ROME — After recently relying on Pope Francis to help broker a deal with Cuba, the United States is once again seeking to enlist the pontiff’s help on a political and diplomatic priority: Climate change.
Regina McCarthy, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, was in Rome in late January to discuss the issue with papal aides.
Speaking to members of the press on Friday, McCarthy said she was at the Vatican to let the pope know “that the president is aligned with him on this issue and that we’re taking action.”
For Obama, McCarthy said, moving the ball on environmental protection is a moral obligation, and she said the US and the president are providing the leadership that “one of the world’s largest economies, and one of the world’s largest polluters, needs to show.”
In a session held at the private residence of the US Ambassador to the Holy See, McCarthy said the government agrees with the Church that climate change isn’t simply an environmental issue, but a public health threat, and that poor communities are the most vulnerable to its impact.
Speaking as a scientist, McCarthy insisted that climate change is real and is a result of man-made intervention.
“We need to try to remind ourselves,” said McCarthy, “that this is about [the] protection [of] natural resources that men rely on. And it’s also about protecting the most vulnerable, something that the Church has always focused on.”
Climate change will first affect poor and low-income people, she said: “It’s our responsibility to think about how to protect those populations and move forward.”
Public opinion on the matter has never been as positive as now, she said, arguing that people and companies understand that it’s imperative to take action.
According to McCarthy, the pontiff’s words on climate change are being followed very carefully in the States, which is why she hopes Francis will address the issue when visiting the country next September.
“We hope that he’ll help us bring the issue to everyone,” she said.
The protection of “creation” has been part of Pope Francis’ agenda since early on in his pontificate.
In May of 2014, during one of his weekly general audiences, he said that “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”
He then urged people to nurture and safeguard creation as God’s greatest gift, because while God always forgives, creation never forgives and, he warned, “if we destroy creation, in the end it will destroy us!”
During his recent trip to the typhoon-vulnerable Philippines, which was hit by a tropical storm while he was there, the pontiff said that “man has gone too far damaging the environment.”
Over the summer, Francis will present a highly anticipated encyclical on the environment and creation that, according to Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi, will have a “particular emphasis” on the theme of “human ecology.”
At the moment, conversations are being held among a cross-section of Church leaders and the Obama administration on the matter of climate change.
“Catholic Relief Services and the US Bishops Conference have been amazing,” McCarthy said. “They are coming to the table, and it’s not just the Catholic community; way beyond that, it’s faith communities from all around.”
McCarthy’s visit comes as part of a five-day trip that will also take her to Geneva and Florence. President Obama’s climate plan and the EPA’s role in addressing climate change will be the subject of her meetings throughout the trip.