Pope Francis causing major problems for US conservatives

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.


  1. says

    I got as far as

    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.”

    and had to go take care of an explosion in the storeroom where I keep spare irony meters.

    I’m back. I hope it’s safe to finish reading the rest of the post.

  2. coragyps says

    Inhofe stays with his job? WTF is that job, exactly? Accepting donations from oil companies? He knows as much science as I know about playing cricket!

  3. Chiroptera says

    Santorum: … and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists….

    Right. Meanwhile, these are the same clowns who have repeatedly screeched to their followers that scientists and other experienced, trained experts are just a bunch of elitist, out of touch cloud cuckoolanders who have nothing useful to add to the public discourse.

  4. Mano Singham says


    True, but it is better that he talks about inequality than not talk about it.

  5. says

    it is better that he talks about inequality than not talk about it

    And it is well that he be properly ridiculed as a hypocritical example of inequality while he does so.

  6. Narf says

    I dunno, man.  As long as they have the gay and abortion issues to drive their voter base into a froth about, the conservatives will continue to have plenty of drive.  I don’t think that most people on the right really care about environmental issues, and the conservative media has so firmly established the lie of trickle-down economics that too many of the uninformed actually think that the best way to fix the income-inequality problem is to cut taxes on rich people, so they can create more high-paying jobs.

    And the people in the middle are often amazingly ignorant of which side even stands for what.  I know a couple of swing-voters who almost always (only on presidential years; go figure) show up to vote against the party of which the current president is a member.  The thinking seems to be something along the lines of, “Okay, well, they both say they’re going to make the economy better.  The last guy has had 8 years to make the economy better, and it still could be better. So, let’s give the other guy a chance.”

    This is an interesting point to hold up to politically-conservative Catholics, but I don’t think it will actually have any real effect.

  7. Nick Gotts says

    I wonder if the Protestant evangelical right will now go back to denouncing the Pope as the Roman Antichrist.

  8. Narf says

    What do you mean, “go back to,” Nick?  Did they ever stop?  I live in North Carolina. Anti-Catholicism is still going strong, amongst the local fundies.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    I hope the media does not focus only on the climate change issues in the encyclical …

    Maybe Francis’ll mention Miley Cyrus or Caitlyn Jenner and enable them to evade all the rest.

  10. Dunc says

    It makes conservative politicians look like they are against Catholic teaching.

    It’s not like they haven’t had enough practice -- the Catholic Church has long been very strongly opposed to the death penalty.

  11. Narf says

    One of the few sane positions they hold on social issues, Dunc. Most of their other liberal positions fall into the economic end of things, and they always have a very hypocritical, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do problem, in that area.

  12. Hoosier X says

    … he likely knows more science than most US politicians.

    That’s not something to brag about.

  13. Narf says

    That’s not something to brag about.

    Or at the very least, it isn’t a meaningful statement.  I know middle-schoolers with a better grasp of science than some of our congress members.


    Lamar Smith, the head of the Congressional Science Committee, is a climate-change denialist.

    Paul Broun was on the Science Committee up until this year, I think.  He’s the “Evolution is laaaaaaahs, straight from the pit uh hell,” guy, from a couple years back.

    Dana Rohrabacher is another extreme climate-change denialist.

    As near as I can tell, committee assignments are handed out based upon some sort of arbitrary seniority system or something else that doesn’t even attempt to line up congress members with their knowledge of the subject.

  14. Numenaster says

    Committee assignments are handed out based on the spoils system, with party leadership distributing seats on powerful committees as rewards. Members can make requests, but seniority counts much more than knowledge. And nothing prevents the Louis Gohmerts of the world from requesting seats on powerful committees whose work they know nothing about. Happens all the time, especially with Louis Gohmert.

  15. Narf says

    It’s difficult to imagine anything else being the case, when dealing with Louis Gohmert’s committee assignments. Otherwise, the guy would never get to be a member of any committees, and that doesn’t seem fair … wise, but not fair.

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