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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. 


Obama’s health care promise top quote in 2013

President Barack Obama’s acknowledgement that his promise that Americans could keep their health insurance plan turned out to be inaccurate topped this year’s list of best quotes, according to a Yale University librarian.

Other notable quotations on Fred Shapiro’s eighth-annual list included Pope Francis’ urging that the Catholic Church reduce emphasizing hot-button issues like abortion, a Republican governor insisting on changes in his party and a Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban calling for a campaign against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism.

“I think there is a theme of change,” said Shapiro, associate librarian at Yale Law School. “We have the health care law running into problems. We have the pope who is ruffling some feathers. We have an education activist standing up for the rights of women to have an education. You have Republican Party officials advocating change within that party.”

As Obama’s new health care law was rolled out with a faulty website, millions of Americans received cancellation letters from insurance companies. With his credibility on the line and his approval rating in polls ebbing, Obama announced a shift in policy to fulfill his promise that people could keep their health insurance plans, saying insurers should be allowed to continue selling plans that would be deemed substandard under the health care overhaul to existing customers.

The pope drew attention this year after imploring the church to avoid an obsession with “small-minded rules” and to emphasize compassion over condemnation in dealing with touchy topics like abortion, gays and contraception. The pope also restated the church’s opposition to abortion.

In an off-election year, there were fewer quotes from politicians and a more diverse collection ranging from religion to baseball. Still, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford became the first Canadian to make the list with his admission in November that he smoked crack cocaine.

One top quote came from 2012, shortly after the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The list is compiled by mid-December, and later quotes are carried into the following year.

The original “Yale Book of Quotations” was published in 2006 by Yale University Press, and Shapiro has updated it with an annual list of the top 10 quotes. Shapiro picks quotes that are famous, important or revealing of the spirit of the times, not necessarily ones that are the most eloquent or admirable.

Here’s the list:

1.”With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan you can keep it . the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.”

President Barack Obama, news conference, Nov. 14, 2013

2.”This is our fucking city. And nobody is going to dictate our freedom.”

Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz, remarks to Fenway Park crowd after memorial service for Boston Marathon bombing victims, Apr. 20, 2013

3.”We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. . It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Pope Francis, interview published Sept. 19, 2013

4.”So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.”

Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani schoolgirl who campaigns for girls’ education, speech to United Nations General Assembly, July 12, 2013

5.”I responded in what I thought was the most truthful or least untruthful manner, by saying, `No.'”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, broadcast interview, June 8, 2013 (describing his Senate committee hearing testimony denying the NSA collects data on Americans)

6.”We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. . It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, speech at Republican National Committee winter meeting, Jan. 24, 2013

7.”Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine . Have I tried it? Um, probably in one of my drunken stupors.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, remarks to reporters, Nov. 5, 2013

8.”The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, news briefing, Dec. 21, 2012

9.”I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

Edward Snowden, former National Security Agency contractor, interview published June 9, 2013

10.”Lean In.”

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, title of book published in 2013

Yale celebrates return of ROTC a year after DADT repeal

Yale University welcomed the Air Force and Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps detachments last week to campus, a return after a decades-long absence that was hailed as a historic development that would help groom leaders at a prestigious university.

Yale brought the ROTC units back to campus this fall after Congress voted to allow gays to serve openly in the military. ROTC hasn’t had a presence at Yale since the Vietnam War era.

“It’s a historic event for our militaries and it’s an historic event for our nation,” said David S. Fadok, commander and president of Air University, an umbrella of Air Force leadership training programs.

The ceremony was held on Sept. 21 on Yale’s Hewitt Quadrangle, in front of the cenotaph honoring Yale servicemen who gave their lives in World War I. Students in crisp uniforms marched into as a commander shouted “one, two, three” and a military band performed.

The Naval ROTC unit has 12 Yale midshipmen enrolled, while the Air Force has eight Yale cadets and 30 cadets from other Connecticut colleges who will train at Yale.

Juan M. Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, said the program would prepare future leaders for everything from wars to the ongoing fight against piracy to humanitarian missions that help prevent wars.

Yale President Richard Levin said Garcia recognized the symbolic importance of establishing a Naval ROTC unit on at least one Ivy League campus. “We’re glad it’s ours,” Levin said.

“It is truly a distinct pleasure to welcome you to this celebration of the arrival of Naval and Air Force ROTC units to the Yale campus,” Levin said.

Two other Ivy League universities, Harvard and Columbia, also signed agreements last year to bring back ROTC.

ROTC programs left the campuses of several prominent universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the fervor of student protests against the Vietnam War. ROTC was kept away more recently because of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which banned gays from serving openly in the armed services. The universities said the policy violated nondiscrimination rules for campus organizations.

The return of the ROTC renews a long military tradition at Yale. The inventor David Bushnell is credited with creating the first submarine ever used in combat while studying at Yale in 1775, and one of the original six Naval ROTC units was established at the university in 1926.

Students enrolled in the ROTC program receive scholarship money in return for agreeing to military service after graduation.

Students participating in ROTC say they have been welcomed at the campus.

“So far it’s been very well received here,” said Matt Smith, an 18-year-old Yale freshman participating in the Naval ROTC. “It’s something that is hopefully here to stay.”