John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


On the Coming Encyclical of Pope Francis on Climate Change

Posted on June 17, 2015
Pope Francis among the people at St. Peter's Square - 12 May 2013.jpg

"Pope Francis among the people at St. Peter's Square - 12 May 2013" by Edgar Jiménez from Porto, Portugal - Papa rock star. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I like Jeb Bush and I want him to be President.

But when he says about the Pope’s coming encyclical on climate change, “ I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm,” he is being completely disingenuous.

And despite Jesus’s admonition to “Give what belongs to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and that which belongs to God to God”, the idea that the Pope should butt out of issues like climate change is non-sense.

If the Pope believes that the climate is changing for the worse because of man-made activities and that the destruction of the environment will make the poor poorer, he not only has a right to speak out, he has a divinely inspired duty to do so.

Jeb Bush should understand this, being both a Catholic and a former Governor from Florida. Because if there is any state that will face the brunt of a rising sea waters that comes from climate change, it will be Florida.

I don’t mean to pick on Bush and I understand that he is trying to balance a lot of competing interests.

It makes me uncomfortable that the Republican Party is now being chiefly funded by folks who have a vested interest in denying that climate change is a real thing.

They have a vast army dedicated to discrediting the science surrounding climate change. But monetary might doesn’t necessarily make right.

And we all know that the climate is changing.   It is true that we haven’t seen that much hurricane activity in Florida since Jeb left office. But the absence of hurricanes doesn’t mean the absence of climate turmoil.

Look at the droughts in the West, the tornadoes in the Midwest, the floods in Texas and the rising seawater in South Carolina and Florida. Maybe this is just a normal weather pattern. But it is probably not.

Of course, the biggest climate problems aren’t in America. They are in the developing (or non-developing) world.   There was a story in the Post yesterday about how aquifers in the Middle East, in Asia, even in California, are running out of drinking water, a situation made much worse.

Do we just want to allow a couple billion people to run out of water without trying to do something about it now? Can you imagine how bad our immigration problem will be when that happens?

I am a free market kind of guy and I believe that the free market can solve many of these problems.   But the free market is not infallible and it needs to be guided to solve problems, not only by political leaders, but also by moral leaders like the Pope.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued a far-reaching encyclical called “Rerum Novarum”, which basically told capitalists to do a better job of taking care of the poor. Leo didn’t like socialism or communism, but he recognized that unless capitalism changed its ways, the socialists would win.

Here is how Leo put it:

"Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice."

Catholic social thought has built on this encyclical to support things like labor unions, the forty-hour work week, fair wages, and a better appreciation for the needs of working people.

The free market can help to fix the problems facing our environment. But first, we all have to recognize that there are problems facing our environment.

Pope Francis is doing his job as the spiritual leader of a billion Catholics, many of whom have the ability and the resources to make a real difference to improve the world, and many others who will face the brunt of the destruction if we do nothing.

I get a kick out of my fellow Catholics (on both sides of the ideological debate) who pick and choose among the Papal decrees they want to follow. Either this Pope is a divinely chosen leader of our Church or he is not.

I am part of the 86% of the American people who like Francis. I might not agree with his every utterance, but I like him and I think he is a leader who needs to be listened to. And on the environment, he has duty to share his beliefs. And for us Catholics, we have a duty to listen to him.

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