- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pope Francis’ stunning encyclical calling for a massive upheaval of the world economy to combat global warming provided fuel for President Obama and climate change activists but posed a tougher challenge for Catholic politicians who were left to grapple with the pontiff’s stern call to arms.

Republicans — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — said the pope had overstepped himself with his 184-page missive delving deeply into environmental science and 21st century economics, including saying the use of fossil fuels is turning Earth into a “pile of filth.”

For their part, Democratic politicians generally praised the Vatican document’s warnings about the dangers of global warming, though the extent of the pope’s demands for change go beyond the bounds of even the most liberal American officeholders. And the pope’s claims that environmentalism is linked to opposition to abortion and sex changes complicated matters for Catholic Democrats.

While Francis avoided endorsing any specific Obama policies on global warming, specialists say it’s troubling that the encyclical became mired in domestic politics even before it became public.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, for example, said earlier this week that “we’ve got a good one now,” seemingly referring to Francis’ words of support for environmentalist agendas.

“I was disturbed, but not surprised, to see Joe Biden wrap himself in this encyclical and say such condescending things as that ‘we’ve got a good one now.’ That statement just shows how out of touch contemporary liberal politicians are with the Catholic Church, that they would so blithely say, in effect, that all other popes were bad,” said Joseph Prud’homme, a political science professor and director of the Institute for the Study of Religion, Politics and Culture at Washington College.

The sweeping encyclical went far beyond simply calling on man to care for the earth. Francis not only said the world must reject fossil fuels and move to renewable energy, he also blasted the basic layout of cities, saying man was “not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal.”

The pontiff also called on Catholics to use public transportation or carpool on their way to and from work.

The encyclical went into great detail about how mankind today embraces excess and gave examples such as humans using too much air conditioning.

Francis had harsh words for big business — which he said is more interested in profits than protecting the environment — and for governments, saying world leaders have failed on a spectacular scale to guard the planet.

“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment makes it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected,” he said.

The pope’s comments come six months before Mr. Obama and other world leaders gather in Paris in December for a landmark United Nations climate summit. At that meeting, the president will seek a new global agreement to fight climate change.

Mr. Obama praised the encyclical and said his administration will heed the pontiff’s words.

“I believe the United States must be a leader in this effort, which is why I am committed to taking bold actions at home and abroad to cut carbon pollution, to increase clean energy and energy efficiency, to build resilience in vulnerable communities and to encourage responsible stewardship of our natural resources,” Mr. Obama said. “We must also protect the world’s poor, who have done the least to contribute to this looming crisis and stand to lose the most if we fail to avert it.”

But Francis also delivered a complicated message to Catholic Democrats and the LGBT community. He said men and women must value their “own body in its femininity or masculinity,” a clear criticism of sex/gender changes that are gaining a higher profile in the rich countries.

The pope also drew a direct link between caring for the environment and protecting human life — a tough pill to swallow for pro-choice Democrats.

“Concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings if we fail to protect a human embryo?” he said.

Republican lawmakers say they fear the encyclical will lead to more environmental regulations that will drive up energy costs for consumers and will hurt the poor.

“I am concerned that his encyclical will be used by global warming alarmists to advocate for policies that will equate to the largest, most regressive tax increase in our nation’s history,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “It’s the poor that spend the largest portion of their expendable income to heat their homes, and they will be the ones to carry the heaviest burden of such onerous policies.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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