Here we go again. Two weeks after Rick Santorum said Pope Francis should “leave science to scientists,” another Catholic Republican presidential candidate has pushed back on Pope Francis’s upcoming June 18 encyclical letter on climate change.
It only took former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who announced his presidential campaign Monday, one day on the campaign trail to go after Francis on this issue. “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home,” Bush said about Francis’s encyclical. “But I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.” A devout Catholic, Bush said religion “ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”
This is absolute hogwash, and Bush knows it.
“As a public leader, one’s faith should guide you,” Bush said in 2009. “In the United States, many people think you need to keep your faith, put it in a security box, if you’re an elected official — put it in a safety deposit box until you finish your service as a public servant and then you can go get it back. I never felt that was appropriate.”
While governor of Florida, Bush credited his Catholic faith for guiding his decision-making on several policy issues, most notably on child welfare. “You hear people say, ‘I don’t want to impose my faith,’” Bush told a Florida Catholic newspaper shortly after leaving office. “Well, it’s not an imposition of faith. It’s who you are.”
So what’s changed since then? The most obvious answer is Pope Francis. He has called on the church to become less “obsessed” with abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. Perhaps this doesn’t sit well with Bush, Santorum, and other candidates who may find themselves politically at odds with other issues at the heart of the Church’s social mission, including comprehensive immigration reform, abolishing the death penalty, and ensuring workers’ rights to organize.
Bush is wrong: The church must get involved in politics. In fact, a “good Catholic,” Pope Francis has said, “meddles in politics.” We don’t do this to elect a candidate or advance a party, but because politics affects human flourishing, and we’re called by God to defend the dignity of every woman, man, and child.
Bush, Santorum, and other conservatives will allow faith to affect their politics when the church defends the dignity of the child in the womb. They must allow their faith to do the same when the church fights against the rampant consumerism, air pollution, and environmental exploitation. If they do so, they will respond to God’s ancient request to be good stewards of all that God has given us: clear air, fresh water, and fruits of the harvest.
Bush, Santorum and other GOP presidential candidates still have time before the Iowa caucuses to switch course and stand with Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in fighting global climate change. Bush’s political history in particular suggests he might be willing to do so. If he does, he has the rare chance of being a modern American political hero by risking his political future for the sake of his nation’s future.