Tag Archives: encyclical

U.S. Catholic leaders largely ignore pope’s call for curbing climate change

A new survey has found fewer than half of U.S. Roman Catholics said they knew of Pope Francis’ bombshell encyclical on curbing climate change — and only a fraction of those heard about it from the pulpit — in the month after he released the document with an unprecedented call for the church to take up his message.

Forty percent of American Catholics and 31 percent of all adults said they were aware of the encyclical, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and Yale University. Among Catholics who knew about the document, just 23 percent said they heard about it at Mass. The survey, conducted July 17–19, provides an early measure of the impact of the encyclical in the U.S., where Francis is expected to press his teaching on the environment in his first visit to the country next month.

A recent Marquette University poll of Wisconsin registered voters found similar results. Forty-six percent of Wisconsinites say they had not heard about Pope Francis’ statement on climate change. Thirty-six percent say they agree with his message, while 17 percent disagree. Among Catholics, 39 percent say they had not heard of the pope’s position, while 45 percent say they agree and 15 percent say they disagree.

Views of Pope Francis are generally positive in Wisconsin, with 51 percent having a favorable opinion of him, 12 percent unfavorable and 36 percent unable to say. Among Catholics, 70 percent have a favorable opinion, 6 percent unfavorable, and 23 percent are unable to give an opinion.

The U.S. is home to some of the staunchest objectors to mainstream science on climate change and to government intervention aimed at easing global warming, along with a segment of Catholics who think the pope should be preaching far more against same-sex marriage and abortion than the environment.

In the encyclical, released June 18, Francis called global warming a largely manmade problem driven by overconsumption, a “structurally perverse” world economic system and an unfettered pursuit of profit that exploited the poor and risked turning the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.” He urged people of all faiths and no faith to save God’s creation for future generations. Environmental advocates hoped the encyclical would transform public discussion of climate change from a scientific to a moral issue. But Catholics in the survey were not significantly more likely than Americans in general to think of global warming in moral terms. Just 43 percent of Catholics and 39 percent of all adults said they considered global warming a moral issue. A very small percentage viewed climate change as having a connection to religion or poverty.

“That’s unfortunate,” said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, which works closely with the U.S. bishops on environmental protection and has distributed model sermons and parish bulletin inserts on the encyclical. “There’s a clear human impact. That’s going to be our challenge — to explain that this environmental question is really a human thriving question.”

The document had a rollout unlike any other. The encyclical was introduced at the Vatican by a secular climate scientist and a top Orthodox Christian leader, with simultaneous news conferences by Catholic leaders in many countries and the chiming of church bells for emphasis. Francis underscored the importance of the document by sending it to the world’s bishops with a handwritten note. But questions arose about whether American bishops and parishioners would embrace the message with any enthusiasm. While the bishops for decades have issued statements calling environmental protection a religious duty for Catholics, the issue has not been atop their public agenda.

For years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has focused its resources on denying same-sex couples the right to marry, seeking religious exemptions from laws the bishops consider immoral, fighting abortion and clergy sex abuse, and bringing back fallen-away Catholics.

This summer, bishops in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio have held news conferences on the encyclical, urging political leaders to take up the pope’s call for bold leadership and pledging to reduce carbon emissions or water and power usage in their own dioceses.

In California, the Diocese of Orange held an Aug. 8 conference on the theology of the encyclical and the science of climate change, drawing 450 attendees and an additional 500 viewers via livestream, a spokesman said. And Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the U.S. bishops’ point person on the environment, has cited the encyclical in expressing support for President Barack Obama’s clean power plant rules announced this month.

But Terry Majewski, 67, a Pensacola, Florida, resident who claims to attend Mass weekly, said he has heard no preaching about the encyclical at his local church. He’s glad he hasn’t. Majewski thinks highly of the pope, but disagrees with his position on global warming and wishes the pontiff hadn’t taken up the issue. In the survey, about two-thirds of Catholics said it was appropriate for Francis to take a position on global warming, and 55 percent of all adults agreed.

“He can talk about his own belief, but don’t sit there and bring it down on the church,” Majewski said, adding Francis should talk about “things that relate to religion, not climate change.”

At St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, last weekend, about 1,000 of the estimated 4,800 people who usually attend Masses there signed a petition urging immediate action to curb carbon emissions, said the Rev. Jacek Orzechowski. He said it was a sign that interest in the pope’s statement and in climate change is “percolating” among Catholics, despite the survey findings.

“I think it’s beginning to take root within the parishes within the archdiocese,” Orzechowski said. “One can be dissatisfied it has not produced more fruit, but the seeds are germinating.”

Francis is widely expected to reiterate his plea for bold policy measures on global warming when he travels to the U.S., where he will address a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24 and the U.N. General Assembly the next day. Climate change activists had hoped Francis’ rock-star popularity would amplify his views. But a recent Gallup poll found double-digit drops in his favorability, fueled mainly by conservatives who think he has gone too far with his reforms and statements, and liberals who believe he hasn’t gone far enough.

