The Great Council of the Roman Catholic Church in the Bern region is environmentally conscious. He followed a postulate of Franz X. Stadelmann*, St. Josef Köniz, granted, which calls for a sustainable strengthening of ecological action in construction, finance and pastoral support. A conversation with the postulant.
"pfarrblatt": Why are you committed to ecology??
Franz X. Stadelmann: To clarify the term. Ecology is a science, that of the balance of nature. I understand my commitment in terms of livelihoods for all living things, especially humans, everywhere in the world and for future generations. I have three main motivations:
- Enjoyment of nature. Nature experiences I've had from being a boy to now being a grandfather with
and enthusiastic grandchildren were allowed to experience.
- Findings as a researching natural scientist. I was specialized in agroecology,
Agriculture and environment. I was mainly involved in these topics at the federal government in various
- The third reason is deeper, it is religious. As a Christian, in my opinion, one bears responsibility for the
Creation responsibility, for all our entrusted, given resources.
How was it as a child? What joy did you experience in concrete terms?
I was strongly influenced by my father. He was a boy. When I came into the world, he was a farmhand. When I was four years old, he was able to purchase a small Heimetli in the Lucerne hinterland. I experienced having to pay the mortgages and pay off the debts. He cut firs for it in the forest in each case. For this we planted young. Starting at five, I had to get up at five in the morning and help in the field and barn as the oldest of eight children. When cutting grass in the morning freshness I experienced a lot. I remember a bird, a red breasted, I even gave it a name, Adelia. He flew to me every morning, I communicated with him.
They talked with animals?
Much more modest than my role model Francis of Assisi. But still: For example, I helped mother pigs give birth to their piglets countless times. A sensually moving experience. One knew the animals. Each had its name. Birth and death were a given on the farm. A cat that died, we did not bury or burn, but gave it to the manure. It was thus recycled in the true sense and helped fertilize the soil. There was no waste at all. In nature it is always so. Nature does not produce waste. Waste, waste air, waste water, waste heat are actually quite bad terms – they insinuate "out of sight out of mind". But these are all substances, valuable materials and energy. So it's about a different attitude towards animate and inanimate matter. I learned about the diversity and beauty of nature – animals, flowers, forest.
You never disliked the early hard work?
No, surprisingly not. Perhaps simply a stroke of luck, a personal predisposition. I always preferred the forest, the countryside and the barn to the city. I was interested in the variety, the smells of soils, plants, animals, trees. As the oldest I also experienced my grandfather still in the nature. We often fished and collected mushrooms together. I learned from him the conditions, where which mushrooms grew. Shade, humidity, soil conditions, neighboring plants, play a role in it. This wonderful interconnectedness had a strong impact on me.
Nature can also threaten.
Of course I experienced that too. Nature is much stronger than we are. I experienced floods, violent thunderstorms. The cows in the stable were under water. But then drought and grubs plague too. On two thirds of the land we had no more yield in one year. I experienced our limits. It triggered a reflection on humility, modesty.
This fascination was the reason you went into science?
That played a role and my biology teacher Father Johannes Heim. He occasionally celebrated early morning Mass with me alone at four o'clock at a speed second to none, so that we could make it to Nuolenerried on time. There I ringed lapwings with him in the early morning, learned the differentiated song of the birds and marveled at their ability to adapt the colors of their eggs to the environment. I was so "pissed off" by all these phenomena that I later studied natural sciences. Father Johannes also told about evolution. At the end of the 1950s, the subject was taboo in the Catholic Church. The creator with his seven-day creation story was valid. Father Johannes showed us fossils millions of years old. Seven days were not enough. Our village priest wanted to get me back on the 'right track' for this reason. After a conversation about my future, he preached the following Sunday with vehemence against evolution.
Didn't that make you doubt the church??
At that time, it was fashionable for a scientist to become an atheist almost as a matter of course. A bridge for me was then the reading of the theologian Theilhard de Chardin, who combined theology and natural sciences and was convinced that the biblical account of creation and evolution are not mutually exclusive. Later, I had valuable discussions with Johannes Hürzeler, the father of my wife and a friend of Chardin. Even he did not leave the church as a paleontologist. My motto became, only in the church can church be changed. I am not a pious man, I am a religious man. I still ask today, "where from, where to?". We humans are only a small speck of dust in time and space. But we have a mandate. We should use our talents.
