Climate

Santorum Wants The Pope To Back Off Talking About Climate Science

CREDIT:

GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum thinks Pope Francis should leave climate science to the scientists.

On June 16, Pope Francis is expected to release an encyclical letter on the environment, the Catholic Church’s strongest statement to date on the moral issues associated with climate change. It’s a move that has environmentalists very excited — and one GOP presidential nominee less than thrilled.

During an interview with a Philadelphia radio station on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum — a devout Catholic — said that while he loves Pope Francis, he thinks the Pope should leave discussions about climate change to scientists.

“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science,” Santorum told radio host Dom Giordano. “We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”

“When we get involved with controversial and scientific theories, I think the Church is not as forceful and not as credible,” Santorum continued. “I’ve said this to the Catholic bishops many times — when they get involved in agriculture policy, or things like that, that are really outside of the scope of what the Church’s main message is, that we’re better off sticking to the things that are really the core teachings of the Church as opposed to getting involved in every other kind of issue that happens to be popular at the time.”

Unfortunately for Santorum, asking Pope Francis to leave science to the scientists is a tricky request, because while the Pope is the current leader of the Catholic Church, he also happens to have studied chemistry as a boy in Argentina. Francis isn’t the only famous Catholic to have background in science — as Scientific American pointed out in 2013, the Jesuit order has a long history of producing men with background in both theology and science. If the Catholic Church had always eschewed science, the 17th-century Catholic priest Giovanni Zup might have never discovered the orbital phases of Mercury, or the 19th-century priest Benito Vines might have never been able to create his method for forecasting hurricanes, which formed the basis of the modern early warning systems we use today.

Instead of involving itself with science, Santorum argued that the Church should stick to what it does best: offering moral guidance. But Francis has always talked about climate change from a moral standpoint, stressing that it’s a major problem because it disproportionately impacts the poor. During a lecture to the British Catholic group Cafod, Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences and close friend of Francis, argued that the Pope is uniquely qualified to lead on climate change:

Following the lead of the great recent Popes, especially Paul VI, Pope Francis has a unique role as a religious leader and moral guidance to protect, preserve, sustainably develop the natural environment and achieve that social inclusion that can no longer be postponed. The problem of climate change has become a major social and moral problem, and mentalities can only be changed on moral and religious grounds.

In the past, Santorum has referred to climate change “as not climate science, but political science,” claiming that global warming has no basis in a real understanding of the world. That runs counter to the 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists that agree that the climate is warming due to human activity.

By releasing an encyclical on climate change, the Catholic Church isn’t involving itself in controversial science — it’s reiterating what a majority of scientists already know: that the climate is changing, and that humans are the cause.

UPDATE

A previous version of this story said that Pope Francis has a master’s degree in chemistry. While the Pope has studied chemistry in school, he does not have a master’s degree in it. ThinkProgress regrets the error.

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