Pope Francis’ controversial encyclical letter on the environment may already be having an effect on US politicians, according to Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who said Wednesday that the Pope’s words have softened the climate rhetoric of two Republican presidential hopefuls: Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
Wenski said that both of the candidates, who are Miami Catholics and purportedly friends of his, seem to have adopted a milder tone in their comments on climate change since the Pope’s encyclical was released a week ago.
“Both of them, at least from what I can gather, have walked back some of their earlier comments,” said Wenski, who chaired the committee on environment at this year’s U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The archbishop found the candidates more open to discussion about the environment, which he called an encouraging sign. “What the pope is saying is, ‘Let’s talk about this.’ And that requires — whether you’re Democrat or Republican or left or right — it requires that you transcend your particular interest or ideological lens and look at the issue from the common good.”
The Miami Herald had already pointed out a possible shift in tone from Jeb Bush, who said prior to the letter’s publication that “religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm,” but Wednesday stepped back, saying that there had to be a “consensus about how to approach this without hollowing out our industrial core.”
When asked whether he would follow the lead of his father, President George H. W. Bush, on climate change, Bush responded: “I embrace the reduction of carbon emissions that have taken place.”
The campaign teams of Rubio and Bush, however, both deny that their candidates have modified their positions because of Francis’ encyclical.
On Saturday, Marco Rubio said that he accepted the basic thrust of the encyclical regarding responsible stewardship of the environment, but insisted that political decisions must take into account the common good of citizens, and not solely the environment.
“I have no problem with what the pope did. He is a moral authority and as a moral authority is reminding us of our obligation to be good caretakers of the planet,” Rubio said. “I’m a political leader and my job as a policymaker is to act in the common good. And I do believe it’s in the common good to protect our environment.”
“But I also believe it’s in the common good to protect our economy,” he added. “There are people all over this planet and in this country who have emerged from poverty in large respect because of the availability of affordable energy. It creates industries. It makes the cost of living lower. And we have to take that into account as well.”
Rubio also got in a dig at sudden interest in the Pope’s teaching among liberals, when they ignore it on other key issues.
He said he finds it “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.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome