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A Vatican conference with a pronounced leftward political tilt

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 24, 2015

If we had the name of a Republican politician who was invited to attend last week’s Vatican conference on climate change and human trafficking—any Republican, just one Republican—we might feel just a bit better about the result. But the strongly partisan cast of the final statement that issued from that conference, together with the strongly partisan cast of characters in attendance, creates the impression that this event was not so much a conference as a political rally.

California’s Governor Jerry Brown was there. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was there. Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh was there. But among the American pols in attendance, not a single Republican could be found.

The Vatican conference was organized to follow up on the papal encyclical Laudato Si’. So were the organizers looking for sympathetic politicians, who were known to share the views of Pope Francis on key public issues? Not likely; among the American participants, Governor Brown and Mayors di Blasio and Walsh (all baptized Catholics) all favor legal abortion on demand and same-sex marriage. They are clearly not in sympathy with the pro-life message woven through the encyclical.

Yes, all three of those American politicians agree with the Pope about the scientific case for climate change. Governor Brown thinks that skeptics about climate change should be dismissed as troglodytes. (It’s enlightening that Brown, who is so very certain on that issue, isn’t sure whether or not he wants to be described as a Catholic.)

To be fair, most big-city mayors in the US are Democrats. If the Vatican just issued invitations to the mayors of the largest 20 or 30 cities in the country, the results would no doubt produce a Democratic majority. But if the conference organizers wanted to maintain at least a semblance of political balance, they might have stretched a bit, to include a few American politicians who were not big-city mayors. After all, they included Governor Brown.

Unfortunately, we have good reason to believe that the organizers were not interested in political balance. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which sponsored the event, is led by Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who demonstrated a shocking ignorance of American political realities in a June statement suggesting that oil corporations, through the Tea Party, are stirring up opposition to Vatican initiatives. Insofar as Bishop Sanchez Sorondo dismissed the concerns of pro-lifers about the political alliances he is forming, it would not be surprising that he sees no point in reaching out to Republican politicians who might wish to work with the Vatican.

”GOP snubs Vatican climate summit” read the headline in a US News story about the conference. But who was doing the snubbing? Were any Republicans asked to attend? If so, who were they? “A spokesman for the Vatican summit declined to state which mayors refused the invitation,” US News reported.

The Manchester Guardian had the same unsatisfactory report: “While some Republican mayors were invited to attend the function, a person familiar with the organisation of the conference said that none accepted.”

Well then, who are the Republican mayors who declined invitations? US News asked around, contacting the Republican mayors of large American cities, and came up empty. Representatives of the mayors of Albuquerque, Indianapolis, and San Diego “say they either were not invited, ‘had no record’ or ‘have no knowledge’ of having received an invitation.”

What politician, Republican or Democrat, would turn down an opportunity to tell his constituents that he had traveled to Rome to consult with the Pope on important international affairs? For that matter, what politician would turn down an opportunity to spend a few days in the Eternal City, visiting the museums and the restaurants, at taxpayer expense? It’s easy to understand why so many American pols chose to attend the conference. And it’s hard to imagine why the organizers couldn’t scare up a single Republican. Unless they didn’t try.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 13 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Cincinnatus - Oct. 19, 2016 12:03 AM ET USA

    Does anyone remember that St. John Paul also added a fifteenth Station to th Stations of the Cross?

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Sep. 08, 2016 1:26 PM ET USA

    Bkmajer3729: Bad moral leadership from the Pope does enormous damage. We do not "expand our own view" to call evil good and good evil. Francis has been captive to the anti-populationist moral ideology for so long he has blinded himself to such things as the sin of pride. Eco-disaster ideologues have been promoting their world view as a way of assuaging their moral conscience repressed from condoning abortion for decades.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 05, 2016 11:40 AM ET USA

    "...reduced beyond repair", "...good Christian Stewardship, but that is all", "...vulnerable to the faddish, intellectually unserious..." This sounds like a Batman episode from 1968. I respect everyone's opinion here; it bothers me that so many here condemn or border on condemnation. If something does not take away from the Faith why question the authenticity - fear? Fear of having to expand our own view and understanding of what it means to follow Christ? Isn't good stewardship merciful? Peace

  • Posted by: thomas28899 - Sep. 05, 2016 8:19 AM ET USA

    Congrats to you Phil. An accurate, clear and concise analysis that I completely agree with.

  • Posted by: DanS - Sep. 04, 2016 9:24 AM ET USA

    The Holy Father has shown himself vulnerable to the faddish, intellectually unserious sentimental humanitarianism of his transparently political leftist advisors. Pray for him!

  • Posted by: lak321 - Sep. 02, 2016 9:37 PM ET USA

    My understanding from Pope Francis and Benedict is that neglecting to care for the environment causes the stress mostly on the poor. So the ultimate purpose is the good of other men.

  • Posted by: hitchs - Sep. 02, 2016 8:35 PM ET USA

    I have just about given up trying to understand, let alone justify, the pronouncements of Pope Francis the Incomprehensible. But I wonder if the situation is quite as serious as it seems. As far as I can see, the Pope has not given us a new official list of works of mercy, just made a recommendation, though admittedly a rather bizarre one.

  • Posted by: k_cusick1963 - Sep. 02, 2016 8:04 PM ET USA

    What really bothers me about attaching environmentalism to traditional Catholic teaching, is that the traditional acts of mercy are timeless and will always be so. Climate change cannot be scientifically linked to human activity, and from what I've seen to date, there is plenty of reason to question whether the whole thing is based more on politics than actual science. Like you and Jeff, I agree that recycling, turning off unneeded lights, etc. is good Christian stewardship. But that is all.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Sep. 02, 2016 6:20 PM ET USA

    Peter is supposed to confirm the brethren; truly the faithful- who know their faith- ought to expect comfort from the Vicar of Christ; particularly in confused times. One thing that has happened in the past 50 years is that confidence has been confused with pride and the laity in particular have succumbed to an unseemly self-deprecation. Our Lord died for each one of us! His priority and that of his Church is souls. Nourished and informed individual souls who seek truth- this is His gift.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Sep. 02, 2016 5:52 PM ET USA

    Your thoughtful essay is spot on. I wish I could indeed earn spiritual merit by turning off the lights. Unfortunately you make a key point in that this new twist on his old path the Pope indeed dilutes the authority of his own teaching office by making the comparatively mundane equivalent to the far deeper matters. Let's hope it isn't reduced beyond repair.

  • Posted by: brenda22890 - Jul. 27, 2015 3:30 PM ET USA

    I really do fear that Pope Francis is leading the Church in a direction that guarantees fewer and fewer faithful. The lefties may say they like him, but they won't be attending Mass and supporting the Church.

  • Posted by: shrink - Jul. 27, 2015 6:08 AM ET USA

    The farce continues. Francis and his Vatican supporters have little interest in hearing from the global warming skeptics. We are at a time in our history where good intentions are more important than facts. Feelings over facts. All of the Left-isms have produced vast amounts of avoidable human misery. Nevertheless, these Left-isms make a lot of people feel good about their own charity and mercy. Francis now adds ecotheology to the list.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Jul. 24, 2015 10:44 PM ET USA

    I think any Republican mayor would have such a hard time taking the premise seriously (that anthropogenic climate change causes human trafficking) that they would not see the point of going to Rome to talk to liberal mayors about something that might as well be "what shall we do about the space aliens causing the cancer epidemic?" The comment that they must be paid off by oil companies does make one think that there is a problem of sheer unfamiliarity with discourse and politics in the US.