Since taking over in 2013, Pope Francis has made a number of radical, politically charged and sometimes controversial messages to Catholics all over the world. Of course, when I say radical, understand that I mean this in the context of the Catholic Church. His proclamations have promoted beliefs that most civilized, educated citizens all over the world have agreed with for years, but ones that religious and conservative communities the world over have long been reluctant to embrace.
Last year, the Pope called for the Catholic Church to embrace homosexuals, unmarried couples, and those who have divorced. Francis said that the church should embrace positive aspects of civil unions and that gay people have many valuable contributions to offer the Catholic Church.
Other progressive messages include publicly lamenting the amount of time that the Catholic Church has devoted to issues like abortion and contraception availability, and declaring income/wealth inequality to be the most pressing issue facing the world. He decries the injustices of capitalism, and he’s said he believes that far too much power and money is concentrated in the hands of too few people.
Now the Pope is setting his sights on environmental issues. Today, he released a 184-page encyclical about climate change. It’s going to be very interesting to see how world leaders respond to this, and in America, how the leaders from both political parties respond.
What Exactly Did The Pope Say?
“The earth, our home, is beginning more and more to look like an immense pile of filth.”
This was a tweet put out today, June 18th, one that’s certainly dark and pessimistic. In the encyclical though, the Pope made a few other important key points.
First, the Pope stated that environmental preservation directly relates to abortion prevention. After all, how can we be concerned about protecting nature if we aren’t concerned about protecting the human embryo? Similarly, he railed against the thought that overpopulation is the cause of environmental damage and lack of sustainability. Instead, he blamed the massive amounts of wealth and resources in the hands of so few people. Essentially, the problem isn’t that there are too few resources, but rather that too few people control too many of the world’s resources.
Next, he called for comprehensive international action to combat climate change that places most of the responsibility on developed countries. He said that any deal that holds developing countries to the same level of accountability as developed countries is unfair, and punishing the world’s poor.
Pope Francis also addressed the lack of clean water in the developing world. Global warming has depleted fresh water sources, and industrial development has polluted clean drinking water in the third world, where government regulation isn’t as strong. He called on developed countries again to make access to clean water a priority for poor countries.
Lastly, Pope Francis called on the world’s citizens to start using public transportation. Excessive amounts of cars on the road cause traffic jams, pollution, and fossil fuel shortages. Our heavy reliance on cars also demands more roadway construction, which uses precious resources.
Will the World Listen?
Never underestimate the power of the Pope. There are 1.254 billion Catholics in the world, including 70 million Catholics in the United States – making it the largest denomination in the entire country. What the Pope says carries a lot of weight in the world, and here in the United States. After all, it was Pope Francis who reached out to President Obama last December with the request to make amends with Cuba. His Holiness helped broker the agreement between the two nations to send prisoner Allan Gross back to America.
The best opportunity Pope Francis will have to push for meaningful climate change action will come at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France this December. All of the worlds’ leaders will be gathered to discuss what the world can do to combat climate change. In the past, as you might imagine, the conferences have been relatively futile efforts that have yet to produce anything meaningful to combat the adverse effects of climate change. But this year may be different. With Pope Francis guiding the way, maybe there’s a glimmer of hope that the world can come together and actually do something to protect the planet.
How Do These Comments Play Out in the US?
Interestingly, the Pope said things in this encyclical to offend both parties. Obviously, the entire subject of global warming is still politically sensitive for Republicans. Many in the party, like Ted Cruz or James Inhoffe, famously deny man-made climate change to the point of ridiculousness. Others in the party simply say, “I’m not a scientist,” as if that absolves them of any responsibility to address the negative effects of climate change. So will the Republicans, many of whom are Catholic and look to the Pope for guidance, denounce the Pope’s statements today or will they heed his message and come up with a sincere effort to address the effects of climate change. I have my hunch as to which direction they’ll go…but hopefully I’m wrong.
On the other hand, Democrats, who have been praising the Pope for his progressive stances on gay marriage, income inequality, and climate change, certainly aren’t going to like the Pope’s declaration that preserving human embryo is the same as preserving the environment. They will more than likely ignore this part of his encyclical and just focus on the call to action for climate change. After all, abortion is kind of ancillary to the call for action on climate change. Democrats will also take the opportunity to lambast Republicans should they choose to ignore or denounce the words of His Holiness.
Go Frank Go
Pope Francis has done something incredible with the Catholic Church. Not only has he brought the church into the 21st century by welcoming gays, but he has also gone after the corrupt bishops who worked to cover up child abuse much more aggressively than his predecessor ever did. And he has reformed the Vatican’s banking policies that led to numerous instances of money laundering in the past.
As the most influential religious leader in the world, Pope Francis also has the power to influence public policy. He is scheduled to speak in a joint session of Congress in September to address climate change. Hopefully, the imbeciles who populate the chambers of the Capitol listen to him and actually do something about climate change.
As for Paris, keep your fingers crossed and say a prayer. It’s all up to Frank now.
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