British historian William Oddie has called Barack Obama “the most anti-Catholic American president in living memory” because “across the whole spectrum of contemporary moral issues, he is passionately committed to a series of views which run directly contrary to those of the Church.”
Why, then, is the Obama administration trying to claim Pope Francis as its ally in its crusade against climate change? On Friday, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency will meet with Vatican officials in an attempt to elicit papal support for its platform.
As a Senator, Obama wanted sex education for five-year-olds, to be provided by Planned Parenthood. He voted over and over in favor of abortion, including partial birth abortion, and opposed bills prohibiting the public funding of abortions. He sought to expand embryonic stem cell research. He opposed the “Born Alive Infants Protection Act” on the Senate floor and was responsible for killing the bill in committee.
The President also issued a proclamation stating his intention to “give committed gay couples the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple, and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Pope Francis, on the contrary, has repeatedly spoken out on the evils of abortion and at Christmas called aborted babies victims of “the selfishness of a culture that does not love life.” He has denounced embryonic stem cell research as using human lives “as guinea pigs presumably to save others.” He has also proposed economic initiative as a solution to welfarism, and advocated a solidarity “which would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny,” and has pushed for “an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.” He has furthermore denounced the idea of gay marriage as an “anti-value,” insisting on man-woman complementarity as “the basis of marriage.”
The one area, in fact, where Obama can claim some affinity to Pope Francis is in the area of climate change. And he is trying to capitalize on the opportunity.
Though the President’s approval rating has seen a recent uptick following the State of the Union Address, he has just come off the worst year in his presidency, whereas Pope Francis enjoys an enviable popularity both in the United States and elsewhere. Any association with the Pope can only mean a good thing for the president and his Party.
The Pope may prove to be an uncomfortable ally. Despite his undeniable ecological edge, Pope Francis is no radical environmentalist and his upcoming encyclical letter in the environment may not be exactly what the Obama administration has in mind.
The Pope espouses a Biblically informed ecology, far from many of the basic tenets of radical environmentalism. “When we talk about the environment,” Francis has said, “my thoughts go to the first pages of the Bible, to the Book of Genesis.” Francis’ theological view of the environment is not an ideological environmentalism, but a natural development of the Christian understanding of man’s relationship to the rest of creation.
For Francis, environmentalism is an expression of respect for the Creator and of human solidarity, just as trashing the environment is a sign of pride and selfishness. For him, environmental ecology is inextricably linked to human ecology.
There is no doubt that the Pope carries moral weight, and the Obama administration would love to be able to count on him as a partner. In Francis, however, the administration is likely to find more resistance to its programs than support.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.