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Climate Change Is A 'Moral Issue,' Says Archbishop On Papal Encyclical


Next Thursday, Pope Francis will release a papal encyclical that will address the environment, and specifically the question of climate change. Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami chairs the committee that covers the environment at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which is meeting in St. Louis, and that's where he is today. Welcome to the program, Archbishop Wenski.


SIEGEL: And before we get to next week's encyclical on the environment, just your reaction to today's news from the Vatican. As a bishop, will your relationship to parishioners or priests be at all changed by the new Vatican tribunal?

WENSKI: I don't think so. The relationship to my people will remain the same. But I think what the new regulations coming out from the Vatican means that there's going to be a more efficient way of holding both myself and other bishops accountable to the Holy Father for our stewardship of our dioceses, especially in the area of the prevention of abuse of minors.

SIEGEL: Well, just to be clear, as a bishop, if you learn of an accusation of sexual abuse against a priest in Miami, does the church regard that as an allegation of a felony that carries an obligation for you to call in the police or the local prosecutor?

WENSKI: Oh, yeah. We - and these are reportable offenses, and we - since 2002, the bishops of the United States have put into place a series of norms that is spelled out in our charter. It starts with, again, reporting all these abuses to the proper authorities.

SIEGEL: So you would say nothing announced today from the Vatican in any way conflicts with your obligations...

WENSKI: No, no.

SIEGEL: ...Under U.S. criminal law to do that.

WENSKI: No, not at all.

SIEGEL: Back to the environment.


SIEGEL: An encyclical - and one's due next week - it's less than a papal bull, but it's a very authoritative teaching from the pope. Will next week's document, as you understand it, place the church plainly on the side of science that says human activity is creating climate change and people and governments should be working to contain or reverse that climate change?

WENSKI: Well, I think the church has always been on the side of science over the years, and this is certainly one that the science is telling us some things that require us to credential action. Of course, the pope is not a scientist, but neither is he a politician. He's a pastor and a teacher, and so he's going to approach this from that perspective. And climate change touches human beings, touches issues of human flourishing and therefore is a moral issue.

SIEGEL: But you know, people sometimes criticize the U.S. Supreme Court for being result-oriented. Is this a case, do you think, of the pope seeing an important result that the church should join in the campaign against climate change and then finding the reasoning for it, or does Catholic teaching somehow logically lead to a belief in trying to contain carbon emissions?

WENSKI: Well, Catholic Church teachings are based on scripture, and scripture from the book of Genesis tells us that we are stewards of creation, that the Lord has entrusted us the earth. And he expects us to be good stewards. Part of that stewardship would be to care for creation in ways that are helpful and in ways that also preserve it for future generations. So I think the pope is not talking out of a vacuum. You have to remember that Pope Benedict was called a green pope because he was the one that put solar panels on the roof of the Paul VI Audience Hall. And I think now with this new encyclical, maybe Pope Francis will be known as the greener pope.

SIEGEL: One study found, by the way, that 7 out of 10 American Catholics already believe that climate change is real, but only 5 or 6 percent answered that it is a major religious or spiritual issue. Do you figure that next week - next week's encyclical is an effort by the Pope to change that and to get that number much higher?

WENSKI: I think so because he wants to get people to understand that our religious commitment is about our commitment to God but is also about our commitment to our fellow man. And if we want to get to the next world, we have to look at how we're treating this world and how we're treating each other in this world.

SIEGEL: Well, it's still a week off, but if you could sum up in a nutshell what you thing the message to the world is going to be in this encyclical, how would you describe that?

WENSKI: That we have to be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us.

SIEGEL: Archbishop Wenski, thank you very much for talking with us today.

WENSKI: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Thomas Wenski, Roman Catholic archbishop of Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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