WASHINGTON – Pope Francis isn’t in the business of making legislation or playing puppeteer to world leaders, Cardinal Donald Weurl said Thursday – he’s just trying to warn them that the grill is hot.
Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, compared the pope’s encyclical released Thursday on caring for the earth to a father warning a child away from a hot surface.
“When a person reaches up to a grill to see if it’s hot enough, you say, ‘Don’t touch that or you’ll get burned.’ The person could reply, ‘Is that a definitive-based judgment or a prudential judgment?’” Wuerl said. “I’m not going to answer that, but touch the grill and you’ll get burned.”
Encyclicals are letters traditionally circulated to all the bishops in the Roman Catholic Church. The 100-plus page document, “Laudato Si” (meaning praised be in Latin), compared mankind’s neglect of the environment to its neglect of the poor.
“This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor,” the document said.
It also points out that those who are affected most by climate change are generally those who contribute the least to it – the poor and disenfranchised – making climate change a human rights issue.
“The starting point is the dignity of the human person,” Weurl said.
The letter does not shy away from science, using scientific data to back up its claims about the harm climate change has on the environment.
“The encyclical, as I read it, is a way of reading the signs of the times,” Weurl said. “It’s an invitation to everyone to join him in the conversation about how do we ensure that the good Earth remains the good Earth for generations to come.”
Weurl and Joseph Kurtz, the archbishop of St. Louis, spoke to a room overflowing with reporters as others watched on a TV monitor in another room.
The letter seems to recognize that climate change isn’t only a Catholic issue. The encyclical is subtitled “on the care of our common home” and is addressed to “all people of good will,” making references to “Christians, and other believers as well.”
Later Thursday, a group of religious nonprofits held a press conference to announce their support for the pope’s message.
Supporters crowded behind the podium, holding canary yellow signs declaring “climate change is a moral issue” and other similar slogans while representatives from each organization spoke to the importance of conservation in their faith traditions.
“Pope Francis tells us that man has slapped nature in the face, but that we can do something about it,” said Christopher Hale, executive director for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. “We gather as an interfaith group of leaders: Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims to stand with Pope Francis and make change in our nation.”
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