Letter to Bishop Bouchard re Tar Sands

Bishop Luc Bouchard
Diocese of St. Paul
4410 - 51 Avenue
St. Paul, Alberta
T0A 3A2

Dear Bishop Bouchard,

We are writing to extend our blessings in Christ during this Easter Season. We also wish to express our gratitude and deep appreciation for your pastoral letter on “The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands”. Sometimes it is all too tempting to push aside complicated and politically divisive issues such as this, and so we are doubly grateful for your demonstration of courage and witness. While it is true that as a community we are currently celebrating the Resurrection, nevertheless we observe the extreme damage that the earth is enduring due to reckless industrialization and greed and it feels more like we are living the opposite of what the Resurrection is about. Indeed, we appreciate your quote from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, “to abuse creation constitutes a lack of faith, a type of despair, or even blasphemy”.

In the structure of your pastoral letter, we welcome your integration of theological reflection with a thorough, scientific examination of the environmental impact of the tar sands development and a suggested action plan to address the situation. We wholeheartedly agree with your assessment that the moral problem lies in “racing ahead aggressively expanding the oil sands industry despite the fact that serious environmental problems remain unsolved after more than forty years of ongoing research” as well as your conclusion that, “a serious commitment on the part of government and industry must be made to satisfying the above requirements (as outlined in the action plan of your pastoral letter) before any further oil sands plants or leases are considered for approval”.

At the CND Visitation Province’s JPIC office, we commit our support to the development of an alternative energy vision that will allow our society, as the KAIROS Document Christian Faith and the Canadian Tar Sands states, to see in an energy plan “the realization of the values of justice, peace, integrity of creation, and participation that provide the basis for a just society and world.”

Your pastoral letter has inspired us into deeper reflection and action. Please find attached a copy of our preliminary thoughts on this issue.

We extend to you our best wishes and blessings for your continued leadership to the people of the Diocese of St. Paul and to your fellow Canadians. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance to you as you continue to address the important ethical questions involved in the development of the tar sands.

Sincerely,

Monica Lambton
Coordinator
On behalf of the Core Committee of
Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation
Congregation of Notre Dame, Visitation Province

cc: Bishop Brendan O’Brien, Chairman, Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs, CCCB
Archbishop James Weisgerber, Delegate, KAIROS Tar Sands Delegation
Sr. Anne Lewans, osu, Delegate, KAIROS Tar Sands Delegation

Reflections on the Development of the Athabasca Tar Sands

The JPIC Office of the Visitation Province of the Congregation of Notre Dame welcomes the pastoral letter of Bishop Luc Bouchard titled, “The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands”. We appreciate the integration of theological reflection with a thorough, scientific examination of the environmental impact of the tar sands development and a suggested action plan to address the situation. We wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Bouchard’s assessment that the moral problem lies in “racing ahead aggressively expanding the oil sands industry despite the fact that serious environmental problems remain unsolved after more than forty years of ongoing research” as well as his conclusion that, “a serious commitment on the part of government and industry must be made to satisfying the above requirements (as outlined in the action plan of the pastoral letter) before any further oil sands plants or leases are considered for approval”.

Upon reading the pastoral letter we were prompted to engage more deeply in reflection and action on the issue of tar sands development. What follows are some reflections that allow us to express more specifically the reasons for our support and our hope that Bishop Bouchard will continue in his courageous leadership. And so we join our voice to that of Bishop Bouchard, to First Nations Chiefs, to groups like KAIROS, the Pembina Institute, Tar Sands Watch and the Polaris Institute and countless others who are speaking the truth about environmental degradation and injustice to indigenous peoples in the region, workers, community residents and their families.

To the exemplary analysis in the pastoral letter, we would like to add three other ethical and moral considerations – justice, peace and participation - as outlined by KAIROS in their reflection paper Christian Faith and the Canadian Tar Sands . At our JPIC office we recognize the tar sands development as an instructive example of a mega-project that encompasses a wide range of ethical issues. In the words of journalist William Marsden, “The tar sands suddenly are a root metaphor for every pressing issue we face both as Canadians and as members of the human species.”

And what of the questions that the KAIROS Document poses about peace: Do the tar sands promote peace either directly or indirectly? Do they promote violence and conflict directly or indirectly? When the control of oil is a significant factor in many conflicts today, this should be part of the basic set of criteria for ethical deliberation.

We believe that underlying all of these ethical issues is our shameful lack of vision that allows us to divorce our moral compass from our practices in our oil-dependent society where excess is so affordable it is almost the norm. At JPIC, we commit our support to the development of an alternative energy vision that will allow our society, as the KAIROS Document states, to see in an energy plan “the realization of the values of justice, peace, integrity of creation, and participation that provide the basis for a just society and world.”

The enormous size of the tar sands development and the gravity of its severe and long term damage poses many challenges. On this we agree with the wisdom expressed in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: “massive projects that clearly endanger the environment must be approached in a deliberate, open, and consultative manner.” Sadly, we can observe that the current development of the tar sands has not proceeded in such a fashion. It is clear that what is needed most of all is a time for true dialogue, investigation and understanding of the consequences of tar sands development. It is our hope that calling for a moratorium on any future development until the ethical questions are satisfactorily addressed will create an opportunity for serious thinking that has not taken place to date.

Our Christian tradition leads us to the most vulnerable, and so we ask, “who are the most vulnerable regarding this issue, and what is it that they are saying to us?”. It is difficult to hear them amidst the rush and the clamour of tar sands oil extraction. A moratorium is needed in order to find our way forward in a manner that will truly incorporate justice and peace for all.

Christian Faith and the Canadian Tar Sands, A KAIROS Reflection on Sustainability and Energy, Summer 2008. Available at www.kairoscanada.org.

William Marsden, Excerpted from “The Perfect Moment” in Carbon Shift, edited by Thomas Homer—Dixon with Nick Garrison, Random House Canada, printed in the Montreal Gazette with permission, Saturday, April 25, 2009.