[A new issue added to the recently resurrected “seamless garment” garbage to get pro-abort “Catholic” politicians off the hook by allowing them to say “I’m pro-life, because I support fighting climate change”]
Joshua Emerson Smith
Opposition to abortion and the death penalty have long been cardinal beliefs for the Roman Catholic church, whose faithful make up about a quarter of all Americans.
What if fighting climate change becomes an equally passionate issue in parishes nationwide?
The foremost group of Catholic leaders in the U.S. is ramping up a campaign to do just that, urging priests and congregations from San Diego to Atlanta to think about global warming as a sanctity-of-life issue.
Some Catholic experts have even likened the growing campaign to deal with human-caused climate change to the revered pro-life movement — calling on the laity to do everything from cutting back on consumerism to installing energy-efficient light bulbs to personally asking lawmakers to take action.
Parishes nationwide, notably [Cardinal Cupich’s] Archdiocese of Chicago, are pursuing energy- and water-efficiency overhauls of their churches, schools and other buildings. Their moves are inspired by Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical last year — titled “Laudato Si’” — that implored governments to protect the planet, and especially the disadvantaged, against current and projected effects of climate change.
In San Diego County, for example, two dozen churches and schools have or are in the process of installing solar panels. [Bishop McElroy’s] Diocese of San Diego expects all 99 parishes in its territory to do the same within a few years.
The nationally coordinated effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions is the biggest official campaign by any organized religion. It comes as the Catholic leadership mounts what appears to be an escalated and high-profile agenda to oppose policies ostensibly supported by President-elect Donald Trump, including issues of immigration and social justice for the poor.
“Many faith groups are taking action on climate change, but the Catholic church is the largest faith group in America and the only one with a singular leader who has global leadership status,” said Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s center for climate change communication, which has studied the papal encyclical’s impact on public opinion. “The pope has nearly unrivaled potential to convince humanity to lean in on climate change.”
While the climate-change push takes the Catholic church deeper into the roiling debate about tax-exempt faith groups engaging in politics, those leading the movement are voicing a sense of urgency that they said eclipses such concerns.
“It’s clear that climate change is a pro-life issue,” said Sarah Spengeman with Catholic Climate Covenant, a nonprofit formed in 2006 by leading U.S. bishops to work on ecological issues. “People are being killed by climate change already, so it’s very core to our beliefs.”
She added: “If we want to leave our children an inhabitable earth, if we have a responsibility to the unborn, we have a responsibly to act on climate.”
Such reasoning has been met with vocal pushback from conservative Catholic circles.
“Some activist groups who would like Catholics to agree with their preferred climate policies claim that climate change is equivalent to abortion, but that makes no sense,” said Jay Richards, an economics professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Procured abortion, according to settled Catholic teaching, involves an intrinsic moral evil. What’s the equivalent intrinsic moral evil with respect to climate change? There isn’t one.”
It’s unclear how the overall laity will respond, given that a spread of non-religious factors — from pocketbook priorities to politics to education levels — also can influence a person’s views on global warming.
Even though some polling shows that many Catholics appear sympathetic to Pope Francis’ message on climate change, it could be a challenge to actively scale back on carbon-intensive consumption habits. Some Catholic leaders have evangelized about the need to shrink each person’s so-called “carbon footprint” through steps such as driving less, minimizing material purchases, embracing renewable energy and eating less meat or none of it.
This fall, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Climate Covenant rolled out a program aimed at mobilizing action around Pope Francis’ encyclical, which outlined a moral obligation for combating climate change.
On Tuesday, the San Diego diocese — which covers this region and Imperial County — is set to become the latest location to host the program, dubbed “Laudato Si’ in the Parish.” Others that have done so include dioceses in Atlanta; Des Moines, Iowa; and Las Cruces, New Mexico. The program is scheduled to be implemented in at least 10 more regions next year.
The program’s foundations emerged from an ethical notion championed by Pope Francis that climate change through increased storms, flooding and drought will have an outsized impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, people who often are the least responsible for emitting greenhouse gases.
In San Diego, Bishop Robert McElroy said he ranks abortion and global warming as his two most pressing issues.
“Climate change and the environment in general really have to do with the continuation of life on our planet, and thus we really have to come to grips with the fact that we are depleting the resources of the created order at such a rate that humanity won’t be able to survive unless we change the patterns that we’ve been engaged in,” he said.
As for his flock of lay Catholics, McElroy said they’re still “very mixed” when it comes to understanding climate change, being concerned about it and making life changes in response.
“There’s a certain uphill struggle to it, but that’s true of any of these meaningful issues,” he said. “We just keep doing it.”
Credited by the Vatican with helping Pope Francis better comprehend the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable people, scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan is scheduled to speak to Catholic leaders at Tuesday’s program launch event in San Diego. Partnering with the scientific community has been a staple of the pope’s climate-change agenda.
“Right now the need for reaching the public through religious institutions has become more rather than less given the current situation,” said Ramanathan, a professor at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. “If I find by next year that this takes more of my time, I may step down (from teaching) and do this full time. We’re talking about hundreds of millions going to be impacted, particularly the innocent. That’s where it becomes a religious issue.”
Practical advice being shared with the United States’ 195 Catholic bishops, who oversee more than 19,000 priests and their parishes, has largely focused on conducting professional energy audits, but has also included strategies ranging from limiting use of foam food containers to lobbying Congress to support the United Nations’ green climate fund, which helps developing countries pay for their transition to renewable energy.
Catholic Climate Covenant said it plans to regularly survey priests who participate in its program to measure what’s succeeding and what needs changing.
One parish that has joined the climate-change movement is Our Mother of Confidence in San Diego. The leadership there has installed solar panels on the parish’s buildings, put in LED bulbs and added tinting on windows to reduce the need for air conditioning. So far, the parish has saved more than $30,000 a year in electricity costs and estimates it will pay off its financial investment in the next five years.
“It isn’t going to come overnight because you have to change a culture and create a deeper awareness in peoples’ lives,” said the Rev. Mark Campbell at the parish. “That takes time because we’re very much a comfort-centered people in this great country.”
With Trump threatening to pull out of the international climate accord that was forged last year during a summit in Paris, Francis last week repeated his plea for the world’s policymakers to continue pursuing coordinated efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
“[W]e are seeing a renewed partnership between the scientific and Christian communities, who are witnessing the convergence of their distinct approaches to reality in the shared goal of protecting our common home, threatened as it is by ecological collapse …,” the pontiff said during a meeting with scientists at the Vatican last week.
To build on the pope’s messaging efforts, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is turning to church bulletins, homilies given during Mass, Bible study groups, essays in prominent Catholic publications, interviews with mainstream media organizations and other communications channels to highlight recommended actions.
A polling report from Yale and George Mason universities found that in the six month after Pope Francis’ encyclical was released, the American public — and Catholics in particular — became notably more concerned about climate change, especially as an ethical issue and specifically about its possible effects on the disenfranchised.
However, there was little to no change in whether people saw global warming as human-caused. Among those polled, roughly 52 percent of Americans in general, 57 percent of Catholics and 40 percent of evangelical Christians said they believed humanity was driving climate change.
Belief in human-caused climate change seems to be driven significantly by political party affiliation, according to polling data from the Pew Research Center. While 79 percent of Catholics who identify as liberal Democrats believe Earth is warming because of human activity, only 15 percent of Catholic conservative Republicans do so.