Pope Francis waves to well-wishers after a Mass in the Philippines, where he visited in January 20125 with survivors of a catastrophic typhoon. Photo: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images

By David O'Reilly and Tom Avril
13 June 2015

(Philadelphia Inquirer) – On the day he was elected pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina stood before a line of his fellow cardinals to receive their blessings.

"Don't forget the poor," whispered his Brazilian friend, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as the two embraced in the Sistine Chapel. And with that, Bergoglio knew the papal name he would choose.

"Immediately I thought of St. Francis of Assisi," he later said. "A man of poverty, a man who loved and protected creation."

To the delight of many around the world - and the consternation of many others - Francis on Thursday will honor his namesake with an encyclical asserting that modern climate change is real, mostly man-made, and of compelling moral concern because global warming is an affliction wrought by wealthy nations with disproportionate impact on the poor.

While Francis enjoys broad esteem for his commitment to social justice, many American conservatives are openly hostile to assertions that global warming poses a hazard or merits costly remedies.

Titled "Laudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home," the encyclical will take its name from a celebrated poem St. Francis wrote in 1225. It will be released Thursday at a news conference in Rome.

"He's a pope from a developing country who has enormous passion for the poor," said Dan Misleh, executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant, based in Washington. "He wants us to encounter people on the margins and live our faith in service to them. I think that will all be tied into the encyclical."

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, who has discussed the document with several of Francis' advisers, agreed.

"It will not offer technical solutions" to climate change, Ivereigh said, "because the church is not competent to do so."

Rather, said Ivereigh, author of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, "it will be an appeal to religious conscience, to hearts and minds in order to move into action. … It will be a call to conversion." […]

The Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit monthly America and author of several books on the Catholic Church, said he anticipates Laudato Si will "accept the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and is due to human activity," and that "environmental issues … are moral issues."

Scientifically speaking, Francis would be on firm ground.

Climate scientists are in near-unanimous agreement that humans have warmed the planet with emissions of heat-trapping "greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide, and that more warming and related impacts, such as rising sea levels, are in store.

Most generally agree, too, that poorer nations are likely to bear a disproportionate share of the impacts of global warming.

A prime example is Bangladesh, where 12 million people live in an area that is likely to be underwater by century's end, said Princeton University geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer. This is due in part, he said, to rising sea levels and the sinking of land in that region. [more]

Pope's warning on climate change stirs controversy



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