As the Obama administration tries to position itself as a world leader on climate change ahead of United Nations talks, it's engaging a powerful ally: the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis has been moving the Church into a more aggressive posture on climate change, citing the moral need to protect the planet and its citizens. With countries preparing their own climate plans ahead of international United Nations talks in Paris, the pope's engagement is expected to play a major role.
White House climate adviser John Podesta and Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have discussed climate change in a recent meeting. An administration official told National Journal that the "administration has consistently reached out to the faith community, including Roman Catholics, to advance our common goal of protecting our planet."
As part of a five-day swing through Europe, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy on Friday morning met with senior officials at the Vatican to discuss climate change, commending Francis' outreach on the issue and detailing the work EPA and other federal agencies have done to address the country's climate impact.
"Focusing our attention on the communities that need it most is at the core of EPA's mission to protect public health and the environment, and there is no voice more credible than the Church's to speak to our moral obligation as stewards of our planet," McCarthy said in a statement.
According to the EPA, McCarthy met with a variety of Vatican officials, including Cardinal Peter Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, undersecretary for relations with states.
This fall, Francis himself will visit the United States, where climate change is expected to be a topic of discussion. The White House also counted the Vatican as an ally in negotiations to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Under Francis, the Catholic Church has moved out strongly on climate change. In a visit to the Philippines this month, Francis said that climate change was "mostly" man-made, and he is working on an encyclical with advisers on climate change to be released this summer.
"I don't know if [human activity] is the only cause, but mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face," Francis said. "We have in a sense taken over nature."
That's designed to directly impact the U.N. climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.
"Our academics supported the pope's initiative to influence next year's crucial decisions," said Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, as reported by Reuters. "The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion."
"As one of the world's most respected and influential leaders, Pope Francis, and those who advise him, will play a crucial part in advancing climate change domestically and overseas," McCarthy said.
Domestically, the administration has also leaned on the faith community, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to garner support for its climate initiatives. The American bishops in 2001 released a statement generally backing action on climate change to protect the Earth and vulnerable citizens, but religious groups have also gotten into the nitty-gritty of the issue.
Podesta and Melissa Rogers, head of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, met with religious environmental groups ahead of the release of the EPA's power-plant rule in the spring. And EPA has heard from the Conference of Catholic Bishops on a number of climate issues, including its public endorsement of the EPA's power-plant rules.
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