Since elected to the papacy, Pope Francis has seemed to drive a wedge between American conservatives and the Catholic Church. On Thursday, he drove that wedge just a bit deeper, by acknowledging that climate change is mostly man’s fault.
“I don’t know if it is all [man’s fault] but the majority is, for the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature,” Francis told reporters. “We have in a sense taken over nature.”
Pope Francis has long advocated for protection of the environment and climate, but Thursday’s comments mark the first time the Pope has acknowledged humans’ role in causing global warming. His theological justification for both environment and climate action has been that respect for the “beauty of nature and the grandeur of the cosmos” is a Christian value. Later this year, 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.
Though the vast majority of climate scientists agree with the Pope on this point, many members of Congress — 169 members, to be exact, — are on record denying the science of human-caused climate change. Thirty-five of those members of Congress are self-identifying Catholics, 12 of whom have used the tenets of Catholicism to justify certain policy positions.
ThinkProgress has compiled a list of those 12 Catholic members of Congress who cite their religion as part of their political ideology, and are also on record denying climate change. We reached out to all of them to see if the Pope’s words might change their minds. No one has responded yet, but we’ll update if anyone does. That list is below.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-01)
Paul Ryan is perhaps the most well-known Catholic conservative in Congress, if only because of the times he used his faith to justify proposed economic policies that he has said would benefit the poor.
Indeed, Ryan’s personal politics have often intersected with his Catholicism. In an interview with The Brody File, Ryan said the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity” guided his thought process while he was crafting his budget. He’s cited his faith as a need to push comprehensive immigration reform, telling Rep. Luis Gutierrez, “You’re a Catholic; I’m a Catholic; we cannot have a permanent underclass of Americans exploited in America.”
But when it comes to climate change, Ryan disagrees with the head of the Catholic church. “I don’t know the answer to that question,” Ryan said this past October when asked whether climate change was real and caused by humans. “I don’t think science does, either.”
Ryan’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV-02)
After being endorsed by CatholicVote.org in April 2014, Alex Mooney said he has “a proven record of voting for traditional values,” and would “continue to be the most adamant fighter for life and traditional West Virginian values in Congress.” Mooney also said in 2007 that, as a Catholic, “I do what I do because I think it’s what God wants me to do with my life.”
But if Pope Francis wants Catholics to act on climate change, it’s not clear that Mooney would follow suit. Mooney said in July that he didn’t think climate change was a settled debate among scientists. ThinkProgress reached out to Monney’s office but hasn’t gotten a response.
Rep. John Boehner (R-OH-08)
House Speaker John Boehner seems to identify deeply with his Catholic faith. In fact, in an interview with Seminarian Casual, a blog written by the St. Charles seminarians, Boehner said his Catholicism is the biggest reason why he decided to run for public office. To quote the Speaker, “The idea of running for the U.S. House was tugging at me, but I kept asking myself — do you really want to do this?” he remembered. “Ultimately I decided God wanted me to do it, and I was in.”
In that same interview, Boehner also noted that his faith helps dictate some of his conservative political views. “The notion that a large, ever-growing federal government should be or can ever be the moral center of our society is at odds not just with what I and most of my constituents believe, but also with what the Church teaches,” he said.
The current head of that church, Pope Francis, is expected to teach Catholics to act on climate change. But Boehner’s remarks on the subject don’t hint that it’s a teaching he’ll likely follow — he’s called the science that states carbon dioxide is harmful “almost comical.” More recently, he has refused to acknowledge climate change’s existence, saying multiple times that he is not qualified to “debate the science.” Boehner’s office did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC-05)
Mick Mulvaney touts himself as a devout Catholic. He graduated from a Catholic high school, is a member of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, and helped found the Our Lady of Grace Catholic Mission.
He has also used his faith to support religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act. “While religious liberties are something that mean a great deal to me as a Catholic,” he wrote last October, “I suppose I have always focused on the exercise of my beliefs in a very ‘domestic’ setting (the Health and Human Services rules regarding religious exceptions to certain mandates within Obamacare come immediately to mind).”
Despite Mulvaney’s Catholic roots, however, his comments on climate change so far aren’t in line with the Pope’s. On climate change, Mulvaney stated on his campaign website in 2010 that, though energy independence and renewable energy are worthy goals, the U.S. “shouldn’t seek to accomplish that by taxing people based on questionable science. Neither should we ignore domestic energy resources — coal, natural gas, oil — because of baseless claims regarding global warming.”
ThinkProgress contacted Mulvaney’s office to get his thoughts on Pope Francis’ comments, but hasn’t yet gotten a response.
Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA)
In 2013, Patrick Toomey said that his policy views are directly influenced by his faith. “As a Catholic lawmaker,” he said, “I take the fundamental principles that the faith provides and view policy through that lens.” He opposes the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act (but “not because I’m a Catholic. I really think that any American should be outraged when the federal government decides that it has the power to force a religious institution to violate a deeply held religious conviction”) and is pro-life.
