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Cardinal Pell's views on climate change are his own

Michael Mullins |  31 October 2007

Cardinal PellCardinal George Pell has made a name for himself as a denier of radical climate change.

In replying to criticism from the Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn George Browning last week, he accused 'radical environmentalists' of 'moralising their own agenda and imposing it on people through fear'.

Then at the weekend, he devoted his Sunday Telegraph column to the topic, reaffirming that he is 'certainly sceptical about extravagant claims of impending man-made climatic catastrophes, because the evidence is insufficient'. He argues there is nothing extraordinary about present circumstances, as 'climate change has always occurred' and scientists' predictions of an 'apocalypse' due to global warming should be taken 'with a grain of salt'.

Given such strong statements from the most prominent leader in the Catholic Church in Australia, some might infer that the Church denies the reality of climate change. That would certainly conflict with the thrust of Church teaching that climate change is a reality that requires a change in our way of life:

• Pope John Paul II said in 1990 that 'when man turns his back on the Creator's plan, he provokes a disorder'.
• The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace says: 'The climate is a good that must be protected and reminds consumers and those engaged in industrial activity to develop a greater sense of responsibility for their behaviour.'
• One of the stronger local church statements comes from the 2005 position paper of the Australian Catholic Bishops: Climate Change: Our Responsibility to Sustain God’s Earth. The focus is not on the existence of climate change, but what to do about it: 'Given the gravity of the problem, detailed and resolute responses need to be both swift and radical.'

In his Sunday Telegraph column, Cardinal Pell does not underscore his argument with theological justification, as he does with his position on other issues such as human cloning. This is proper because his views are his own. So it would be unfortunate if casual readers attributed to them the authority of the Catholic Church. They have only the authority of his personal opinions.

The Columban Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation institute has released guidelines for the federal election, warning voters against intimidation by 'those who play on religion and people's good will in their denial of climate change'. It refers to those with a literalist reading of Scripture who pervert the religious word 'stewardship' to sanction economic exploitation.

Cardinal Pell has not so far incorporated such a theological dimension into his argument. It is only fair to him, and the Catholic Church, that members of the public and other commentators do not assume that he has.

Michael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.




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Submitted comments

Should he then, as the "head" of the Church in Australia, even make such public comments, particularly when so many of his newspaper comments are based on Catholic teaching?

Brendan 02 November 2007

As a teacher of Religion and Society Year 12 I was very shocked to see the Head of the Catholic Church in Australia speaking so outrageously irresponsibly on so important a topic. As a Catholic I was deeply disappointed - yet relieved to see the Anglican Bishop from Canberra take up the matter and debate the issue publically, provoking thoughtful discussion in classrooms around the country. Bishop Browning spoke with authority on the issue and supported his stance with sound theological argument. Just what planet is Cardinal Pell on? Where is the integrity we so desperately need for the Catholic church to be seen to be relevant in modern society, let alone radical protagonists for change, speaking out on behalf of the most vulnerable who will pay dearly? Surely the 'whole universal church' needs to be unified in its call for Governments to respond to pressing global environmental issues.

mrs marianne hale 10 November 2007

Michael Mullins is quite right to make the point that George Pell's views on climate change are George's alone. The secular media are not interested in such delicate distinctions however and quote him as though he speaks on all matters for all bishops and all Australian "citizens of the Church", to borrow a phrase from Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. He is eminently quotable, of course, because most times when he opens his mouth it is to change feet - even on matters to do with the Church, like the Primacy of Conscience or blind loyalty to the Pope no matter what!

Richard Flynn 12 November 2007

Wish these religious people would read a science first book first and maybe pay a visit to CSIRO websites. They are the ones with the technology to prove climate change is both a natural but also human-made problem. Climate change has been going for billions of years as proven by science but human-made climate change is obviously very recent.

David Paul Saunders 31 May 2011

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