Jeb Bush is the latest Republican presidential hopeful to say Pope Francis is wrong about the environment.
Speaking at a campaign event in Derry, New Hampshire, Bush said that although he admires Pope Francis, he won’t be turning to Rome for advice.
“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” said Bush, who launched his campaign in Miami Monday. “And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issue before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”
Bush, the son former President George H.W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush, is a convert to Catholicism who speaks openly about his faith. Despite his objections to the pope’s views, Bush had high praise for Francis as a moral leader.
“First of all, Pope Francis is the most extraordinary leader. He speaks with such clarity, speaks so differently. He’s drawing people back in the faith, which as a converted Catholic now of 25 years, I think is really cool,” he said.
Though Francis’s much-anticipated encyclical won’t be released until Thursday, a leaked draft was published online by an Italian magazine Monday. In the draft, Francis writes that climate change is real and is caused primarily by human beings, and he calls for dramatic action to stem environmental degradation. This puts the pope’s views at odds with a majority of Republicans in the United States.
Bush, the former governor of Florida, faces a unique challenge as he seeks to win the White House. His brother won the support of Evangelical Christians, a large segment of the GOP electorate, partly by speaking openly about his Christian faith.
Jeb credits his wife, Columba, born in Mexico, with his conversion to Catholicism in 1995. Bush veers sharply from the party line on immigration, calling for a pathway to legalized status for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, which puts his efforts at the Republican nomination in jeopardy.
His comments about climate change put Bush at odds with the wildly popular Francis, who enjoys an approval rating among US Catholics of 86 percent according to a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.
In an April interview with the National Review, Bush praised Francis for being able to bring attention to his agenda, saying the pope has a “remarkable” ability to say “the simplest things that draws people towards his beliefs.”
“You’ve got to figure out a way that gets beyond being pushed into a position where you sound like you’re intolerant of people who may not agree,” he added. “But you have to say what you believe as well.”
Bush is but the latest GOP leader to slam the pope’s encyclical.
Former US senator Rick Santorum advised Francis to “leave science to the scientists” in a recent interview, and US Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate’s committee on the environment, told a like-minded audience last week, “The pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours.” He continued, “I am not going to talk about the pope. Let him run his shop, and we’ll run ours.”
The Pew poll found sharp divisions among American Catholics about climate change. Most US Catholics (68 percent) believe the earth is warming, but when broken down by party, just 51 percent of Republicans agree compared to 85 percent of Democrats.