Unlike the Pope, Toomey has not been definitive when it comes to climate change. He said in 2010 that, though he does accept that the Earth’s temperature has been going up over the last century, “the extent to which that has been caused by human activity I think is not as clear. I think that is still very much disputed and has been debated.” ThinkProgress reached out to Toomey’s office but has yet to receive a response.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK)
Alaska’s new Senator Dan Sullivan is a lifelong Irish Catholic who has cited his faith as one reason for his pro-life stance. Case-in-point: in an interview in 2014, Sullivan said that he’s “a lifelong Catholic who is staunchly pro-life.”
Sullivan also said last year that he thinks “the jury’s out on climate change” and that he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human actions. No word on whether he’ll change that view now that Pope Francis has said he is convinced — Sullivan’s office has not yet responded to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Marco Rubio’s Catholicism is complicated. He is, according to his spokesperson, a “practicing and devout Roman Catholic” who “regularly attends Catholic Mass” and “was baptized, confirmed and married in the Roman Catholic Church.” But he has also been associated with other faiths. He was first baptized Catholic, but then baptized Mormon. Later, he attended a Baptist church, and reportedly worshiped regularly at an evangelical mega-church. Now, he identifies again as Catholic.
He has outwardly disagreed with the Pope before, specifically when it came to Pope Francis’ role in helping President Obama normalize relations with Cuba. Rubio said he would “ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”
Now, it seems he disagrees with the Pope again on climate. “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying,” Rubio said back in May. “And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy.” ThinkProgress hasn’t yet heard back from Rubio’s office for a response to the Pope’s comments.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-04)
Arizona’s Paul Gosar has used his Catholicism to justify some of his policy positions, particularly his anti-abortion stance. Explaining his reasoning for co-sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal for physicians to perform an abortion when they know the abortion is being sought because of the race or gender of the child, he said that “as a Catholic and a father of three wonderful children, it is clear to me that protecting innocent lives is the right thing to do.” Gosar also used Catholicism to justify his opposition to the contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act, saying that “as a Catholic, a father and a strong supporter of our nation’s Constitution, I believe that no person, company or educational institution should be forced into compromising their religious values because Big Government has decided it knows best.”
Gosar’s thinking on climate change, however, is out of line with the head of the Catholic church. In 2012, he said that climate change “is likely not in our control in any event. Historical records clearly demonstrate vast temperature swings long before Man arrived, from temperate zones in Alaska to ice ages in New York.”
Gosar’s office hasn’t returned ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA-04)
King has always identified as a Catholic, but has not always been in line with what would be considered Catholic values. Catholic leaders were not happy with the congressman when he said that undocumented youth were drug mules, a statement which one bishop said “undermines their human dignity and the respect owed them as children of God.” King has also said that he “would hope that our pope will promote the sacred value of human life … and also promote the sanctity of marriage.”
King also hasn’t historically agreed with the Pope on climate change. King said in 2013 that the earth’s warming trend “is not proven, it’s not science. It’s more of a religion than a science.” ThinkProgress hasn’t yet heard back from King’s office in response to a request for comment.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA-01)
Steve Scalise recently used his Catholicism to defend himself against accusations that he appeared at an event for white supremacists in 2002. “As a Catholic, I think some of the things they profess target people like me. At lot of their views run contradictory to the way I run my life,” he told The Times-Picayune.
In contrast to the Pope’s views, Scalise also seems to think global warming is a conspiracy, saying last year that “thirty years ago liberals were using global cooling to push new radical regulations. Then they shifted their focus to global warming in an effort to prop up wave after wave of job-killing regulations that are leading to skyrocketing food and energy costs.”
ThinkProgress hasn’t heard back from Scalise’s office for a response to the Pope’s comments.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC-05)
Unlike her other climate-denying Catholic colleagues, Virginia Foxx’s position on climate change actually intersects with her faith. A staunch Catholic, Foxx has said that it’s silly to believe that humans have an impact on the climate, because the climate is God’s creation. Climate hawks, she said, “think that we, human beings, have more impact on the climate and the world than God does.”
Her position is similar to Rush Limbaugh’s, who has said that “if you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming … You must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe that man controls something that he can’t create.”
No word yet on whether Foxx subscribes to the theology of Limbaugh or Pope Francis — she has not yet responded to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME-02)
In his own words, Bruce Poliquin says he was raised in “a traditional Franco-American Catholic home in Central Maine” where cherished values were “close family, religious freedom, independence, and hard work.” Those values seem to have seeped in to his policy somewhat: Poliquin defended his anti-same-sex marriage views to the Bangor Daily News by saying that “I’m Catholic and believe in traditional marriage.” Poliquin isn’t as convinced as Pope Francis that humans are contributing to climate change. He said in 2010 that “clearly our climate is changing; the question is, is man responsible for that climate change? I personally am suspect.” Poliquin’s office has not returned ThinkProgress’ request for comment.