Pope's Views On Climate Change Tie Together Science, Religion, and Morality | Connecticut Public Radio
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Pope's Views On Climate Change Tie Together Science, Religion, and Morality

Jun 17, 2015

The encyclical, which leaked this week, has already generated pushback from conservative Catholics in the United States.

Pope Francis's highly anticipated statement on the environment says climate change is happening, but the question is whether or not rank-and-file Catholics will accept the Pope's idea.

Just this week, a new poll from the Pew Research Center found that about 70 percent of Catholics believe global warming is happening. "But a far smaller number see it as a moral issue," said Paul Lakeland, the director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University. "There's a gap that I think the Pope would like to close."

Speaking before the Pope's statement was officially released, Lakeland said he expects the encyclical, or teaching document, to highlight both the science of climate change and "the issue of inequity in environmental change and environmental degradation."

"That the poor of the Earth --- who are his particular concern and are after all the majority -- are the ones who are likely to be disproportionately affected if we don't address the issue," Lakeland said.

The encyclical, which leaked this week, has already generated pushback from conservative Catholics in the United States, including Republican Presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who questioned the Pope's authority to issue statements on climate science.

David Downie, a professor of politics and environmental studies at Fairfield University, said he doesn't expect this letter to be nearly as controversial as Papal statements on social policy. But, he and Lakeland agree it's still an open question how well the Pope's thoughts on environment will filter down to everyday Catholics.

"One of the key things with regard to everyday people around the world will be the extent to which the bishops take this up and instruct their clergy to include these discussions in their sermons and in other things they do at the local level," Downie said.

Robert Pallotti, a Roman Catholic deacon with the Archdiocese of Hartford, said he's spoken to his congregation about climate change in the past. "My personal faith response to this would be yes, of course, we have a responsibility to not only treat the environment with respect and to use it as good stewards, but to use it also so that it's profitable for all people," he said. 

Pallotti said he expects clergy in Connecticut will begin workshops soon to discuss ways to implement the Pope's views on climate change and morality at individual parishes in the state.

U.S. Catholic bishops have agreed with scientists for a long time that climate change is real. But Downie said he thinks this papal document is a "large step" because it takes the issue a step further -- tying science and morality together and giving it more permanence in Catholic theology.