The Australian Bishops will release a pastoral statement next year on concerns for the Murray Darling Basin, to promote the health of the ecosystems.
Catholic Earthcare Australia executive secretary Col Brown said the statement, scheduled to coincide with World Environment Day on 5 June 2004, will be launched at Wentworth in south-west NSW, at the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers (pictured).
In recent years, various groups have sought to alert the Federal and State Govermnents to a looming ecological disaster that represents the greatest environmental challenge Australia has faced since European settlement.
The pastoral statement will seek to foster a "prudent and equitable use of the waterways" that includes the wellbeing of local communities while embracing the interests of indigenous Australians. Mr Brown hopes the June launch will include Aboriginal water ceremonies.
He said consultation with scientists will begin immediately, and he envisages the statement will add a spiritual and ethical perspective to the expert scientific advice.
To some extent, the initiative will be modelled on the Columbia River Watershed Project in North America, which included a pastoral letter signed by twelve Catholic bishops of the Northwest and Canada in 2001.
Bishops of the nine dioceses in the Murray-Darling Basin will be invited to sign the Australian statement, including Bishop Chris Toohey of Wilcannia-Forbes.
Bishop Toohey gave the keynote address at Catholic Earthcare Australia´s conference, which was held over the weekend at Randwick in Sydney.
Mr Brown told CathNews that the meeting also resolved to work with the National Council of Churches to host a conference on climate change in March 2004.
Catholic Earthcare Australia was formed by the Bishops Conference in 2002 to work towards the "ecological conversion" called for by Pope John Paul II.