In the past few decades, politically conservative American Catholics and their allies in the Republican Party got used to having the public voice of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops serving as a politically useful one that prioritized opposition to legal abortion and LGBT equality. So, needless to say, some are having a hard time adjusting to Pope Francis, whose critiques of the dehumanizing excesses of modern corporate capitalism have dismayed some right-wing Catholics. Now, the Pope’s new encyclical on climate change and care for the planet, which apparently did not pay much heed to an April appeal from “Biblical worldview”-promoting climate change denialists or warnings from the Koch Brothers, is pushing some right-wing pundits over the edge.
Alan Keyes, a far-right Catholic and perennial political candidate, argued that the facts about human contribution to climate change have not been established and warned that “the whole push for totalitarian government remediation of the allegedly terrible damage we are inflicting on God’s creation is a slander against the human race, a sin against humanity being committed as a pretext for the rape of human life, human conscience and God-endowed human liberty.”
The never-subtle Keyes said that when he looks “in the mirror of reason at the reflections Pope Francis offers in his encyclical, what I see looks unlike Jesus Christ (who as of now still comes to save and not harshly to penalize humanity).” He added, “Pope Francis’ reflections look more like Marx, Stalin or Mao Zedong – materialistic ideologues who punished not for the sake of God or truth, but on account of resentful, self-idolizing human will and ideology.”
Over at the free-market-adoring Acton Institute, Kishore Jayabalan was more respectful, saying he welcomed the pope’s encyclical, but wrote that he was disappointed that the pope “seems to blame markets, over-consumption and especially finance, rather than human sin, for all our environmental problems.”
Others have had much harsher words for Pope Francis. The reliably bloviating Rush Limbaugh said the encyclical seems to confirm that Francis is a Marxist, a sentiment echoed by Fox News pundit Greg Gutfield. James Delingpole, an editor at Breitbart, said the encyclical includes “hackneyed language and extremely dubious science you might expect from a 16-year-old trotting out the formulaic bilge and accepted faux-wisdom required these days…” At Fox Business, Stuart Varney warned of a sinister alliance between the Pope and President Barack Obama to “reshape the world by taxing the rich, taxing fossil fuels, and redistributing the wealth.” Right-wing radio host Michael Savage, furious at the encyclical, called the Pope “an eco-wolf in pope’s clothing” and “a stealth Marxist in religious garb,” claiming that Francis will put Catholics “in chains” and is reminiscent of “the false prophet in Revelation, an ecumenical spiritual figure directing mankind to worship the Antichrist.”
It’s not just a bunch of pundits.
The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg notes that Sen. James Inhofe, a notorious climate change denier, “bluntly told reporters that Francis was out of line.” Inhofe told attendees at a conference of the right-wing Heartland Institute, “The pope ought to stay with his job.” ThinkProgress notes that back in May, the Koch-funded Heartland Institute warned that “the Left” was working with the Pope on climate change, something akin to the “unholy alliance of international communism with the jihadi Islamists.”
Republican presidential candidates have also been slamming the encyclical. Jeb Bush, who has talked about his conversion to Catholicism on the campaign trail, has also suggested the Pope should butt out of the public conversation on climate change. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm,” he said.
Rick Santorum said the church is not credible when “we get involved with controversial political and scientific theories,” not a concern he seems to have when the topic is, oh, same-sex couples getting married or being parents. He told an interviewer, “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”
As many have noted, the pope has studied more science than Rick Santorum. Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of America Magazine and now a senior analyst for National Catholic Reporter, flipped Santorum’s comments, saying, “It's nice — for once the Catholic Church is on the side of science.” Climate scientists agree.