Notable Catholics, including Republican presidential hopeful and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, have publicly criticized Pope Francis for calling for swift action on climate change.
Among the faithful in Philadelphia, however, the encyclical released Thursday, which frames a degraded environment as a moral issue, seems to have won approval.
“We need his voice to help us,” said Laura Leick as she headed into midday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul Thursday. “People will listen.”
Leick, who was visiting from Arizona, echoed sentiments from many Philadelphians attending the Mass, hoping for a positive reaction to the encyclical.
“We need to conserve this country, we cannot continue just destroying everything that God has provided for us,” she said.
Some Catholics were skeptical that the letter from Pope Francis would spur any real action, but most thought it at least wouldn’t hurt.
“It’s gotta start someplace, and if all the people in the world who have key positions can’t say something, who can?” said Robert Roman, from outside Philadelphia.
The official reaction from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to the papal letter was somewhat more guarded than those of lay church-goers.
Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in his weekly column that the letter to the faithful included “an unusual level of scientific analysis and policy recommendations” and would “invite discussion.”
The text made no mention of the scientific consensus that climate change is man-made, a theme featured in the pope’s letter.
Spokesman Peter Feuerherd said the Diocese of Camden supports the pope’s stance on climate change and will print portions of the new document in the diocesan newspaper.
Pope Francis’ focus on how climate change hurts the poor is especially relevant in his diocese, Feuerherd said.
“The issue of the world’s stewardship, of the ecology, environment, those issues affect the poor the most, so we will be cognizant of how that affects people in cities like Camden,” Feuerherd said.
Bishop of Wilmington Francis Malooly said the encyclical will likely shape sermons within his diocese, but he sees the document as a conversation starter more than the last word on the church’s stance on the environment.
“He’s trying to get a dialogue, and I think that’s what is important for all of us,” Malooly said.
“We’re talking from a moral point of view. What is our response?” he said. “As Catholics, morally, how do we address some of these issues that other people look at differently?”
The pope’s letter acknowledges climate change is largely man-made and calls on people to be better stewards of creation.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said while the content for the World Meeting of Families was set prior to the encyclical’s release, environmental issues that relate to health and welfare are on the agenda for the September gathering in Philadelphia.