BY ISN STAFF | June 23, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Just days after Pope Francis released a powerful encyclical on environmental justice and ecology that has reverberated around the world, Catholic and evangelical leaders are asking members of Congress and presidential candidates to recognize climate change is a moral issue that requires an urgent response
“Pope Francis has issued a bold call to action, and the clock is ticking on a challenge that requires a collective effort in service of the global common good,” said Catholic university presidents, clergy, nuns, and faith-based advocates including Christopher Kerr, ISN executive director, four Jesuit university presidents, and Rev. William Kelley, S.J., secretary for social and international ministries of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the Untied States. Kerr continued, “As citizens of the most powerful nation in human history, we have a unique responsibility to promote sustainable development, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and build a thriving culture of life that protects human dignity.”
The open letter, which will be sent to leadership in the House of Representatives and Senate as well as candidates running for president, is published as a full-page advertisement in Politico newspaper today.
In addition to Kerr, signatories include 20 Catholic university presidents; two past presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dan Misleh, the executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant; Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby;Miguel Diaz, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See; Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Rev. Mitchell Hescox of the Evangelical Environmental Network; Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action; noted Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann and Richard Mouw, the former president of Fuller Theological Seminary.
The leaders specifically encourage “presidential candidates, members of Congress and governors who have raised doubts about the seriousness of climate change to consider the moral dimensions of this issue and the urgent need for action.” Prominent political leaders who are Catholic have denied or downplayed the scientific consensus that human behavior is driving climate change, and frequently criticize the Obama administration for policies intended to reduce carbon emissions.
In recent days, several Catholics running for president, including Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush, have questioned the pope weighing in on timely moral issues. Pope Francis and the church should leave “science to the scientists,” Santorum said, and focus on “what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.” Asked about the pope’s message during a recent event in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush said “religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”
When asked by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about Bush’s comments, Cardinal Peter Turkson — prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and a key advisor to Pope Francis on the encyclical – called them “unfortunate” and asked “what is morality about, if not about our conduct, our decisions, our conscience, and the choices we make?”
The statement from Catholic and evangelical leaders also puts pressure on politicians who have failed to take action when it comes to the poor and most vulnerable disproportionately impacted by climate change. “At their core, climate change and air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels are pro-life issues,” the leaders write. “The toxic pollution released from coal-fired plants and chemicals spewing into rivers and oceans present especially grave risks for life in the womb, young children and the elderly. The costs of delay are unacceptable.”
In his 184-page document, Laudato Si (Praised Be to You) released June 18, Pope Francis describes climate change as “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” He affirms the overwhelming scientific consensus that human behavior is exacerbating global warning, links growing economic inequality and poverty with ecological devastation, and has pointed words for “obstructionist” climate change skeptics who the pope writes, “seem mostly concerned with masking the problems or concealing the symptoms.”
The full statement with signatories can be found here.