Kathleen Deignan, CND Institute for Earth and Spirit: News & Events

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Statement on USA Supreme Court Ruling on Environmental Protection Agency

“The establishment of a legal framework which can set  clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable before the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm overwhelm not only our politics but freedom and justice as well.”  Laudato Si  #53

The Deignan Institute for Earth and Spirit responds now in the spirit of the teachings of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, the 2015 Encyclical of Pope Francis, quoted above. The court was asked to consider whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to issue broad, aggressive regulations on climate-warming pollution from power plants that would force many of those plants to close. In a 6-to-3 decision, the justices ruled that the agency has no such authority.

The ruling, in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, not only limits the authority of the E.P.A., but potentially that of other agencies to enact a broad array of regulations to protect the environment and public health. It was the product of a coordinated, multiyear strategy by Republican attorneys general, conservative legal activists, and their funders to use the judicial system to rewrite environmental law, weakening the executive branch’s ability to tackle global warming.

The case was unusual because it focused on a program that wasn’t even in force: the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era federal regulation adopted under the Clean Air Act of 1970, which sought to govern greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. After a barrage of lawsuits from Republican states and the coal industry, the Supreme Court put the program on hold in 2016 and it never took effect. The Biden administration tried to have the case dismissed, arguing that there were no E.P.A. regulations in place for the court to consider. That didn’t work and, in the end, the court favored the plaintiffs, a group of Republican attorneys general, who argued that only Congress should have the power to set rules that significantly affect the American economy.  The power sector is the second-largest source of emissions in the United States, after transportation.  The major concern immediately will be the implications for global efforts to rein in carbon emissions. 

The failure of the United States — the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in history — to meet its climate targets would very likely mean the world will not be able to keep global warming at about 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels. Beyond that threshold, scientists say, the likelihood of catastrophic heat waves, drought, flooding, and widespread extinctions increases significantly.  Earth has already heated an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution.  Below we include a portion of the Dissent offered by Justice Kagan.

She notes precedent shows that the EPA has the right to regulate and she used an interesting precedent: tobacco. The tobacco industry used the same strategy as the fossil fuel industry, but the Supreme Court rejected it.

One of the arguments that the majority made in the EPA ruling—or should we say made-up—is the "major questions doctrine" where something of critical importance should be referred back to Congress. Kagan wrote: "Special canons like the 'major questions doctrine' magically appear as get-out-of-text-free cards. Today, one of those broader goals makes itself clear: Prevent agencies from doing important work, even though that is what Congress directed. That anti-administrative-state stance shows up in the majority opinion, and it suffuses the concurrence.”

And it goes against history; the delegation of authority to agencies has been critical. A long excerpt from Kagan again: "Over time, the administrative delegations Congress has made have helped to build a modern Nation. Congress wanted fewer workers killed in industrial accidents. It wanted to prevent plane crashes and reduce the deadliness of car wrecks. It wanted to ensure that consumer products didn’t catch fire. It wanted to stop the routine adulteration of food and improve the safety and efficacy of medications. And it wanted cleaner air and water. If an American could go back in time, she might be astonished by how much progress has occurred in all those areas. It didn’t happen through legislation alone. It happened because Congress gave broad-ranging powers to administrative agencies, and those agencies then filled in—rule by rule by rule—Congress’s policy outlines."

This SCOTUS decision has begun to reverberate across the environmental sustainability community in the USA with disturbing implications for all efforts to curb carbon emissions and meet the Paris Agreement targets in this country.  Many Berry Forum colleagues on these issues are distraught at the prospects for any progress now on several climate fronts.

Deignan Institute will continue to monitor the situation and the potential for organized responses incorporating the teachings of Laudato Si.  We plan to be more deeply engaged as Catholic climate groups begin to converge on a strategy for responding for the approaching Season of Creation in September. 

(This statement above  relies on reporting by Manuela Andreoni of the NYT, Lloyd Alter of Tree Hugger,  and the Dissent offered by Justice Elena Kagan on the EPA decision)  - Br. Kevin Cawley

The Center at Mariandale
Ossining, N.Y.
Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Deignan Institute for Earth and Spirit and the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona joined an enthusiastic group of teachers and young people on Sunday, April 24 at this Summit gathering. Dr. Carl Procario Foley, Executive Director of the Center, convened the Summit and invited Sr. Kathleen Deignan, Br. Kevin Cawley and Dr. James Robinson of Iona to help plan and participate with the Sisters of St. Dominic and students from St. John’s University, Manhattan College and Iona University.

The Summit invoked the spirit and wisdom of St. Catherine of Siena, a 14th century figure of enormous impact on her world. She was an avid writer and engaged the great figures of her era, confronting them with their failures to behave responsibly in Church matters. She served as inspiration for those engaged in Care of Earth in our time. The Summit called us toward education and advocacy.

