The fact that secular environmentalists have mystical experiences divorced from formal religion should interest theologians. It reminds us of the various ways that the secular can encounter the Divine, which cannot be just dismissed as mere delusion.
Nonetheless, Benedict the razor sharp professor of theology builds upon John Paul II's 1990 January 1 message on the environment in which he maintained that environmental problems are really moral problems. No human institution on the planet can challenge the Roman Catholic Church as an expert on the human condition. For once it is the oldest continuing institution in the Western World or in the world for that matter. Benedict cites the ancient Greeks for their philosophical view that nature cannot be considered as a "heap of refuse" and it needs to be sustained. But the present environmental crisis is really a consequence of greed which comes from pride, the First of the Seven Sins. We have to look at our lifestyles.
All environmental, economic and political decisions have a moral dimension and consequence. We have to recover and renew the values that will provide a solid basis for human development. And one of these values is the Principle of Intergenerational Equity. Whence before this was just a ethical principle, Benedict XVI's elevates it to a theological teaching in the 2010 message. Roman Catholics are now obliged to follow it. This is where Benedict daringly moves forward. This equity is also requires an intergenerational solidarity which involves redistribution of the benefits of exploitation of the environment, not just in time but in space.
Benedict is not ignorant on the promise that Science can do to achieve this goal. Science and technology are the best if not the only ways to reach the goal but these must be anchored on "the values of charity, justice and the common good" Technology according to the Pope has to be in the service of human development not the other way around.
Benedict also gives a critique of environmental philosophies that exclude God such as ecocentrism and biocentrism.
" If the Church’s magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things. In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the “dignity” of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man’s salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms. The Church, for her part, is concerned that the question be approached in a balanced way, with respect for the “grammar” which the Creator has inscribed in his handiwork by giving man the role of a steward and administrator with responsibility over creation, a role which man must certainly not abuse, but also one which he may not abdicate. In the same way, the opposite position, which would absolutize technology and human power, results in a grave assault not only on nature, but also on human dignity itself"
All of this according to Catholic teaching is consistent with its pro-life stance. Benedict does not move away from earlier teaching. And alluding to Galileo, he writes that the book of nature is one and indivisible.
Benedict in this latest message, brings the Catholic Church fully into the environmentalist side and is the environmentalist heavyweight voice on the social and moral issues involved. And this is now part of the Social Teaching of the Church. While this is not considered dogmas as the Holy Trinity or the Immaculate Conception are, Catholics have an obligation to obey.