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As U.S. Visit Nears, Pope Francis Points to Climate Change

As Pope Francis prepares to embark on his first trip ever to the United States, on Friday he spoke of the “urgency of climate change” while indicating two “crucial events” looming on the ecological horizon: the approval of the objectives of sustainable development by the United Nations at the end of this month and the Paris Climate Conference at the beginning of December.

The Pope was addressing a meeting organized by the “Foundation for Sustainable Development,” a Rome-based nonprofit think tank, on the topic of environmental justice and climate change.

The climate, Francis said, is a common good, that is now seriously threatened, as shown by phenomena such as climate change, global warming and the increase in extreme weather events.

The Pope said that the issue of climate change is “hotly debated” by scientists and politicians, and although he indicated an “emerging consensus,” Francis acknowledged that it is “not unanimous.”

Last May, the Pope released an encyclical letter called Laudato Sì, on “the care for our common home,” dealing with a string of environmental topics, including climate change, in which he encouraged open debate and discussion on environmental issues.

On Friday, the Pope said that climate change carries with it “serious social implications” and stated that “it is the poorest who suffer the consequences with the greatest severity!”

With a nod to climate skeptics, Francis invited everyone to the table to discuss responsible stewardship of the environment, recognizing that no one has all the answers. Responsibility means a willingness to dialogue, he said, “and accepting that one’s own contribution will be called into question.”

The Pope called for a “transparent” dialogue including all stakeholders, which may come as a welcome remark after many who question the science behind global warming felt excluded from talks in the Vatican last spring, where opposing voices were silenced.

In June, Bishop Mario Toso, who co-wrote the first draft of the Pope’s encyclical, denied that Pope Francis had any intention of “canonizing” scientific theories regarding climate change, but only wished to assert his authority on the moral level.

Toso, who was secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the time of the drafting of the encyclical, said that in the encyclical letter the Pope sought to offer “reflections on the anthropological and ethical issues” related to the care of creation, but that he did not wish to “impose” the results of scientific studies on anyone or to confer his moral authority on scientific opinions.

“Everyone knows that many opinions today considered ‘scientific’ are not irrefutable or incontrovertible,” he said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome

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