Prepublication interest in Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment

This article appears in the Francis: The Environment Encyclical feature series. View the full series.

I have never seen anything like it. Pope Francis' unpublished encyclical on climate change has drawn more attention than almost any other unseen document ever anticipated. And messages in response to the unknown have been both positive and negative.

The climate change deniers are anticipating (as is almost everyone) a strong message about the moral necessity to act to save our planet. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a climate change denier, said, "The pope ought to stay with his job, and we'll stay with ours." A few moments later, he added: "I am not going to talk about the pope. Let him run his shop, and we'll run ours."

And the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank, said it was sending a team of climate scientists to Rome "to inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science." No word that they ever got in.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League agreed with Sen. Rick Santorum (a Catholic) that the pope should stick to theology, not science. The pope's authority, in his view, extends only to faith and morals, and apparently, the survival of the planet has nothing to do with either.

But the positive anticipation is much stronger. Last week, I received an email from Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, telling the world that 300 rabbis were inspired by Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical to call for strong action on climate change. When have 300 rabbis ever anticipated an encyclical? Not that I can recall.

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The multifaith organizations GreenFaith and Interfaith Power and Light are both celebrating in advance. In fact, GreenFaith (headed by the Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest) is planning an action in Rome this week to celebrate the encyclical.

The same is true of other faith groups. They recognize the power of the personality and goodness of Pope Francis and his ability to lead public opinion. Let's just hope that his charisma and his message can have a real impact on the U.N. climate talks in Paris this fall.

Climate change is the key issue of the 21st century. Pope Francis knows this, and he's hoping to persuade the world of moral necessity of acting to save the planet. 


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