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Cardinal Pell's views on climate change are his own

  • 31 October 2007

Cardinal 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