There was a sweet little article in the New York Times this morning about how the Vatican is set to become the world's first carbon-neutral state by accepting a Hungarian company's offer to reforest a denuded stretch of land north-east of Budapest in order to offset the Vatican's carbon-dioxide production.
So, the Vatican goes green and gets some nice PR, the Hungarian company gets to tout its own efforts. A happy example of how trade in carbon credits is a good thing for the environment and development both. Win-win, to all appearances.
Then up chimes a Vatican type, Msgr. Melchor Sánchez de Toca Alameda, from the Council for Culture at the Vatican, who tells the Catholic News Service that buying carbon credits is like doing penance: “One can emit less CO2 by not using heating and not driving a car, or one can do penance by intervening to offset emissions, in this case by planting trees."
Let me see if I follow the monsignor's argument, then: emitting CO2, in this case, is like sinning. So, you can redress this grievous trespass before the Lord by simply, let's say, not sinning or you can bypass this onerous restriction on your lifestyle by simply having someone do your penance for you while you go right on sinning.
So, two things. First, did the good padre not think this through before he spoke? He didn't, did he? 'Cause I don't want to be nitpicky or anything but this is a fairly crap analogy from a doctrinal standpoint. Second, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the notion of buying penance to offset the sins one has committed very similar to the Catholic Church's practice of selling indulgences about which there was no small amount of to-do back in the sixteenth century? With the Theses and the nailing and the church doors and whatnot.
Die Hard 5: Old Habits of Churchmen.