Pope Francis Celebrates Immaculate Conception at Spanish Steps

While Pope Francis Pleads for Climate Action, U.S. Bishops Refuse To Divest From Fossil Fuels

On the issue of climate action, Pope Francis has been consistent: Bold steps must be taken and they need to be taken now. Though he was unable to attend COP28 due to illness, Pope Francis had decisive words for all global leaders gathered at the international environmental conference. In a statement read at the UN World Climate Summit, the pontiff called environmental degradation a sin and presented climate action as a moral imperative,

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This is not the first time Pope Francis has offered this message. He has been urging climate action for years and calling out climate deniers for being anti-science. The pontiff’s views on climate are consistent with those of most American Catholics. According to Pew Research polling, 57% of all U.S. Catholics believe climate change is a serious problem. This is slightly higher than the percentage of Americans who see climate change as a threat (54%). Among both groups—Catholics as well as Americans overall—views are shaped by party affiliation. 

The real disconnect is between the Pope, the head of the church, and the bishops in leadership roles in United States dioceses. 

Across the globe, Catholic institutions have tried to honor the papal mandate to take action on climate and have divested from fossil fuels. The only nation in which this hasn’t happened is the U.S.. When questioned about the discrepancy between their stance and the Pope’s and their inaction on divestment in comparison with Catholic institutions internationally, U.S. bishops have stated they don’t believe divestment is required of them.

Divestment has been used as a political strategy for several years now. Universities, faith groups, professional organizations, and local authorities have been successfully pressured to give up financial ties to the fossil fuel industry and, in some instances, replace them with investment in the renewable energy sector in the hopes of growing that industry. Dozens of U.S. colleges and universities have fully or partially divested from fossil fuels. Both the U.S. Presbyterian Church and the Church of England have also divested. 

Financial reports suggest that U.S. Catholic dioceses hold millions of dollars of investment in the fossil fuel industry. These big oil stock and bond investments seem pervasive across the country, in the nation’s 194 dioceses.

Though the Pope’s position on climate change is clear, it is unclear whether his words will impact the decisions of U.S. church leaders. Catholic Climate Covenant and Nuns on the Bus are examples of faith-based organizing within the Catholic community pushing the church leadership to social and political action, including action on climate. If and when U.S. bishops follow the pontiff’s orders on climate action, it will likely be because of these groups and others who are demanding action.

(featured image: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

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