As the world waited Thursday morning for President Donald Trump to make his big announcement about the Paris Climate Accord, I had the pleasure of spending time with The Most Rev­erend Stephen E. Blaire, the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Stockton, California. It was a providential time to speak of the Church’s eco teachings, and how faith and politics must work together to address the great crises of our age—especially environmental ones.

This was Bishop Blaire’s first visit to Rhode Island. He came to give the keynote address at the College Theology Society’s annual conference, which is being held this week at Salve Regina College in Newport—a coastal community already being impacted by rising seas and more common flooding.

Given the events of the past days, I asked him about his thoughts on how the Church might respond if (as he did), President Trump pulls out of Paris.

“We’re going to have to be very forthright in whatever happens today,” Bishop Blaire said. “We’re going to have to reaffirm our values” related to caring for the Earth. “We’re going to have to respond, to demand political action—but we have to rise above politics,” he added.

Bishop Blaire is no newcomer to issues of social and ecological concerns. As I posted about in 2014, his diocese is a model for engaging the wider community in which a local Church lives. More recently, Bishop Blaire has been tasked by the California Catholic Conference to assemble and chair an ad hoc committee on the environment, with the goal of organizing diocesan eco-efforts on a statewide basis—no easy task in a corner of creation the size of the Golden State.

Both his keynote address Thursday night and much of his work back home have been informed by a series of four addresses given by Pope Francis to gatherings of World Meetings of Popular Movements—two in Italy, one in Bolivia, and one, via letter, to a final meeting in Modesto, California, in Bishop Blaire’s diocese.

“A common thread in all these talks,” Bishop Blaire said, “was care for the Earth. Pope Francis is quite clear that the environmental crisis is real, and that time is running out…and that this may be the most important task facing us.”

Acknowledging Pope Francis’s academic background, “he knows what happens when we deny science—and that we must build a moral response based on what science is telling us.” The bishop added, “we’re not making doctrine from science. We’re just responding to it.”

In that light, and given worries that the White House has subjugated eco-protection to the needs of business, Bishop Blaire pondered how to defend life on Earth within the political realities in which the Church exists. Here the bishop again stressed the need for the Church to rise above politics—while demanding action. Referring to the Holy Father’s address in Bolivia, Bishop Blaire stressed the papal admonition that “[o]ur common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity,” adding that “cowardice in defending Mother Earth is a grave sin.”

An example of how this is done comes, not surprisingly, from the bishop’s diocese, which has excelled at engaging community leaders—both elected officials and bureaucrats, as well as those from non-profit advocacy groups. This allows the Church to engage and, when possible, elevate conversations related to policy. Similarly, the environmental committee that Bishop Blaire will be chairing for the California Catholic Conference will advise and assist the dioceses and local churches in California about eco and public health issues.

“The goal is to advance Laudato Si’ in terms of public policy,” the bishop said.

Full story at Catholic Ecology blog.