Pope Francis, campaigning for enactment of a sweeping United Nations climate-change accord late this year, has angry U.S. conservatives dreading the pontiff’s scheduled address to Congress in September.
WASHINGTON — Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the Earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.
But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some U.S. conservatives who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.
Top Vatican officials will hold a summit meeting Tuesday to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate-change accord in Paris in December. The accord would, for the first time, commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming.
The Vatican summit will focus on the links among poverty, economic development and climate change, with speeches and panel discussions by climate scientists and religious leaders, and economists like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is leading efforts to forge the Paris accord, will deliver the opening address.
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Vatican officials, who have spent more than a year helping Francis prepare his message, have convened several meetings already on the topic. He met last month with Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy.
In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.
But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives.
“The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” said Joseph Bast, the president of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy.The group is planning protests against Francis on Tuesday in Rome.
But climate-policy advocates see the pope’s scheduled address to Congress in September as a potent moment.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited the pope to speak to Congress, but some Catholics say Boehner should prepare for uncomfortable moments. Boehner, who is Catholic, has often criticized the Obama administration for what he calls its “job killing” environmental agenda.
“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming?’ ”
In addition, a number of Catholics — including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum — are gearing up to compete for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of them question the science of human-caused climate change.