When Pope Francis indicated late last year that he intended to focus much of his attention in 2015 on combating the climate crisis, there were skeptics who wondered just how far he was willing to go.
The answer is getting much clearer. The pope has already hosted a major summit on global warming with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and this week, the public received a leaked copy of Francis’ encyclical on climate change, which holds human activity responsible for the crisis. Just as important, the pope characterized the crisis as a moral issue.
When Republicans and the right first started pushing back against Francis’ work, they did so carefully, so as to not offend. But in the weeks that followed, that caution has faded. Rush Limbaugh condemned the pope yesterday, complaining Francis “doesn’t even disguise” his Marxist beliefs about global warming.
The more mainstream GOP line is that the pope has no business even participating in the discussion. Here was Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush yesterday in New Hampshire:
“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 cardinals or my pope,” Bush said. “And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issue before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”
Climate deniers in Congress were less subtle. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told National Journal this week, “When you talk about unpredictable science, I have to ask where’s the nexus between that and the theology of the Vatican?” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) added, “I’m not a Catholic, but I’ve got a lot of friends who are, who are wondering: Why all of a sudden is he involved in this? I don’t have the answer for that.”
As we talked about in May, the conservative line is increasingly amazing. It wasn’t long ago Republicans like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argued that leaders from the faith community should “rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values.” He added, “The time has come for pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance.”
The rhetoric was hardly unusual. In culture-war debates over gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, the right routinely argues that policymakers should heed the appeals from religious leaders. More generally, conservatives express alarm about the left trying to push voices from the faith community “out of the public square.” It’s these religious leaders, the GOP argues, that should help guide public debate.
Except when the climate is on fire, at which point the pope is apparently supposed to keep his mouth shut?
To hear Bush and his fellow Republicans tell it, there’s simply no moral dimension to addressing the climate crisis at all.
To be sure, not every GOP politician has embraced such a posture, but the chorus of Republicans urging the pope to pipe down is growing. It’s an unsustainable approach to the debate.