Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will make a short visit to the Vatican on Friday to discuss climate change. According to the National Catholic Reporter, McCarthy, an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, will meet with senior officials including Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
“We’re hoping that this effort will not only generate sort of a broader understanding of the challenge of climate change, but a really good discussion of how the work of the church, the work of all faiths, can actually be … a way that recognizes and addresses climate change,” she told NCR.
The visit comes as part of a five-day trip that will also take her to Geneva, Rome, and Florence. The President’s climate plan and the EPA’s role in addressing climate change will be the subject of her meetings throughout the trip.
“I think that the president and myself agree that climate change is indeed a moral issue,” she said. “It is about protecting those most vulnerable, and EPA’s job, as focusing on public health and environmental protection, always tasked ourselves to look at those most vulnerable.”
McCarthy will not be meeting with Pope Francis, who has come out as a major supporter of climate change action. Francis will have an opportunity to address Americans directly and make his case for tacking climate change this fall, when he is expected to visit the U.S.
Several months before that visit, Francis is expected to tell the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholics why acting on climate change is essential to the faith using an influential church document called an encyclical.
Francis has called the destruction of the rainforest a “sin,” and has said that “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!” Last year he oversaw a five-day summit on sustainability at the Vatican.
The Pope’s efforts to steer the conversation about climate change away from the political and economic arena to a moral setting are especially impactful right now as leaders from countries will gather in Paris to try and hash out a new global agreement to cut emissions at the end of the year. In drafting the encyclical on climate change and environmental issues, Francis said that he wanted to release it with plenty of time to be absorbed before the critical U.N. climate summit in November.
“It is man who has slapped nature in the face,” Francis said. “We have in a sense taken over nature.”
In the meantime, a number of Catholic Republicans in Congress, some of them potential Presidential candidates, continue to avoid taking a stand on climate, instead choosing to stake out politically convenient positions supported by wealthy, fossil fuel interests.