In the days surrounding the release of Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment, a number of Republicans have told the Catholic Church to back down from the climate change debate. Jeb Bush, for instance, said "religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm."
"I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home," added Bush, a Catholic, "but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope."
Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Vatican adviser who co-wrote the encyclical, implictly rebuked them during Thursday's presentation of the encyclical, saying, “Their decision not to listen to the pope is based on the fact they think the pope is talking about something the pope is not an expert in. We talk about these subject matters not because we are experts on those matters, we talk about them because they concern the impact on our lives.”
And yet, Bush makes a good point: Why should politicians take policy lessons from religious leaders? As Grist's Ben Adler notes, liberals celebrate Francis's climate advocacy while disagreeing with the Vatican on a host of other policies. Liberals wouldn't want politicians to follow the Catholic Church's lead on abortion access, contraception, and gay rights. Adler goes further, arguing that it’s a good thing that American Catholics hold more diverse views than the Vatican. “Catholics have demonstrated that they hold diverse opinions and that they don’t take political marching orders from the Vatican. Catholic American politicians and voters pick and choose which Catholic teachings they apply to politics," he writes.
It's easy to imagine Catholic liberals saying, for instance, "I don't get reproductive-health policy from my pope"—and that they get their policies from the experts instead.
But Bush isn't ignoring the Pope in favor of experts. He's also ignoring climate scientists and even economists, who argue that the most effective way to combat rising carbon pollution is to add a tax (even oil companies argue this). His line about the Pope was merely a way, not unlike the "I'm not a scientist" excuse, to avoid talking about climate change.
This article has been updated.