Pope Francis’s global popularity has been well-documented. So it’s not at all a surprise that when the popular pontiff takes a bold stand on a contentious issue, other religious leaders follow suit.
In this case, that issue is climate change. No doubt inspired by Pope Francis’s forthcoming papal encyclical on stewardship of creation–which is expected to exhort Catholics to combat climate change as a matter of faith and charity–religious leaders from several different traditions met Feb. 20 on the steps of Capitol in Washington, DC, to urge political action on the issue.
The gathering included representatives from the Jewish, Evangelical, and Baptist communities in the U.S., but despite the diversity, the common theme was the connection between climate change and social justice. Archbishop Thomas Wenski (Archdiocese of Miami), who recently penned a compelling editorial on Pope Francis, Catholic teaching and climate change, shared some insight into how this theme might be spelled out in the forthcoming papal encyclical.
Catholic News Service’s Mark Pattison reports:
Given what Pope Francis has said in the past on the environment, “I think that he will call us to prudent action that promotes the common good for present and future generations and respects human life and dignity while always giving priority to the poor and vulnerable,” Archbishop Wenski said.
“Care for creation should engage us all — and thus I also think that the pope will tell us also to be mindful of and heed the voices of poor who are impacted most by climate change and certainly will be impacted either for good or ill by the policies proposed to address climate change.”
At their essence, the archbishop said, “these all are moral crises which require new rules and forms of engagement — in other words, a rethinking of the path that we are traveling down together.”
Bishops are not scientists, Archbishop Wenski cautioned, “but we are pastors — and insofar as climate change affects concrete human beings, it is a moral issue; and, pastors in exercising their care of their flocks do weigh in — and appropriately so — on moral issues. Also, as Catholics, we firmly believe that the poor have a first claim on our consciences in matters pertaining to the common good.”
Archbishop Wenski alluded to past statements on the environment by Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. bishops’ own 2001 statement, “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good,” in which “we expressed our concern that disproportionate and unfair burdens not be placed on poor, developing nations. We called for collective action for the common good.”
As Archbishop Wenski went on to say, Pope Francis is not the first pope to address the issue of climate change (Bill Patenaude, among others, point to Pope Benedict XVI as the “once and future ‘green pope'”). But what makes Pope Francis unique is his incredible influence, as well as the fact that he plans on elevating the Church’s ecological teachings in the form of a papal encyclical.
This document is creating a buzz already, as was demonstrated on the steps of the Capitol last week. The question remains as to whether it will have an affect on those who work inside the Capitol–and whether American policy-makers, Catholics and others, will get serious about climate change and their responsibility to the common good.