Believing that human activity causes global warming, aka climate change, may soon be an official article of faith.
That appears to be the premise of leaders of Catholic social action groups in the wake of the announcement that Pope Francis will issue an encyclical on the subject in June, and address the United Nations on its importance while in the United States later this year.
Catholic social action leaders are eagerly awaiting the encyclical and the pope’s appearance before the United Nations, according to an Associated Press report of May 25, 2015.
Human-caused global warming has been debatable – and much debated – since England’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher brought it forward on the political stage in her battle with British coal miners’ unions in the 1970s. The reality of the premise has yet to be demonstrated, which makes the theory scientifically unsettled. The publicized consensus on the issue does not demonstrate its reality in nature.
Meanwhile, the vehemence of those who accept the theory has led to criticism that the advocates have established the theory as a new religion. Politicians are tested on their belief in the theory, and skeptics of the theory are labeled deniers and treated almost as badly as were the heretics of 14th-century Europe.
The pope is not a scientist, and it is doubtful that he will offer a conclusive demonstration of how humans are causing the planet to warm. Since the evidence of the warming seems to have ceased for the past 15 years or so, such a demonstration remains difficult.
All of that aside, Pope Francis was invited to the United States to address a gathering intended to reaffirm the values of family life.
There are many moral and religious concerns about the current political consensus about the nature and meaning of family and its relation to human sexuality. Catholic leaders convened the gathering on the family as a means of focusing public attention on these concerns. The presence of the pope was to demonstrate the importance of these concerns for the human family and showcase the natural roots of traditional marriage and family life.
Unfortunately, the focus of the pope’s visit may now be on the debatable issue of global warming and less on the enduring values of the family. At least one can choose which issue one deems more important. The media and social activists, it seems, have chosen global warming.
In the story on the pope’s climate change message, the Associated Press reported, “There will be prayer vigils and pilgrimages, policy briefings and seminars, and sermons in parishes from the U.S. to the Philippines.” It’s disappointing that little similar activity has occurred – or is anticipated – in promotion of family values. Pope Francis has been speaking out on family values in his weekly audiences and at other opportunities, but the media have given these messages little attention.
The pope on occasion has shown his ability to rise above politics. For instance, on his visit to Turkey he raised the issue of the Armenian genocide. His words led to Turkey withdrawing its ambassador to the Vatican. On the other hand, Pope Francis refused to meet with the Dalai Lama – a figure seen throughout the world as a symbol of peace and nonviolence – so as not to offend the Communist leaders of China, a land where tensions are strong between church and state. Apparently, there was political advantage to be gained by shunning the Dalai Lama.
As the earthly leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope is regarded as a spokesman for timeless truths. By some of his actions, Pope Francis may have shifted the focus from eternal verities to eternally debatable political opinions.
Science is based on what can be demonstrated about the workings of nature, not on belief or consensus. The church suffered years of disdain for backing the consensus of the day in opposition to Galileo Galilei’s observation of celestial bodies. Consensus can often be incorrect.
The current political consensus about sex, marriage, and family runs counter to the bedrock understanding of these matters in church teaching. The current political consensus on global warming is not relevant in the accepted methods of pursuing scientific knowledge.
We can pray that the pope’s messages in the United States will deal with the realities of both matters.
Andrew Sparke is a long-time journalist who retired from the field in 2014.