Why Rick Santorum doesn't want Pope Francis talking about climate change

In an interview on a Philadelphia radio show Monday, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum criticized the pope’s vocal stance on climate change and the environment.

Tony Gentile/Reuters
Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican June 3, 2015. On June 2, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum criticized the pope's vocal position on climate change.

Republican 2016 presidential candidate Rick Santorum may profess to be a fan of Pope Francis, but that doesn’t stop the Pennsylvania senator from disagreeing with the pontiff’s views.

In an interview Monday with Philadelphia radio host Dom Giordano, the former Pennsylvania senator, a practicing Roman Catholic, said he thinks the pope should stop talking about climate change and leave “science to the scientists.” Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, has expressed his views on issues such as same-sex marriage and evolution, and has spoken many times on the need to respect and protect the environment.

In June, he is also set to release a papal encyclical (a position letter sent to every Catholic bishop) addressing the moral dimensions of climate change — the first of its kind for the Vatican.

Mr. Santorum, who has criticized the pope before, told Mr. Giordano that such actions are a step away from what the Roman Catholic church is supposed to represent.

“I would just say this: The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we're really good at, which is theology and morality,” the former senator said.

“And I think when we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, then I think the church is probably not as forceful and credible,” Santorum added.

Santorum has called climate change “a hoax," and in 2012 said that “If you leave it to Nature, then Nature will do what Nature does, which is boom and bust,”  Santorum said at an energy summit. “We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth's benefit.” 

And many Republican candidates for US president have said that efforts to respond to climate change will undermine the economy. 

But Pope Francis, who holds a chemistry degree and worked as chemical technician prior to entering the seminary, is aligning his view with NASA, which has said, “Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” 

The pope has repeatedly called for action on the issue. “On climate change, there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act," he has said

He may not be veering far off-course from the positions held by those before him. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was a staunch conservative, and yet was known as the “Green Pope” for making similar calls to protect the environment.

“Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development,” Pope Benedict said during a 2012 diplomatic address.

Pope John Paul II had also emphasized the importance of the relationship between peace in society and caring for the environment.

“In our day, there is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened … by a lack of due respect for nature,” he said in his message for the 1990 World Day of Peace. “The ecological crisis reveals the urgent moral need for a new solidarity.”

Still, Santorum is not alone in his criticism of Pope Francis’ vocal stance climate change.

In April, shortly before the Vatican held a summit on the issue, two groups expressing doubt about global climate change held a press conference in Rome to warn the pope against speaking on the subject, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

“It is not the business of the church to stray from the field of faith and morals and wander into the playground that is science,” Christopher Monckton, a devout Catholic who has long played a lead role in the climate skeptic movement and an advisor to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, said at the conference. “Stand back and listen to both sides. And do not take sides in politics.”

Others, however, have expressed support for both the pope and the struggle against climate change. Last month, a group of Catholic leaders engaged in environmental issues met in Rome to come up with ways to promote the pope’s encyclical to the faithful around the world, according to the Reporter.

“Climate change hits the poorest first and hardest, and will leave an unnecessarily dire legacy for future generations,” Allen Ottaro, director of the Kenya-based Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, said. “We Catholics need to step up against climate change and raise a strong voice asking political leaders to take action urgently.”

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