General Assembly of the World Medical Association (29 October 1983), 6: AAS 76 (1984), 394.

113 Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Concerns in Argentina, Una tierra para todos (June 2005), 19.


Chapter One: What is Happening to Our Common Home
I. Pollution and climate change
II. The issue of water
III. Loss of biodiversity
IV. Decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society
V. Global inequality
VI. Weak responses
VII. A variety of opinions

Chapter Two: The Gospel of Creation
I. The light offered by faith
II. The wisdom of the biblical accounts
III. The mystery of the universe
IV. The message of each creature in the harmony of creation
V. A universal communion
VI. The common destination of goods
VII. The gaze of Jesus

Chapter Three: The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis
I. Technology: Creativity and power
II. The globalization of the technocratic paradigm
III. The crisis and effects of modern anthropocentrism

Chapter Four: Integral Ecology
I. Environmental, economic and social ecology
II. Cultural ecology
III. Ecology of daily life
IV. The principle of the common good
V. Justice between the generations

Chapter Five: Lines of Approach and Action
I. Dialogue on the environment in the international community
II. Dialogue for new national and local policies
III. Dialogue and transparency in decision-making
IV. Politics and economy in dialogue for human fulfillment
V. Religions in dialogue with science

Chapter Six: Ecological Education and Spirituality
I. Towards a new lifestyle
II. Educating for the covenant between humanity and the environment
III. Ecological conversion
IV. Joy and peace
V. Civic and political love
VI. Sacramental signs and the celebration of rest
VII. The Trinity and the relationship between creatures
VIII. Queen of all creation
IX. Beyond the sun

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