Pope Francis issued today an “Encyclical” on Climate Change. This much leaked document talks of the moral challenge to those who would deny climate change. The Pope said at his weekly general audience on Wednesday, “This home of ours is being ruined and that damages everyone, especially the poor.” But already the Encyclical has come under fire from conservative Republicans including prospective US President Jeb Bush. Bush, a convert to Catholicism, said that while he respected the Popes’ view “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.” I think we may have to find him a hair shirt.
Other Republican presidential candidates, many of whom are Catholics have also been vehement in their opposition to the Encyclical. Rick Santorum for example said recently on a radio station in Philadelphia, “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.” Seriously? What he really means is that we would be better off leaving it to those that have pillaged and continue to pillage the planet. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
There is some history here between the Catholic Church and the USA. In the 1980’s a group of catholic bishops came out against nuclear weapons and as recently as 2013 the National Catholic Reporter called nuclear weapons a crime against God and humanity. Not that any of this made the slightest bit of difference.
However all is not lost, Jay Faison, a conservative Christian businessman from North Carolina, last week pledged $175m of his own money to try to get Republicans to face up to the reality of climate change and the American Enterprise Institute, the establishment conservative think-tank in Washington, gave a platform – and respectful hearing – to two Democratic senators launching a bill for a carbon fee.
As for the Church, perhaps people would take more notice if, instead of pontificating actually tried to do something about climate change. In March 2010 the New Statesman published an article on “Who owns the World”, the Vatican came in third behind the Queen Elizabeth the Second and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in a league of land owners.
With these resources and the many millions of willing helpers the Vatican could actually make a difference. So why not, for example, pledge to make the church carbon neutral by 2020? Why not make investment in green infrastructure part of its huge portfolio? Why not reconsider its opposition to contraception? There are lots of possibilities. The innumerable chapels, convents, schools, retreats and abbeys etc could provide a basis for renewable energy generation and some of its vast land resources could be turned into organic farms. It just takes the will to do it.
The Catholic Church is immensely wealthy. The Vatican Museums alone provide revenue of nearly €100 million every year and the Vatican Bank looks after assets of €5.9bn.
So come on Vatican make a difference.