VATICAN CITY, AUG. 23, 2002 ( The Vatican published a new book on the Church's teaching on ecology, and its central message is respect for creation as a gift of God for all people, not just the privileged few.

"From Stockholm to Johannesburg: A Historical Overview of the Concern of the Holy See for the Environment" appears on the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, set for Aug. 26-Sept. 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The book, now available only in English, was written by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and published by the Vatican Press.

The volume covers the Catholic Church's position on issues such as demographic growth, access to natural resources, and the impact of genetic manipulation, keeping in mind the evolution of thought since 1972, when the first U.N. Conference on Human Development was held.

On that occasion, the international community became aware of the growing degradation of nature. In Johannesburg, it will have to focus on effective means of development for the whole human family, paying particular attention to respect for ecological equilibrium.

The book covers a series of documents, beginning with the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution "Lumen Gentium" and including John Paul II's June 2002 Venice Declaration, signed jointly with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.

The Church's message has always been the same, Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi emphasizes in the preface.

"We have the moral obligation to protect the environment, to respect God's Creation and to ensure that his goods are distributed equitably among all," writes the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The 150-page book, written with the contribution of Sister Marjorie Keenan of the Sacred Heart of Mary, includes encyclicals, exhortations and apostolic letters of Paul VI and John Paul II.

The "present destruction of the environment is only one aspect of a profound moral crisis," the text states.

The book points out that science "and technology have contributed much to progress. However, there are moral limits to their use and applications."

The volume also addresses the issue of genetic research: "Great care must be taken in any form of genetic manipulation, which must be ruled by ethical norms."