Notre Dame president praises energy executives for meeting with pope

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Pope Francis speaks at the Vatican conference

Pope Francis speaks at the Vatican conference

University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., on Monday (June 11) commended the world’s leading energy executives for joining Pope Francis over the weekend in a serious exploration of how to transition from fossil fuels while providing new sources of energy for the additional 2.4 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by mid-century.

“Even after the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the Vatican conference demonstrated the continued appetite for reduced carbon dioxide emissions by those with the most at stake financially,” Father Jenkins said. “The world’s leading oil and gas executives demonstrated a commendable willingness to sit down to discuss real solutions with the man who at times could be their severest critic.”

He also congratulated faculty at the Mendoza College of Business, including emeritus professor Leo Burke, current dean Roger Huang and former dean Carolyn Woo, for successfully sponsoring the historic conference.

“They managed to assemble for the first time in one place those people best positioned to respond to Francis’ environmental challenges as articulated in Laudato Si’,” Father Jenkins said. “They also made real Mendoza’s mission of making business a force for good in the world.

“Global warming is not only a technological or business problem, but a moral challenge,” Father Jenkins said, adding that “participants of the conference are to be commended for their response to Pope Francis’ call to action in the encyclical Laudato Si’.”

In it, the pontiff borrowed the language of St. Francis of Assisi to characterize the earth as “our sister,” who, Pope Francis wrote, “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters entitled to plunder her at will.”

As a letter directly to them from the successor of St. Peter, Catholics were especially drawn to Francis’ encyclical. It caused Notre Dame, for example, to take a number of concrete actions, including the cessation of coal burning at the campus power plant — anticipated now to end within the year.

The objectives of the conference identified by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business were clear and practical:

  • Assess the risks and how to mitigate them in transitioning to cleaner fuels.
  • Identify emerging and potentially transformative opportunities as the transition unfolds.
  • Recognize challenges and paths forward, “as this moment in history offers the opportunity to lead beyond traditional industry prospectives to a new form of collective, visionary leadership.”

“The moral imperative is clear,” Father Jenkins said. “Again in Pope Francis’ own words, ‘In a Judeo Christian tradition the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature” for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance.’”

The pope argued, and Notre Dame’s own research supports, the notion that the poor are the most vulnerable to climate change, with the poorest countries most likely to experience environmental catastrophes, while having the fewest resources to respond to them.  

The “earth herself,” Francis said, “is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor …”

In Laudato Si’, Francis also called “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.”

“The dialogue began last week in Rome among those few people in the world best positioned to do something about it,” Father Jenkins said.