Dr. Erin Lothes Biviano, theologian at St. Elizabeth University in Morristown, NJ, addressed the group in the keynote portion of our day.  Erin is a consultant to the global Laudato Si Action Platform.  Her most recent book has the title, The Paradox of Christian Sacrifice and she is now Senior Program Manager for Laudato Si Global Animators.  Erin is an expert in energy issues from the perspective  of Catholic social teaching. She points us to the See, Judge, Act paradigm that we are wise to take on to help us to move against the wrongs of our age that threaten our Earth.    She showed us the current models of the warming paths that science has identified and reminded her audience that the world needs to move to 50-75% renewable energy before 2050 to keep global temperature below a 2-degree Celsius rise in temperature.

The most effective “Action” may well be the divestment movement. We need to force the financial industry to end the subsidizing of fossil fuel extraction. The presentation concluded with several examples of Hope in the face of the many challenges of climate change - young people stepping up with great clarity to push back at the status quo, others challenging government practices such as auction of public lands to extractive industries, young people staging hunger strikes in DC, and others engaged in contact with local officials. Actions will also include participation in the Laudato Si Action Platform. Erin invited the young people to become involved as Laudato Si Animators by way of the online training now available.

The Summit concluded with small group exchanges and a very engaged discussion of future partnerships and actions on behalf of the Laudato Si Action Platform.

Members of the Iona community gathered in the Sustainability Gardens with Edgar Hayes, co-founder of Freedom Farm Community in Middletown, NY. Those who gathered included professors, students, and staff from the Religious Studies Department, the Biology Department, and Campus Ministry. Also in attendance was Fr. Enzo Del Brocco, vice-provincial of the Passionist order. Edgar led those gathered through a reflection on how far our food typically travels (and how many steps it passes through) to get from seed to plate. He additionally led those gathered to reflect on the link between systemic racism and food deserts (by looking at the history of redlining). Edgar’s presentation included a display of seeds, compost, and soil from Freedom Farm. The event was sponsored by the Deignan Institute for Earth and Spirit.

Members of the Iona community gathered in the Sustainability Gardens with Sean Gargamelli-McCreight, co-founder of Benincasa Community in Guilford, CT. Those who gathered included professors, students, and staff from the Religious Studies Department, the Biology Department, and Campus Ministry. Sean led those present through the Cosmic Walk, a contemplative ritual inspired by the work of Fr. Thomas Berry and created by Sr. Miriam MacGillis, OP of Genesis Farm. The ritual invited those present to prayerfully enter into the universe's 13.8-billion-year journey, from the Big Bang into the present moment. Through the ritual, and during a group reflection after, we considered the spiritual, social, and environmental implications of acknowledging our deep connection to the evolving cosmos. The event was sponsored by the Deignan Institute for Earth and Spirit.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 at 1 p.m.
Romita Auditorium of Ryan Library

Host today is Dr. Christina Carlson, Associate Professor of English 
The speakers: Dr. Richard Newkirk  and filmmaker Claudia Stack

Sharecrop showcases the experience of ten individuals who were involved in sharecropping during the segregation era. Featuring oral history and period images, the film conveys stories from cotton sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta, tobacco sharecroppers in the Carolinas, and others. It explores their lives, the way they worked and celebrates the resilience of the South's forgotten farmers.

Sometimes called “the forgotten farmers,” sharecroppers were vital to agricultural production prior to widespread farm mechanization. Featuring rare archival footage and many period images, the film conveys what life was really like for cotton sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta, tobacco sharecroppers in the Carolinas, and others.   Sharecrop explores their lives, the way they worked, and illuminates connections to civil rights, the wealth gap, and African American land loss.

Dr. C. Sade Turnipseed, Professor of History at Mississippi Valley State University and head of the Cotton Pickers of American Historic Monument project, said Sharecrop is one of only a few documentaries that effectively captures the authentic contemporary voice of sharecroppers."

Sharecrop was featured at the 2018 National Council for Black Studies Conference and has screened at many other conferences and film festivals.
Sharecrop is a vivid, sorrowful account of the experience of African American sharecrop farmers in the rural South of the USA.  The practice of sharecropping prevailed in the region from 1868 until the 1930s and later in many regions. The practice amounted to indentured debt peonage because the owner of the land regularly denied the black worker full value for the work.  The 500 pounds of cotton somehow never was sufficient to allow the worker to be free of debt.  No black person was able to escape the vicious cycle of debt as a result.  Few blacks had access to schooling at this time.  All available labor was required for the cotton fields. Or tobacco farms.

The only education virtually was the local Church which was a refuge for the black families one day per week.  Oppression of black people held all in fear even from the black overseer of the plantation.   White sharecroppers also suffered from poverty but escaped the random deadly violence inflicted on the black families who had no recourse to the justice system at the time. 

Viewers were treated to a deeply revealing and tender account from a series  of narrators who share the story of their family struggles to break the chains of modern serfdom.

