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Coal warriors targeting Pope Francis

  • 15 July 2015

It is not surprising that The Australian should be leading the local pushback on Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si. This remarkable document is almost a line by line rejection of the neo-liberal agenda of the Murdoch press.

Paul Kelly’s frenzied opinion article accused the pope of being an 'environmental populist', 'economic ideologue', 'quasi-Marxist', of employing 'hysterical' language, and of 'profound intellectual ignorance', all by the second paragraph.

Of course anyone familiar with Catholic Social Teaching would know that the pope’s message was deeply embedded in that tradition and should not have been at all surprised. After all, the pope is a Catholic.

What is surprising is that a Catholic priest should be joining the chorus against the encyclical. Fr James Grant, an adjunct fellow of the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), has written a piece entitled 'It’s unchristian to oppose coal generated power' (The Australian, July 10), suggesting that the pope’s concern for the poor would be better placed promoting the advantages of cheap coal generated electricity.

The pope on the other hand singled out coal as a major contributor to climate change: 'technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.'

Grant appears to be a colourful character. A convert to Catholicism from Anglican ministry, one of his achievements was the establishment of 'Chaplains without borders.' While the name echoes 'Doctors without borders' (Médecins sans Frontières), a humanitarian organisation dedicated to bringing medical services to those most in need, 'Chaplains without borders' provides spiritual services for 'range of organisations from corporations, such as banks or central offices, to semi-corporate organisations, like shopping centres or football clubs.' While many of these areas are undoubtedly spiritual wastelands, it is less clear why those in these groups cannot simply access spiritual services in their local churches.

Grant’s initial foray against the encyclical was an IPA press statement, released even before the contents of the document were known, seeking to reassure Catholics that the pope’s message was not binding Catholic teaching. Technically there is some truth to this, but it is a strange understanding of loyalty to the pope to seek to defuse his message even before it was made public. His more recent contribution to The Australian is right out of the briefing notes supplied by the coal industry in its global public relations efforts