When the Catholic Church found itself deep in scandal and turmoil over numerous allegations of inappropriate behavior, it turned to a new leader — an educated man of the people, a humanist with a deep commitment to social justice — to restore confidence. Pope Francis has been a trailblazer in many ways.
Now he has rocked the world yet again, weighing in with a papal encyclical on the question of climate change. Mother Jones obtained a leaked copy. The Argentinean pope did not beat around the bush. According to the draft, he said, “Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it.”
Nor did the pontiff shy away from the science, despite efforts from the Koch-funded Heartland Institute to dissuade him. The pope, holds a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires, proclaimed that, “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the greater part of the global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … given off above all because of human activity.”
His words reach out directly to the people. “Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet. In this encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”
What is the significance of this statement? Given the fact that there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, I think it’s safe to say that many of these people will be moved to change their behavior in some way, in order to more closely align themselves with the pope’s urgently stated concern. Even small changes on the part of that many people will surely be significant. Indeed, there is already a growing movement within the Catholic Church to respond to climate change. A strong statement like this one, directly from the pope, is certain to amplify those concerns.
Closer to home, is it possible that the impacts could reach as far as next year’s presidential election? So far, all the Republican candidates that have announced to date have espoused denial of man’s role in the problem, as do most Republicans on Capitol Hill. Might they find Catholics, who comprise some 25 percent of the U.S. population, turning away? Or will they change their tune in response to the pope’s comments? The encyclical specifically calls out “attitudes that stand in the way of a solution, even among believers, [that] range from negation of the problem, to indifference, to convenient resignation or blind faith in technical solutions.”
It should be noted that this was an unauthorized leaked draft, which may not represent the final version. Some at the Vatican have suggested that this could be an act of “sabotage against the pope.” However, the contents are not at all inconsistent with other comments Pope Francis has made in the past
The encyclical will be officially released at a press conference later this week when the pope, flanked by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who has previously spoken out on the “stewardship of creation,” and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact, will read the final version.
Image credit: Christus Vincit: Flickr Creative Commons