Pope Francis is due to issue an encyclical (a kind of letter from the pope to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics) this coming Thursday where he is expected to call on Catholics all over the world to act to stop global warming and address climate change and inequality.
In an unprecedented encyclical on the subject of the environment, the pontiff is expected to argue that humanity’s exploitation of the planet’s resources has crossed the Earth’s natural boundaries, and that the world faces ruin without a revolution in hearts and minds. The much-anticipated message, which will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops, will be published online in five languages on Thursday and is expected to be the most radical statement yet from the outspoken pontiff.
However, it is certain to anger sections of Republican opinion in America by endorsing the warnings of climate scientists and admonishing rich elites, say cardinals and scientists who have advised the Vatican.
The Ghanaian cardinal, Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a close ally of the pope, will launch the encyclical. He has said it will address the root causes of poverty and the threats facing nature, or “creation”.
In a recent speech widely regarded as a curtain-raiser to the encyclical, Turkson said: “Much of the world remains in poverty, despite abundant resources, while a privileged global elite controls the bulk of the world’s wealth and consumes the bulk of its resources.”
Earlier popes, including Benedict XVI and John Paul II, addressed environmental issues and “creation”, but neither mentioned climate change or devoted an entire encyclical to the links between poverty, economics and ecological destruction.
This move by the pope has US conservatives and Republicans in Congress all of a doo-dah since their stance has been that greed is good, inequality is even better, and that warnings about the danger of climate science are based on false and based on data manipulated by scientists seeking lucrative research grants. And besides god promised after his mass genocide with Noah that he would not destroy the Earth so why worry? This view has been heavily promoted by the fossil fuel industry that has poured vast sums of money.
While the warnings of scientists can be dismissed, Francis is something else altogether and has prompted a serious counter-attack, focusing more on his climate change message than on the issue of inequality.
Leading figures on the American right are launching a series of pre-emptive attacks on the pope before this week’s encyclical, hoping to prevent a mass conversion of the climate change deniers who have powered the corps of the conservative movement for more than a decade.
The prospect that the pope, from his perch at the pinnacle of the Catholic church, will exhort humanity to act on climate change as a moral imperative is a direct threat to a core belief of US conservatives. And conservatives – anxious to hang on to their flock – are lashing out.
“The pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours,” James Inhofe, the granddaddy of climate change deniers in the US Congress and chairman of the Senate environment and public works committee, said last week, after picking up an award at a climate sceptics’ conference.
Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic and a long-shot contender for the Republican nomination, told a Philadelphia radio station: “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”
For Inhofe and Santorum, of all people, suggesting that the pope does not know any science and should stay away from discussing climate change is a bit rich since interestingly, Francis graduated from technical secondary school with a chemical technician’s diploma and worked for a few years in that area before joining the Jesuit seminary, so he likely knows more science than most US politicians.
But attacking the pope and undermining his credibility carries with it serious risks for conservative politicians who still need his support and clout when they are opposing same-sex marriage and contraception and abortion.
“Conservative politicians will be in a position now of being where many liberals are when it comes to Catholic teaching,” Morano said. “It makes conservative politicians look like they are against Catholic teaching.” Other pontiffs have called for “creation care”, and Francis’s immediate predecessor at the Vatican, Benedict, was seen as the “green pope”. An encyclical raises the prospect of speeches on climate change from the pulpit of more than 17,000 Catholic parishes.
The discomfort will only increase in September when the pope is due to address the US Congress, said Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island, who has made more than 100 speeches about climate change in Congress.
“Speaker John Boehner is a very proud and sincere Catholic, and I think it can’t not have an effect,” Whitehouse said. “I also think it will change the debate in public because it isn’t just an encyclical that goes up on the Vatican website. Every Catholic school will teach to it. Every Catholic parish will teach to it. Catholic universities will teach to it. It will be a significant force in the community and create very significant ripples. ”Those ripples will likely travel well beyond Catholics, who make up about a quarter of the US population. Other conservatives will be influenced by the pope’s message too, said Hescox and they are unlikely to be receptive to the conservatives’ attacks.
I hope the media does not focus only on the climate change issues in the encyclical but also on the problem of inequality and the dominance of a “privileged global elite” that seeks to benefit only itself.
Meanwhile, here’s a short video about this development.