The AP-NORC poll found 62 percent of Catholics and 39 percent of Americans overall had a somewhat or very favorable view of Francis. One-third of Catholics and nearly half of all adults said they didn’t know enough about the pope to form an opinion.

In the survey, Catholics held views of global warming in line with the general public. About three-quarters of Catholics and 69 percent of all adults said global warming is happening. About half of both groups say climate change is mostly or entirely man-made, while 46 percent of Catholics and 38 percent of all adults blame a mix of human activity and natural changes in the environment.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,030 adults was conducted using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, and larger for subgroups. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for AmeriSpeak who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were interviewed over the phone.

AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson reported from Washington. AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll reported from New York. 

Pope Francis to issue encyclical on devastating climate change driven by greed

Anxiety has gripped American conservatives over Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment. So much so that you might think a pope had never before blamed fossil fuels for global warming. Or accused energy companies of hoarding the Earth’s resources at the expense of the poor. Or urged the rich to consume less and share more.

But several of Francis’ immediate predecessors have done just that, inspired by the Bible itself — raising the question of what all the fuss is about. Why would U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic who says he loves the pope, urge Francis to “leave science to the scientists” and stop talking about global warming? And why would conservative Catholic commentators attack the Vatican for hosting the U.N. secretary-general at a climate conference?

It turns out that environmental issues are particularly vexing for the Catholic Church, especially in the United States. They carry implications for Big Business, often with ties to wealthy Catholics, as well as for the world’s growing population, which brings up questions of birth control. For the religious right, the Vatican’s endorsement of the U.N. alarm about global warming amounts to an endorsement of the U.N. agenda to give women access to contraception and abortion.

How Francis deals with population growth as it affects the environment is one of the key questions that will be answered when the encyclical is released June 18.

Despite such divisive issues, popes in recent decades have not shied from framing ecological concerns in moral terms, given that in the Bible itself God places mankind in the Garden of Eden with the explicit instructions to not only “till” the ground but to also “keep it.”

Recent popes have made clear that human activity is largely to blame for the environmental degradation that is threatening the Earth’s ecosystems. They have demanded urgent action by industrialized nations to change their ways and undergo an “ecological conversion” to prevent the poor from paying for the sins of the rich.

Some have even made their points in encyclicals, the most authoritative teaching document a pope can issue.

Take one of St. John Paul II’s annual messages for the World Day of Peace:

“The gradual depletion of the ozone layer and the related greenhouse effect has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs,” John Paul wrote. “Industrial waste, the burning of fossil fuels, unrestricted deforestation, the use of certain types of herbicides, coolants and propellant: all of these are known to harm the atmosphere and environment. The resulting meteorological and atmospheric changes range from damage to health to the possible future submersion of low-lying lands.”

The year was 1990, a quarter century ago.

Before him there was Pope Paul VI. In his 1967 encyclical, Popularum Progresso (Development of Peoples), Paul wrote that while creation is for man to use, the goods of the Earth are meant to be shared by all, not just the rich.

“No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life,” Paul wrote nearly a half-century ago.

And then there was Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the “green pope” because he took concrete action to back up his strong ecological calls: Under his watch, the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium, a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria and joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.

“The fact that some states, power groups and energy companies hoard non-renewable energy resources represents a grave obstacle to development in poor countries,” Benedict wrote in his 2009 encyclical Charity in Truth. “The international community has an urgent duty to find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of non-renewable resources, involving poor countries in the process, in order to plan together for the future.”

In that encyclical, the German theologian, however, addressed the population issue by denouncing mandatory birth control policies and noting that even populous countries have emerged from poverty thanks to the talents of their people, not their numbers. At the same time, though, he stressed “responsible procreation” — a theme Francis is likely to take up himself given that he has already said Catholics need not reproduce “like rabbits.”

So what is so new about Francis’ encyclical?

First, no pope has dedicated an entire encyclical to ecological concerns. And no pope has cited the findings of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change in a major document, as Francis is expected to do. Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, will also be bringing the point of view of the “Global South” to a social teaching document of the church, which is in itself new.

But on the whole, the church’s environmental message has been articulated for years, though it has gotten lost in other issues.

“To be honest, we have been talking about this but not with enough emphasis,” said the Rev. Agostino Zampini Davies, the Argentine theological adviser to CAFOD, the development agency of the Catholic Church of England and Wales.

Zampini Davies recently made a power-point presentation to the church’s global Caritas aid agencies outlining what each pope and bishops’ conference has said about the environment for the past half-century, a remarkable compilation that could have saved Francis’ ghost-writers time and effort in drafting the encyclical.

Zampini noted that the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a massive undertaking by the Vatican to pull all the church’s social teachings in one book, gave scant attention to the environment — “a missed opportunity” Zampini Davies said that Francis is now correcting with an even more authoritative document.

Amid the alarm that Francis will go far beyond what past popes have said, U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently addressed a conference of business and church leaders on how sustainable actions can drive the economic growth needed to lift people out of poverty

“The teaching of Pope Francis and his efforts to address the environment are in harmony with those of his predecessors,” he insisted.