The Vatican called out Republican presidential hopefuls -- including Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum -- for their reluctance to heed Pope Francis’s warning on climate change.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, a papal adviser from Ghana who co-wrote the encyclical issued Thursday urging drastic cuts in fossil-fuel use, said politicians should think twice before telling religious leaders to keep out of the debate.
Man’s role in climate change remains a polarizing issue in U.S. politics. By joining scientists calling for action on climate change, the pope puts conservative politicians who traditionally cite their support for religion in the awkward position of explaining why they disagree with the leader of the Catholic church.
“Their decision not to listen to the pope is based on the fact they think the pope is talking about something the pope is not an expert in,” Turkson said at a news conference in the Vatican Thursday where he presented the encyclical. “We talk about these subject matters not because we are experts on those matters, we talk about them because they concern the impact on our lives.”
Conservatives in the U.S. have sought to minimize the impact of the pope’s message. Republicans, who opposed measures to cap greenhouse gases, have attempted to sidestep the debate on global warming, with many saying they lack the scientific background to comment.
About 173 million people in the U.S. identified themselves as Christians in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center.
“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush, a converted Catholic, said Tuesday at a campaign event in New Hampshire. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”
Francis should “leave science to the scientists,” Santorum said this month. Santorum is well-known as a devout Catholic.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, rejected the distinction between moral and political issues.
“We know that politics and economics have a moral context,” Kurtz said at a news conference in Washington. “Politics has at its base the common good.”
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz pushed back at the notion that the pope was unqualified to speak on science.
“His is not just a powerful moral voice, he also graduated as a chemical engineer and understands the consensus of climate scientists that accumulating man-made pollution endangers our planet and people,” Moniz said in a statement.
The pope’s aim is to spur governments around the world to reach an agreement reining in fossil-fuel emissions this year. The United Nations is spearheading talks involving more than 190 nations seeking to seal a deal in December in Paris.
President Barack Obama supports the talks and is outspoken in raising concerns about the climate. Many Republicans continue to deny man’s role in global warming.
Turkson said religion had a role to play in “the public sphere,” adding that “we should encourage more dialog between faith and reason. That is what the pope is doing in the encyclical.”
Asked how Catholic business leaders should respond, Kurtz said the encyclical reminds people that “economic and financial decisions need to have a moral component.”
Francis called for an urgent, drastic reduction in fossil-fuel emissions to pull the planet out of a “spiral of self-destruction” that he blamed on rich nations and the global economy. He backed findings that climate change was man-made.
The encyclical was a “call to advocate” for Catholics in the U.S. and around the world, Kurtz said. The conference will hold briefings on the message today in the U.S. House and Senate.
Kurtz and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington D.C., said the encyclical doesn’t mandate any particular response from politicians, Catholics or anyone else. The letter is intended to provide a “moral framework” for the conversation, not to demand any particular policy, Wuerl said.
“Those who take it seriously,” Kurtz said, “will find an invitation to dialog. But it’s not a weak invitation -- it’s really an urgent call.”