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SALFORD, England (ChurchMilitant.com) - A pro-LGBT English bishop who launched a radical restructuring plan aimed at shutting 75 of his 150 parishes has appointed a climate-change czar on a lucrative salary to oversee the diocese's ambitious Laudato Si Center.
The appointment is putting pressure on other diocesan bishops in England and Wales to use their scarce resources to launch similar ecological projects, Church Militant has learned.
In a recent email to diocesan clergy, Bp. John Arnold of Salford diocese warns that the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is "a 'last chance' so I am hoping that, following the leadership of Pope Francis, we will have an impact on these meetings."
"Emma Gardner, our head of environment, was interviewed on Radio 4 Sunday last week, and it certainly put Salford on the map as making progress on reacting to climate change," Arnold wrote in the email obtained by Church Militant.
"On the same Sunday program, three young women said that they are churchgoers but have not heard anything about the environment crisis in their churches," the bishop said, noting that "this was an invitation to be speaking more directly and frequently on the subject."
Sources from the diocese told Church Militant that a number of priests were frustrated with the "fat cat" salary paid to Dr. Gardner while churches were being closed and the Church's mission of "saving souls" was being replaced with the "eco-brigade's agenda of saving the planet."
Speaking to Church Militant, Fr. Athanasius St. Michel said "the church has to decide if it is primarily invested in the ecology of the soul or the welfare of the external environment."
The cultural commentator and theologian explained:
The role climate change plays in the Church is to act as a form of displacement activity for those who have become uncomfortable with the salvation and care of souls. It replaces the apocalypse of the final judgment of humanity with the concern for the planet; essentially Gaia takes the place of Jesus under the guise of a new moral responsibility. For a bishop to divert scarce resources in the service of Gaia instead of his primary apostolic responsibilities is a dereliction of duty that should be called out by the rest of the Church.
Church Militant asked Bp. Arnold how much the center is costing the diocese every year and how much Dr. Gardner was being remunerated.
A spokesperson from the diocese of Salford said: "We do not comment on individual staff salaries, but our salary structure is evaluated to be comparable with similar organizations."
"We are proud of the development of the Laudato Si Center in our diocese. The center is in its early stages, but the value of its wider outreach work is already evidenced in our parishes and schools," the spokesperson stressed, adding that the project had "benefited greatly from the generosity of donors, and the help of very committed volunteers, which is allowing us to repurpose land owned by the diocese."
Salford diocese appointed Gardner as its head of environment in November after her eight-year stint as head of environmental sustainability at the University of Manchester — a position that pays up to £62,727 ($87,401) depending on experience.
The diocese advertised for a facilities and operations manager, offering up to £40,000 ($55,730) per annum but in its advertisement for head of environment did not specify how much the successful candidate would be paid.
Instead, it said the salary was "competitive dependent upon skills and experience."
The job description involves "leading transformation in keeping with Pope Francis' Laudato Sí encyclical and providing strategic leadership and direction to support the delivery of environmental practices across the diocese of Salford and beyond."
"In my experience, people seem to be welcoming news of practical action and accepting the seriousness of what our generation faces. David Attenborough was certainly not pulling any punches in his address to some United Nations body this week," Bp. Arnold remarked in his email.
"I apologize for the amount I am writing this week about the environment, but it seems to be growing in importance and urgency so I suspect you will hear a lot more about it from me," Arnold wrote.
Bishop Arnold has also championed Catholic schools as a way to help Muslims to integrate into British society by promoting interreligious dialogue and integration.
In comparison to the lucrative salaries being paid to some bureaucrats, priests in the English dioceses are paid a basic salary of around £3,000 ($4,180) in addition to free accommodation, utilities and often food.
They are also entitled to the Christmas and Easter offerings which could add another £3,000, plus Mass offerings and stipends. In total, a priest can expect about £20,000 ($27,865) in cash and benefits, but this will vary greatly between dioceses.