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Pope’s Climate Message Isn’t Resonating Among Conservatives, Study Finds

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Pope Francis’ encyclical on global warming failed to convince conservative Catholics and non-Catholics to take action against climate change, according to a study published Monday.

University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that the pope’s Laudato Si, the first-ever message or papal letter devoted to the environment, might have actually pushed the Catholic Church’s flock away from accepting the message.

The study was conducted to determine whether a religious authority could sway public opinion on such a hot-button issue.

“While Pope Francis’s environmental call may have increased some individuals’ concerns about climate change, it backfired with conservative Catholics and non-Catholics, who not only resisted the message but defended their pre-existing beliefs by devaluing the pope’s credibility on climate change,” said Texas Tech professor Nan Li, lead author of the study.

More than 62 percent of Democratic Catholics, the study found, accepted the science of climate change prior to the pope’s 2015 encyclical enjoining people to take the environment seriously. Only 24 percent of Catholic Republicans, on the other hand, believed climate change was occurring before Francis’ call.

The gap widened considerably after Francis issued the climate encyclical.

Researchers asked respondents whether they had heard about the pope’s call to action, whether they believed in so-called man-made global warming, how threatening climate change is to humanity, and whether they thought there is a scientific consensus on the issue.

The university conducted 1,381 20-minute phone interviews one week before the pope’s directive and another 1,374 interviews two weeks later.

The study ultimately found that liberals became more concerned about global warming after the encyclical, while conservative Catholics and non-Catholics grew less concerned afterward.

The “world views, political identities and group norms that lead conservative Catholics to deny climate change override their deference to religious authority when judging the reality and risks of this phenomenon,” Li said.

Francis doubled down on his calls in September, appealing for “people of faith and goodwill” to come together in “showing mercy to the earth as our common home and cherishing the world in which we live as a place for sharing and communion.”

He defined a sin against creation as humans degrading the integrity of the earth by causing changes in the climate or contaminating earth’s waters, land, air and life.

“To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God,” the pope said at the time. “Let us repent of the harm we are doing to our common home.”

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