How concerned are you about our environment?
Very concerned. Competent friends of me even say, the world is not to be saved any more. I do not go so far. From a long history "Homo sapiens sapiens" has survived. All the previous human species became extinct. The name "sapiens" – the wise – is of course wrong. Today one would have to say "Homo consumens" – consumer, exploiter. We urgently need a new value culture. After the phase of hunter-gatherers as part of nature came the agricultural revolution of sedentarism and agriculture with interventions in nature. Much later then followed the third phase of the industrial revolution, which exploits nature until today. Now we need a fourth revolution, a culture of values in the sense of cultivating and caring – according to Genesis 2:15, "tending and protecting the garden" – with ethics and mindfulness, a stewardship, a caring approach to nature.
We are not yet that far.
I am more confident than you think. On the one hand, nature has a great power, seeds sprout even after years, break through asphalt. Nature can bear a lot, but not everything. On the other hand, people still deserve, indeed have, a chance to live more moderately and frugally: not too much, not too little, just right.
What is today the worst environmental sin?
The worst is the careless and irresponsible waste of resources with drastic consequences for the environment, such as the sensitive climate system. For Switzerland 1986 was a key year. That's when the Schweizerhalle chemical accident happened. Chemicals got into the Rhine, many fish were killed. In the same year the explosion in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. It became clear that Switzerland is not a garden of its own. Soil, water and air have been polluted. It was no longer possible to sell cheese from Ticino because the vegetables were poisoned. The environmental problems, it became clear, cannot be solved only locally. In addition, there were the midland lakes, which were overfertilized because of agriculture, Lake Sempach, for example, which had to be artificially aerated.
Something has been learned from these horrors. In water protection something went. Chernobyl came back into consciousness after Fukushima and at least triggered moratoriums.
That is right. Dead fish, no longer usable food, abandoned villages made us feel how serious and limitless the effects on the environment are. It takes a shock, then action is taken. Water protection and environmental protection legislation we have been able to enforce politically. Only, after a good five years, unfortunately, the broad discussion ebbs away and the dangers are forgotten. But: If you want to protect the environment sustainably, you have to protect it from humans (only one species out of 20 million species), if you want to protect humans, you have to protect the environment.
Is this a reason for their postulate in the Great Church Council of the Roman Catholic Church Region Bern?
Exactly, I wanted to ensure continuity in ecological action in our church environment. In 2010, Switzerland set a new inglorious world record in human history. They spent more money on mobility than on food, one third of which they throw away (120 kilograms per person and year)! Everyone is environmentally conscious today. There is driving, traveling, wasting – uninterruptedly. There is also a need for constant financial resources, for example, to achieve energy efficiency, which helps to save finances in the long run. This is the case with heating – operational and technical measures such as insulation save heating costs. We have also noticed this in my parish. We save between 10-20% of energy costs, which amounts to several thousand francs.
A legislative goal 2011-2014 of the executive was: "The Catholic Church Region Bern acts ecologically". Did you not trust this intention?
This goal was credibly implemented with considerable resources, especially in the building sector. Building on this, however, we now need long-term and comprehensive ecological action. Therefore my postulate "The catholic church of Bern takes responsibility for creation". Responsibility for creation has to do with sustainability. Sustainability is an integral approach, example climate change. They trigger refugee flows. This has to be managed politically, economically, socially and humanly. It is also important to see how and where the money is invested, for example pension fund money – it is about justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Not only scientists concentrate on their special fields today. Generalists are often ridiculed. But we need a holistic view if we want to tackle the problems. Recognizing the interrelationships and acting according to needs is required today. Our church, we Christians should continue to be a role model.
At the moment, the cash flow of the Catholic Church in Bern is good. Since it is easy to secure the financial resources. What if funds run short?
We need to secure a good foundation for worse times today. This is happening now with the adoption of the postulate. It includes four areas: Construction and maintenance, management of assets such as financial investments, support of parishes/church communities in creation-motivated ecological information and awareness-raising work, for example in religious education, through further training and projects, and information to the outside world. The Great Council of Churches has now agreed to this. A mission statement will be drawn up, there will be a recurring sustainability report as controlling, and a sustainability group will be set up to propose further concrete measures and check their implementation on an ongoing basis. It is more than I could expect. I am pleased.