Pope Francis Expected To Talk Climate Change In Address to Republican-Controlled Congress

Sep 23, 2015

President Barack Obama leans over to talk to Pope Francis during a state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015.
Credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo

Pope Francis will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Thursday morning, a first for a sitting pontiff.

And there’s no way he’s not going to talk about climate change, according to Gerard Magill, Gallagher Chair for the Integration of Science, Theology, Philosophy and Law at Duquesne University.

“He knows he’s coming to … a respectful audience, but it’s an audience that does not share his world approach, his world view,” Magill said of the Republican-controlled legislature. “If he were to back away from it, just out of diplomacy, it would be a change of character.”

Magill called Francis “the pope of the environment,” adding that it’s likely Pope Francis purposefully couched his first U.S. trip between his environmentally-focused encyclical earlier this summer and the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in December.

The U.S. is the world’s second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, second only to China, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

President Barack Obama has said the U.S. has a responsibility to lead the way in fighting climate change, most recently during a speech in Anchorage, AK.

“I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second-largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it,” The Wall Street Journal reported Obama saying.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis lauded Obama for his efforts to combat climate change through regulations on major air polluters such as coal-fired power plants.

Magill said it’s not unusual for pontiffs to show concern for the natural environment.

“However, Pope Francis has taken that to a completely different level,” Magill said. “He’s basically saying that there’s no debate now about whether climate change is human-caused. He accepts that as the science upon which he’s building his ethics and religious call for action.”

Magill said that call for action is consistent with Pope Francis’s approach as a “servant leader.”

"(Pope) Francis is very much of a bottom-up, team-building, servant leadership approach of empowering and inspiring, cajoling people to come together from very disparate points of view,” Magill said. “To say that despite all our differences, we do share planet Earth, and for that, we have a joint responsibility.”

Duquesne University will tackle similar themes next week at its inaugural Presidential Conference on the Integrity of Creation.

Live coverage of Pope Francis’s congressional address can be heard on 90.5 WESA at 10 a.m. Thursday.