The Pope, Climate Change and the Catholic Right.
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jun 20, 2015 at 09:43:29 AM EST
The conservative criticism of Laudato Sii, ("Praised Be"), Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment and poverty that began even before its release, has now reached a fever pitch.

It is of more than passing interest that many of the cadre of naysayers are members of the Catholic Right. And not coincidentally, many of them have strong ties to conservative Evangelicals. What is it that they truly fear about Laudato Sii? Is it the encyclical's inconvenient discussion of the disastrous implications climate change has upon the world's poor - or is it something else? To wit, does the Jesuit Pope Francis threaten to undermine the power of the Catholic Right-Evangelical political alliance?

Among the rankled conservatives feeling the political heat are several hopefuls for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, including: Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.  

In the past, Catholic Democratic Party candidates who disagreed with the Vatican on biological issues bore the onus of being out of step with Church teaching. Now that dynamic has changed. The emphasis of the current Pope is not abortion and birth control but economics and now environmental justice. This places GOP Catholic pols in the unfamiliar (and often uncomfortable) position of being out of step with the Church on significant issues.

The worrying has led to well-orchestrated pushback. Coal industry lobbyists, for example, have been distributing "talking points" to members of Congress in order to lessen its impact. Rush Limbaugh is again dissembling about Pope Francis being influenced by Marxist economics.

As the New York Times recently noted:

This stance has rankled some conservative Catholics, as well as climate change skeptics, who have suggested that Francis is being misled by scientists and that he could veer into contentious subjects like population control. Others have argued that papal infallibility does not apply to matters of science. In April, a group of self-described climate skeptics, led by the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group, came to Rome to protest.

As well as:

Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo of Argentina, who is also chancellor of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, has sharply rebutted the criticism and postulated that many of the attacks have been underwritten by oil companies or influenced by conservative American interests, including the Tea Party. "This is a ridiculous thing, completely," Bishop Sorondo said in an interview at the Vatican.

Among those on the Catholic Right who chided the pope on the encyclical were Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and Catholic League President Bill Donohue. Both came off as best, ineffectual.

Santorum started the ball rolling by complaining that Pope Francis is not competent enough to discuss matters of science. While the pontiff does not hold a Master's degree in chemistry as has sometimes been reported He did, however, earn a 2 year degree in the subject along with working several years as an actual chemist.

And of course Bill Donohue went into overdrive to obfuscate matters. And in one attempt at discrediting the pope the Catholic League President attempted to make the document be about the condemnation of air conditioning. In reality, air-conditioning is mentioned only once in passing, in the book-length document.

Pope Francis's Jesuit credentials are of no small consequence in this matter. For the last century the Jesuit order has been one of the most progressive within Catholicism both in economic and scientific matters. Among other things, they run the Vatican Observatory.  (Georges Lemaître, the astronomer who developed the big bang theory of the universe was a Jesuit-educated priest and a professor of physics.) And it has been the Jesuits - current pontiff included - who dismiss a fundamentalist rejection of evolution. And of course they have been active in pursuing distributive justice economics.

It is no wonder that the Catholic Right looks upon the Jesuits with distrust and alarm. Culture warriors such as Opus Dei's Rev. C. John McCloskey and recently resigned Bishop Robert Finn have epitomized their preferred visions of Catholic clergy. As I have previously written, this cabal has long desired replacing moderate and liberal Catholics with converts from the fundamentalist Evangelical Protestantism. Obviously, the more progressively minded Francis frustrates this plan of action.

Then there is a political alliance that now exists between the Catholic Right and elements of fundamentalist Evangelicals. Frederick Clarkson has written extensively on this development, explaining how the two camps - often distrustful of the other - are now collaborating in ways that were, until relatively recently, unthinkable. But now, it is the new reality.

Laudato Sii is clearly not the signal the Catholic Right wants to send to potential fundamentalist Evangelical converts to Catholicism. Nor is it a subject that climate change skeptical Catholic GOP presidential hopefuls want to discuss with the evangelical voters they need to win the nomination. Just as John F. Kennedy was asked in 1960 by some of their number, there may also be some concern about whether the where their loyalty may lie: To his evangelical supporters or to Catholic teaching? Indeed, recent polling has revealed that the majority of American Evangelical Protestants attributed the cause of Extreme weather as a sign of end times as opposed to a manmade climate change.

At least for now, gone are the days when most of the significant pontifical pronouncements provide comfort to the GOP and movement conservatism. We do indeed live in interesting times.

The right wing Catholics have been having their own way for far too long. Now that Pope Francis has come out and supported efforts to mitigate climate change, they don't know what to do. They have convinced a large group of people to vote against their economic interests and that there is no need to change our lifestyles to preserve the environment.
It's a form of nihilism.

by khughes1963 on Sat Jun 20, 2015 at 10:10:36 AM EST
I don't think that the usual "professional conservative" lay Catholic pundits and politicos, and associated businessmen, will change their minds about climate change just because Francis has issued this document. And I don't think that the current U.S. bishops that demand that their flock vote against gay marriage are going to change their minds and tell the flock to vote their conscience and never mind those people who "aren't really married, anyway".

by NancyP on Mon Jun 22, 2015 at 11:18:06 AM EST

Frederick had it right about the distrust.  Remember that I used to hang out with the dominionist (or pre-dominionist) "college ministry students" being trained to take over other churches?  I've seen evidence in the last 20 years that they're training people to actually be ordained and take positions in those churches in order to steer the denomination away from its roots - and the fundamentalists/dominionists are even harsher in their judgemental attitudes towards Catholics than they are towards Jews.  As far as they're concerned, Catholics aren't Christian at all, they're idol worshippers and "need Jesus" (they're good at lying to the people they've targeted for conversion).  Many think Catholics are followers of the "Antichrist" too.  Yeah, that old belief is still very much around, and can be found today.

I'd mention the IRD again.  That "organization" didn't start in a vacuum... some of the denominations had the attitudes that are part of their program long before it began.

This new Pope could go far in returning some respect to Christianity in general, with the things he's spoken out for.  He's going against the teaching and preaching of probably 90% of the churches in this hellhole, and although he still has a bit of a mindset (historical for almost all churches) of trying to micromanage and control the lives of others (including those who aren't in his church), at least he's generally supporting the right causes.  For instance... most of the "solutions" to Climate Change I've heard would be disastrous for the poor... people tend to forget the economic and other impacts of the things they advocate (indeed, some things I've heard proposed would make this world even more hellish for us - even make our existence IMPOSSIBLE).  At least he's considering the people most likely to be affected by Climate Change - and the most likely to be harmed by most of the solutions proposed.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jun 21, 2015 at 10:07:08 AM EST

The hydrocarbon interests have no attitude of the long run, just in their short run to pump and dig out the gigatonnage left and get paid and have it burned. Of course once we pass one-fifth of that amount we will be on a toboggan run to a living hell. I assume they assume either they will be dead, or immortal from science and will have the wealth and power to live comfortably while the remainder of humanity dies or kept as slaves to do the hand drudgery. Such drastic changes will promote fascists style nation-states to "keep order" when the ones on the border need food, water and living space and start rampaging in places that are not yet overrun or in trouble. Those will be sad and dangerous times. We should be doing everything now to stop the heating. Those on the equator will be hit especially hard at the beginning. This is a global emergency. Every day we dawdle it makes the ability to halt it or slow it down by 100%, closer to impossible. Maybe the super rich are already staking claim to build luxury refuges for the long term in Antartica.

by Nightgaunt on Sun Jun 21, 2015 at 04:22:37 PM EST

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