Leaders of the Catholic Church in America have taken their “marching orders” from the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, and are already lobbying politicians in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as instructing their parishioners to do more. The release of the encyclical has also fired the starting gun for a wave of events designed to promote action on climate change.
According to the Guardian America has 80 million Catholics, and their leaders are embarking on a program designed to turn each and every one of them into advocates for climate action. The leaders themselves are also doing their part: the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is hosting two briefing meetings for members of congress this Thursday and will be visiting the White House on Friday to set out the Pope’s position on climate change.
Joseph Kurtz, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archbishop of Louisville, said that the encyclical is “our marching orders for advocacy. It really brings about a new urgency for us.”
Reverend Canon Sally Bingham, founder of Interfaith Power & Light which campaigns for action on climate change agreed: “I believe this is potentially the game changer we have all been waiting for. I really think it will change enough minds to get the critical mass we need to get our house in order and cut greenhouse gas emissions.”
The encyclical has also sparked renewed enthusiasm for action at a more local level. Sister Joan Brown, a Franciscan living in New Mexico who has been a climate change campaigner for more than 20 years said “I’ve never seen anything like this in the faith community or otherwise.”
In addition to the high level meetings with politicians, members of the church are holding a string of events countrywide. The Bishop of Des Moines is planning a press conference at a wind farm, while the office of the Archbishop of Atlanta has used the encyclical to encourage local engineers and scientists to help parishioners reduce their carbon footprint. The church has also prepared a briefing for its priests to help them deliver sermons on tackling climate change.
But not everyone is pleased by the Pope’s intervention. His Holiness has been criticised by a number of Republicans, including Jeb Bush, a practicing Catholic, who has said: “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”
“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my Bishops or my Cardinals or my Pope,” he added.
Bush later attempted to ameliorate his comments, saying: “I think Pope Francis is an extraordinary leader of the church whose teachings I try to follow. It doesn’t need to get any more complicated than that. That’s why I go to Mass. I don’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics.”
Bush was branded a “hypocrite” for his comments, having in the past said that faith should guide public leaders, but Senator Marco Rubio, another Republican Presidential nominee hopeful told reporters that it was “ironic that a lot of the same liberals who are touting the encyclical on climate change ignore multiple pronouncements of this Pope on the definition of marriage and the sanctity of life.”
A third candidate, Rick Santorum has also spoken on the matter, telling a radio host “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science. We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”
But Kurtz has attempted to suggest that the Pope’s encylical is merely a moral, and not a political statement, saying “I don’t think he is presenting a blueprint for saying this is exactly a step-by-step recipe. He is providing a framework and a moral call as a true moral leader to say take seriously the urgency of this matter.”
Climate scientist Ray Bradley said: “He has no political agenda. He speaks from the heart. Who else can address this issue without the taint of politics?”
But already three very clear-cut policies are being supported and promoted by the church as ‘solutions’ to climate change: the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules for new power plants which have been severely criticised by Republicans and the fossil fuel industry; the Green Climate Fund which pays developing countries to curtail their CO2 emissions; and an energy efficiency bill currently before Congress.
“It saves the encyclical from being dismissed simply as an abstract impression,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. “What our holy father is lifting up is a series of acts that beg for some coherent moral analysis, some direction for the good of all on the planet and for the planet itself.”
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