Vatican, U.S. bishops want Trump to ‘reconsider’ his stance on climate

Top-level cardinal hopes the president will listen to “dissenting voices.”

CREDIT: AP/Luca Bruno
CREDIT: AP/Luca Bruno

Vatican officials and American bishops are speaking out against Donald Trump’s climate agenda, blasting the president’s recent decision to rescind environmental protections enacted during Barack Obama’s administration.

On Tuesday, Trump signed a new executive order that, among other things, rescinds a host of environmental protections enacted by his predecessor and sets in motion a process to rework the Clean Power Plan, which was designed to reduce carbon emissions by electricity companies. The White House celebrated the order, claiming it would revitalize the coal sector by imposing fewer regulations on the fossil fuel industry.

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?” Trump asked the bevy of coal miners who joined him at the signing ceremony. “You’re going back to work.”

But the order has been met with a wave of criticism across the globe, including from high-ranking officials at the Vatican. Speaking to reporters in Rome on Thursday morning, Cardinal Peter Turkson called the order “a challenge” to Catholics and expressed hope that Trump would listen to “dissenting” voices who support action on climate change.

“Fortunately, in the United States, there are dissenting voices, people who are against Trump’s positions.”

“Fortunately, in the United States, there are dissenting voices, people who are against Trump’s positions,” Turkson said. “This, for us, is a sign that little by little, other positions and political voices will emerge, and so we hope that Trump himself will reconsider some of his decisions.”

Turkson’s concern for the environment is part of his role as head the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development, which focuses on environment and immigration-related issues for the pope. He is also credited as one of the “architects” of Pope Francis’ ‘Laudato Si’ — the pontiff’s landmark 2015 encyclical on the environment that called on Catholics to support policies that combat climate change.

Yet Turkson was hardly the only Catholic leader to vent frustration with Trump’s order. In the United States, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, expressed dismay at Trump’s actions on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

“The USCCB, in unity with Pope Francis, strongly supports environmental stewardship and has called consistently for ‘our own country to curtail carbon emissions,’” Dewane, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said in a statement. “This Executive Order places a number of environmental protections in jeopardy and moves the U.S. away from a national carbon standard, all without adopting a sufficient plan for ensuring proper care for people and creation. Yesterday’s action means that, sadly, the United States is unlikely to meet its domestic and international mitigation goals.”

The two leaders reflect an environmentally conscience sentiment common among their fellow Catholics. According to a 2014 PRRI poll, the majority of both white and Hispanic Catholics in the United States agree that climate change is a crisis or a major problem — 54 percent and 73 percent, respectively. A 2015 PRRI poll found that a solid plurality of all Catholics — 47 percent — say they specifically agree with Pope Francis’ views on climate change, compared to 24 percent who disagreed, 20 percent who said they were unfamiliar with the topic, and 10 who were unsure or refused. (A 2015 Pew poll found similar results)

In fact, the Catholic Church has a long history of standing up for environmental causes. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI championed the cause of climate justice, with the latter being dubbed the “green pope” by some activists. Meanwhile, Catholic Nuns in Kentucky have become outspoken opponents to fracking, and Francis has met with mayors from around the world to encourage them to push climate-focused legislation.