Congressman to sit out pope’s address due to expected climate message

This article appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.

There will be at least one empty seat next week in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol, scene of Pope Francis’ much-anticipated address to a joint session of Congress.

The seat holder? U.S. Representative Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona.

The reason? Climate change.

In a column Thursday at Gosar, who described himself as “a proud Catholic” who earned his dental degree from Creighton University, explained that at first he was greatly excited upon hearing Francis has accepted an invitation to address Congress as part of his six-day U.S. trip. But that excitement dissipated after rumblings that the pope might talk climate during the speech.

“Media reports indicate His Holiness instead intends to focus the brunt of his speech on climate change -- a climate that has been changing since first created in Genesis. More troubling is the fact that this climate change talk has adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false science and ideology into ‘climate justice’ and is being presented to guilt people into leftist policies,” he said.

“If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line. If the Pope spoke out with moral authority against violent Islam, I would be there cheering him on. If the Pope urged the Western nations to rescue persecuted Christians in the Middle East, I would back him wholeheartedly. But when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one,” he said.

Francis will address Congress on Sept. 24, becoming the first pope or religious leader who serves as head of state to do so. Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Catholic, extended the invite to Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress as a visiting head of state.

While the Vatican has not released specifics of what Francis might say to Washington leaders, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, recently said the pope is likely to raise some of his recent environmental encyclical’s central messages during the address to Congress and the United Nations.

See the full itinerary, including times, for Pope Francis' Sept. 19-27 pastoral visits to Cuba and the US.

In his encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” released in mid-June, Francis affirmed the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and largely human-driven, and urged the development of policies to drastically reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants.

“Reducing greenhouse gases re­quires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most,” he said.

“To take up these responsibilities and the costs they entail, politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics. But if they are courageous, they will attest to their God-given dignity and leave behind a testi­mony of selfless responsibility. A healthy politics is sorely needed, capable of reforming and co­ordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia,” the pope said.

Gosar said the encyclical “condemned anyone skeptical of the link between human activity and climate change” and used “false science” pushed by the left.

“If the Pope wants to devote his life to fighting climate change then he can do so in his personal time. But to promote questionable science as Catholic dogma is ridiculous,” he said.

The Arizona congressman said he had a moral obligation and a leadership responsibility “to call out leaders, regardless of their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.”

“If the Pope plans to spend the majority of his time advocating for flawed climate change policies, then I will not attend. It is my hope that Pope Francis realizes his time is better spent focusing on matters like religious tolerance and the sanctity of all life. As the leader of the Catholic Church, and as a powerful voice for peace throughout the world, His Holiness has a real opportunity to change the climate of slaughter in the Middle East… not the fool’s errand of climate change,” he concluded.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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