Pope Francis Is About To Tackle Another Huge Issue in 2015

January 1st 2015

Mike Vainisi

Pope Francis hopes to make a major impact on climate change starting in 2015. According to the Guardian, the pope plans on writing a letter to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics asking them to take up the cause of fighting climate change on "moral and scientific grounds." It also reported that Pope Francis will speak in front of the United Nations General Assembly and urge a summit of religious leaders to discuss the issue. The pope will begin this campaign in March when he visits Tacloban, a Philippine city that was destroyed by a typhoon in 2012.

Will the pope have an effect in the United States?

It's possible that Francis' words will have an effect on the American public's view of climate change. He is liked by 93 percent of Catholics and 74 percent of non-Catholics. So, people might listen to him.

The biggest challenge for climate change activists in the US is a general apathy towards actually doing something about climate change. Americans lag behind the rest of the world on this issue. A Pew poll from 2013 found that Americans were among the least concerned with climate change out of 39 countries polled. Similarly, a poll released earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute said that Americans rank climate change last on a list of important issues worth addressing.

What about American Catholics, the audience most likely to identify with Pope Francis?

Within the Catholic Church in the US, about half of white Catholics are "believers" in climate change. Six-in-ten Hispanic Catholics are believers. About 24 percentof the US population is Catholic, by the way.

The religious group in the US most resistant to Francis' mission will be American evangelicals -- just 27 percent of them believe in climate change.

“The pope should back off,” Calvin Beisner, spokesperson for an evangelical group, told The Guardian. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”

How will this play politically?

Despite the fact that President Obama won the Catholic vote in both 2008 and 2012, Catholic leadership in the US has been most closely identified with the Republican Party since at least the 1980s. Issues such as abortion and gay marriage, particularly,have brought the two together.

Pope Francis, however, has thrown a wrench into this relationship since taking over in 2013. For one, Francis has denounced trickle-down economics. Since Ronald Reagan, Republicans have stood behind that theory, which says when the rich do well, wealth and prosperity will trickle down to the middle class and the poor. Pope Francis was also reportedly instrumental in bringing Cuba and the US together over Cuba's detention of American contractor Alan Gross, who has been released after being arrested in Cuba in 2009. The Republicans, though, are against normalized relations with Cuba.

Of course, if Francis follows through on climate change, it will be another issue that will divide Church leadership from the Republican Party.

Progressive Catholics are noticing the difference between Francis and his predecessors.

“Pope Francis's message and tone are making Catholic Republicans a little uncomfortable,” Sister Simone Campbell told The Hill. “He's stirring the concern on issues like poverty and the economy.”