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Rally against Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain, 2014. Photo courtesy of Mark Klotz/Flickr

Luke Stocking: Church must start piping up on pipelines

  • June 11, 2018

For the sake of the planet, the rights of Indigenous peoples and the future, the Catholic Church in Canada spoke out against the pipeline. 

The bishop stood up at the inquiry and said: “In our highly industrialized society, more and more people are experiencing a loss of control over their own destinies. Our lives seem to be increasingly dominated by large governments and multinational corporations. As a result, we find ourselves less and less able to make responsible decisions for the sake of future generations.” 

He called on the inquiry to recommend a moratorium on the pipeline, concluding: “We need to take the time as a nation to develop alternative energy policies and programs based on the values of responsible stewardship.”

These are strong words of faith engaged with pertinent socio-economic questions of the time. Except the time was not our time. The pipeline was not the Kinder Morgan pipeline. It was the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. The bishop who spoke is no longer alive. 

On June 3, 1976, the most reverend Adolphe Proulx, bishop of Hull and representing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), spoke at the Berger Inquiry, which recommended that the pipeline not be built. And it never was.

The contribution of the Church to the Berger Inquiry was not its only intervention. In 1977 the CCCB made a presentation brief to the National Energy Board. The CCCB also used to issue labour-day statements every year. In 1975 the message was entitled, “Northern Development: At What Cost.” 

The fourth section of the letter focused on “Demands for Stewardship.” Its words are no less true today than they were then: “As a culture, we have not faced up to the fact that the world God created has its limits. Many voices now warn that humanity has reached a turning point in history; crucial decisions must be made now to stop plundering the Earth’s non-renewable resources before it is too late.”

This was the prophetic voice of the Church well before Laudato Si’ and a time when climate science was really only on the radar of, well, scientists. We need that prophetic voice today.  

I hope some enterprising reader may prove me wrong, but as far as I can tell, the Church has not been a significant player in the new Canadian pipeline debates of the 21st century.  The latest in the news is the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Trans Mountain expansion. The federal government has announced its intent to buy the current pipeline for $4.5 billion so that work can continue on the controversial expansion. 

That is a $4.5-billion investment of taxpayer money into a fossil fuel future as opposed to ecological prosperity. What has changed from then to now that would lead us to be silent as an institution? Why do we leave it to the ecumenical networks like Kairos or religious communities like the Sisters of Sion to represent the Catholic voice in the debate?  

Is it simply that we have more pressing issues than public safety, the planet and the rights of Indigenous peoples to deal with? Is our time simply fully occupied by the culture wars of our day, fighting things such as the summer jobs attestation? Coming from a consistent ethic of life framework or seamless garment approach that values life from conception to natural death, it should not be an either/or proposition. Question and resist the attestation with one breath, question and resist the pipeline expansion with the next.

What an opportunity this is for the Church to raise her voice with the same force that she did at the time of the Mackenzie Valley debate! If we could raise our voice like that without the teaching of Laudato Si’ and a Pope named after St. Francis, imagine what we can do now. 

The Holy Father notes that worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. Canada would like to expand a pipeline that will allow us to make an additional $3.7 billion a year by selling energy that is neither clean nor renewable. 

As a Church we had something to say in 1976. Surely we should have something to say now.

(Stocking is Central Ontario animator with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.)