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Politics and Government

Pope Makes Climate Change An Issue For GOP Presidential Candidates


We've also been tracking news of Pope Francis this week. The pope released an encyclical, a letter; it strongly admonished the actions of humans, especially in wealthy nations, for warming the planet. He wanted to pressure political leaders around the world before a climate conference. In the U.S., his letter has put Republicans running for president on the defensive. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: An official papal encyclical puts in issue on the table in a big way. And if you're running for president, you can count on voters asking what do you think? That happened to Jeb Bush in New Hampshire earlier this week even before the pope released his statement. He started his answer this way.


PRES CAND JEB BUSH: First of all, Pope Francis is an extraordinary leader. He speaks with such clarity. He speaks so differently, and he's drawing people back into the faith, all of which I'm - as a converted Catholic now of 25 years I think is really cool.

GONYEA: But then came the but...


BUSH: I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or from my pope.

GONYEA: That goes for environmental policy too. Republicans are still getting used to Pope Francis; he's carved out a more liberal image than his immediate predecessor Pope Benedict or John Paul II before him. On Talk Radio in Philadelphia, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was also asked about the Pope and climate change earlier this month. Santorum said on the Dom Giordano program that he loves the Pope but quickly added...


PRES CAND RICK SANTORUM: We're better off sticking to the things that are really the core teachings of the church as opposed to, you know, getting involved in every other kind of issue that happens to be popular at the time.

GONYEA: Santorum, a Catholic, then pointed a finger at the media.


SANTORUM: The perception that the media would like to give Pope Francis and the reality are two different things.

GONYEA: Santorum says Francis is seen as a champion of liberal causes, but he says the pope's teaching on the family and many other issues are very similar to his own. John Green, who teaches religion and politics at the University of Akron, says the fact is the Catholic Church gives both U.S. political parties plenty to like and dislike.

JOHN GREEN: Some teachings are very congenial to liberal Democrats, some to conservative Republicans. But for politicians on either side, it's often difficult to reconcile their political positions with the broad teachings of the Church.

GONYEA: For example, many Catholic Democrats have long been on the defensive over differences with the church on abortion and same-sex marriage. For many Republicans, it's been the death penalty, the Iraq War and now climate change. Green says the Catholic vote matters because it's such a large group, one quarter of all voters. But he notes that they don't vote as a monolith; they are spread across the political spectrum. Here's what that means.

GREEN: The pope can't have as much influence as perhaps predecessor popes had in the past. But many Americans, including many Roman Catholics, want to know where the Vatican stands on particular issues even if they don't find themselves in agreement.

GONYEA: So Green says when a Catholic in America, including those running for president, hears an edict from the pope, their loyalty to their church tends to be filtered through their own partisanship. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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