Conservatives have bullied the Vatican into pulling from its news website an article on the environmental benefits of coronavirus.

– “Earth is healing herself”

Holy See news outlet Vatican News published on Monday a piece penned by Jesuit priest Fr Benedict Mayaki entitled “Coronavirus: earth’s unlikely ally”.

In that story, Mayaki wrote that “the changes in human behavior due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic are yielding unintended benefits to the planet”.

“The global reduction in air, land and sea travel is yielding benefits for the planet as carbon emission sees a projected decline”, Mayaki continued in his piece.

“In Italy, fish have returned to the canals in Venice.

“Less tourism and water transport have allowed the murky waters to settle.

“Migratory birds, including swans have been sighted gliding through the city’s waterways”.

Mayaki continued by noting that “China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, now has a significant decrease in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air”, due to the “decline of economic and industrial activities during the coronavirus outbreak”.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, “has see an improvement in its air quality”, as “key air pollutants dropped by nearly a third from January to February this year”, the Jesuit wrote.

Evidence all these “signs of regeneration”, for Mayaki, that “Earth is healing herself” because of the reduction in human activity due to the coronavirus.

– The conservatives pile on

Despite the fact that Mayaki, in his March 30 piece, did indeed note that the coronavirus is a “global health concern” of the first order, Catholic conservatives were quick to attack on social media both the Jesuit for having written the piece and the Vatican for having published it.

Canon law professor Edward Peters, for example, asked on Twitter:

“Can you even begin to imagine how your words impact the tens of thousands mourning the loss of loved ones, not to mention the tens of millions suffering the destruction of their livelihoods, in the wake of this disaster?”

“Your disregard for their plight cannot be more obvious”, Peter said, before adding: “Disgusting. Shame on the Vatican News Service for publishing this”.

Other critics – desperately hanging on to any excuse, like Peters, to maintain their climate change negationism – criticised Mayaki and the Vatican for promoting the claim that swans had returned to the canals of Venice during the coronavirus outbreak, an affirmation that has been proven false.

Ultratraditionalist blog Rorate Caeli piled on Mayaki and Vatican News, too:

“Eleven thousand dead in Italy, the same soon enough in Spain, millions upon millions of people left destitute by the depression — and you celebrate this tragedy because it’s supposedly ‘good for the earth?’ Are you completely out of your minds?!?! Please, delete this article!”.

Vatican News forced to apologise

Delete the article was exactly what Vatican News was forced to do after the conservative uproar, explaining through English-language representative on Vatican Media’s editorial committee (CEM), Sr Bernadette Reis, FSP:

“The article has been removed because it does not reflect the editorial line on the subject as indeed the hundreds of articles and interviews of these days published in all the languages of our portal demonstrate.

“We realise that, while not in the editor’s intentions, this article has hurt the sensibilities of many readers of Vatican News”, Reis explained.

“For this we apologise to all of them and we thank them for the way they are following our work in this difficult time of emergency”.

– Pope Francis’ magisterium: “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home”

The conservative pressure on Vatican News to delete the Mayaki article was highly unfortunate, given that the Jesuit limited himself to observing simply that the environmental consequences of the coronvirus lockdowns around the world “[indicate] how much more can be done for the planet”.

“Some countries are already preparing to restart their economies after the pandemic. Many see this as an opportunity to consider sustainable options”, Mayaki wrote.

The Jesuit went on to recall that in his 2015 encyclical on the care of our common Home, Laudato si’, Pope Francis himself highlighted the urgency of taking care of the earth.

Lamenting the effect of human activity on the planet, the Pope wrote: “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years”.

“Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home… Truly, much can be done”.

The pontiff returned to those sentiments in a March 22 interview in which he stated in the context of the coronavirus: “There’s a saying… God always forgives. We forgive from time to time. Nature never forgives. Fires, earthquakes … nature is throwing a tantrum for us to take care of her”.

– Cardinal Tagle restates Church teaching: Coronavirus has “made the air purer, the skies bluer, our hands cleaner”

The irony of the conservative criticism of Mayaki’s article on the coronavirus as an “ally” of the earth is that, in the midst of the uproar, Vatican cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and the President of Catholic relief organisation Caritas Internationalis, was quietly restating official Church teaching.

Lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus have “made the air purer, the skies bluer, our hands cleaner, our streets and homes ‘safer'”, Tagle mused to CNS.

“A deadly virus has made us behave more responsibly toward ourselves, family, community and creation. I hope when the virus is gone, our good habits would continue”, the cardinal said.

Next on Novena:

#JustRecovery: Catholic groups join call for “healthier and more equitable future” after COVID-19

Theologian warns on coronavirus: “This pandemic demands a different relationship with nature and the Earth”

Cardinal Schönborn celebrates environmental benefits of coronavirus: “The sky over Vienna hasn’t been as clear for a long time without the usual contrails”

Pope Francis, amid coronavirus: “Nature is throwing a tantrum for us to take care of her”

French bishop warns on COVID-19: “Serious questions must be asked about the relationship between humans and nature”

Cardinal, theologian blame coronavirus on “rich countries’ aimless experiments”, “retaliation of Gaia”

“The cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor cannot continue”: Pope renews “urgent call” to respond to ecological crisis


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.