No separation between church and state on climate change

Pope Francis’s recent pronouncements on climate change and his forthcoming papal encyclical on the environment are taking the Church into scientific matters reminiscent of Pope Urban VIII and Galileo some four centuries ago.  Galileo had been brought before the Roman Inquisition under the auspices of Pope Paul V for advocating heliocentrism and defending Copernicus’s theory.  Some within the Church considered such teachings heretical and contrary to Holy Scripture and belief.  In accepting the verdict of the Church and the Inquisition, Galileo agreed to refrain from future teachings supporting heliocentric theory.  However, truth will out, and Galileo subsequently managed to offend formerly supportive Pope Urban VIII, a Jesuit, and members of the Jesuit Order, by publishing another defense of heliocentrism.  The resulting dust-up is history.  Voltaire enshrined the inherent dangers in dealing with authority with his observation: “It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

The parallels to Pope Francis’s expressed ideas on environment and climate change are notable.  The pope is also a Jesuit.  He is taking sides in the arena of scientific debate by making dogmatic statements on a topic of controversy without matching validated scientific evidence.  For example: “On climate change, there is a clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act[.] … The establishment of an international climate change treaty is a grave ethical and moral responsibility” (Pope’s Message to UN Convention on Climate Change, December 11, 2014).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can be viewed as a modern-day stand-in for the Roman Inquisition on all topics environmental.  EPA administrator Gina McCarthy visited the Vatican recently to discuss climate change.  EPA officials said, “McCarthy used the meeting to applaud the pope’s efforts to fight climate change, and to brief the Vatican on Obama’s plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.”

The vigor with which both the Church and the EPA have linked their common belief and dogmatic position that mankind is the prime driver of climate change should concern those staunch defenders of the doctrine of “separation of church and state.”  Challengers to either authority ought have Voltaire’s admonition in mind.

Charles G. Battig, M.D., Piedmont Chapter president, VA-Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment (VA-SEEE).  His website is