“Women, Work, and Reform in the Global Garment Industry”

A Presentation of the Deignan Institute for Earth and Spirit and the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue

March 22, 2022
Live and Online in the classroom of Dr. Christina Carlson, Associate Professor of English:
ENG 352 Shifting Selves: “Disney Princess Culture”

The global garment industry plays a direct role in the lives of all people. Every day, we get dressed— yet how often do we think about the conditions under which our favorites clothes are made? Or who makes our outfits?

Iona Alumna Céire Kealty explores the state of the global garment industry, with commentary on labor and environmental exploitations inherent to the industry.  She centers on women, who overwhelmingly dominate the industry, and whose voices play a critical role in enacting reform.

Céire reveals important details the fruits of (women) garment workers’ labor — not only clothes sewn within the factory, but the unions fashioned secretly among laborers, their protests and collaboration with lawmakers and journalists in Bangladesh, the United States, and other countries.

Ceire Kealty

Our Speaker: Céire Kealty

Céire Kealty is a doctoral student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, studying Christian ethics and spirituality. She writes about the global garment industry, workers' rights, and clothing in religious and "secular" spaces. Céire is a regular contributor to the National Catholic Reporter’s “Earth Beat” column, and her essays and articles have also appeared in Sojourners and a number of other journals.

In this video Sr. Kathleen Deignan delivers the Homily at Mass at the Benedictine Grange for the Second Sunday of Lent 2021. Sr. Kathleen opens these challenging texts, reveals her insights into their possible meanings, and uncovers their message for us in our present time.

The Readings are from Genesis Chapter 22: verses 1-2, 9-13, 15-18 and the Gospel of Mark Chapter 9: verses 2-10.

The Genesis reading recounts the great test of Abraham when God commands him to bind his son Isaac and bring him to the place of sacrifice. Abraham assented to God’s will and began the journey. As he was about to slay Isaac, the messenger called to him from Heaven, “Do not lay your hand on the boy.” Abraham’s faith was thus rewarded. Generations of believers continue to ponder the implications of God’s testing of Abraham.

In Mark’s Gospel account we see Jesus transfigured on the mountain in the presence of Peter, James and John.

February 10, 2021

Sr. Kathleen Deignan, CND, in Conversation with Father James Martin of the Society of Jesus

Nearly 200 participants joined the online event for the conversation on Wednesday evening February 10, 2021 as Fr. James Martin and Sister Kathleen Deignan engaged in a lively exchange on the occasion of the release of Fr. Martin’s most recent book, How to Pray: A Guide for Everyone.

Fr. Martin and Sr. Kathleen are longtime friends who have a common spiritual heritage around Thomas Merton and share a deep conviction that everyone has an inner life that calls for nourishment. Both have been prominent teachers of spiritual practice and many former students were part of the audience on Wednesday.

We were surprised to learn that Fr. Martin was a graduate of the Wharton School of Business and had spent several years in the corporate world before responding to the call to religious life.

The conversation ranged over Ignatian spirituality for the most part due to the Jesuit training of Fr. Martin and Sr. Kathleen reported her own exposure to the tradition by way of Fr. George Aschenbrenner, S.J. a noted and much beloved Jesuit spiritual teacher. The Jesuit spirit of “being present to the culture” animates much of Fr. Martin’s work. For example , his writings include a recent text, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity. This book led to a personal audience with Pope Francis not long ago after various bishops invited Fr. Martin to a World Meeting of Families. Fr. Martin reports the time one-on-one with Pope Francis in October 2019 inspired him and has encouraged him in his ministry of outreach to the LGBTQ community. The two Jesuits share a pastoral approach that stresses compassion and accompaniment rather than condemnation and exclusion.

Sr. Kathleen called us back to the specifics of the book under discussion and Fr. Martin enumerated the various portions: Everyone Can Pray, Kinds of Prayer, Why Pray? Prayer as Friendship, Ways of Praying, What Happens When You Pray? , etc. We stay faithful and stay on the path to keep learning what is God’s voice in prayer and what is not God’s voice. In Fr. Martin’s telling, ultimately God’s mercy is more than we can imagine; God is all forgiveness, all compassion.

For Fr. Martin, the Jesus story remains the essential driver of his own reaching out to people. Jesus always met people where they were and spoke to them in direct language that met their known experience; recall he was a carpenter calling fishermen! One lesson here - go where the people are and speak their language.

Sometimes prayer can motivate us. God raises up things for us to notice and these feelings are God’s way of moving us toward help. How else would God move us? God’s desires are fulfilled by raising up desires in us. We can recall the teaching of “lectio divina” or spiritual reading and reflection on the scripture but other times, the modalities can be quite ordinary, such as reading the daily newspaper and becoming aware of a need or noticing an injustice calling us to action.

Some of us find it a challenge to be present to those in desolation; we feel so inadequate in the face of immense sadness, but we can - in the words of Sr. Kathleen- “wrap our arms around our friend and hold them in their sadness while imagining the mercy of God surrounding all in its infinite embrace beyond human comprehension, beyond any human capacity, wrapped in infinite mercy and embraced by the creator of all mercy.”

For all of us we do well to remember that always the voice of God is the voice of Hope.