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Brave Cardinal Pell challenges Pope Francis’s dogma on climate change

18 July 2015

10:53 PM

18 July 2015

10:53 PM

‘The Church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters.’

In that one sentence, Cardinal Pell puts his finger on what is wrong with Laudato Si‘, Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment. In that document, Francis waded into an argument about climate change and took sides. Moreover, he gave the impression that he was speaking for all Catholics when he did so; and, if by any chance he wasn’t, errant faithful should fall into line.

In an interview in Thursday’s Financial Times, the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy stepped out of line. See above. It was a brave thing to do: Pell’s wholesale reform of the Vatican’s finances is making him plenty of enemies as it is, and now he’s even more vulnerable to attack.

Why take the risk? Because, I suspect, Cardinal Pell considers Laudato Si’ to be the most ill-judged encyclical of modern times. As the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat put it, it is ‘catastrophist’ not just in its climate science but also in its attitude towards modern technology in general:

Its catastrophism also leaves this pope more open to empirical criticism. For instance, he doesn’t grapple sufficiently with evidence that the global poor have become steadily less poor under precisely the world system he decries – a reality that has complicated implications for environmentalism.

But let’s stick with climate change. We’ve moved on, thankfully, from the days when climate scepticism was represented by statistically illiterate Right-wing culture warriors opposed by scientific zealots who were happy to hide inconvenient data to make their case. But the science isn’t ‘settled’; it’s just that the debate has become more sophisticated.

Recently I was talking to a libertarian journalist trained in statistics, a rare beast indeed. I asked him about global warming, expecting a denunciation of Lefty alarmism. Instead, he replied: ‘I just don’t go there – I don’t know enough’, and poured scorn on amateur commentators of every persuasion.


With Laudato Si‘, Pope Francis joined the ranks of those amateurs. In addition to embracing the scientific consensus on climate change – and it is a consensus, albeit challenged by credible experts – he proposed a ‘new world political authority’. Douthat described this bit of the encyclical as ‘drenched in frank contempt for the existing global leadership class’. True, though I suspect this contempt is ultimately directed at the United States: Argentina has always been the most anti-American country in South America.

One dreads to think how this ‘new world political authority’ would behave, endowed with unlimited powers by corrupt governments and sanctified by papal authority. I can’t imagine it giving a moment’s consideration to arguments such as the following, from Jim Manzi in National Review:

Fair-minded cost/benefit analyses show that various global carbon-rationing proposals that would reduce economic growth rates in return for lower emissions – whether mechanically structured as a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system or direct regulation – have real-world costs in excess of expected benefits.

You may or may not agree with Manzi. Pope Francis seems scarcely aware that  this critique exists. Cardinal Pell, however, certainly is.

But he, too, holds amateur views on climate science. Does that undermine them? Yes – but no more than those of an any other well-informed non-expert taking sides. Here’s an extract from a speech he gave in 2011:

Whatever our political masters might decide at this high tide of Western indebtedness, they are increasingly unlikely, because of popular pressure, to impose new financial burdens on their populations in the hope of curbing the rise of global temperatures, except perhaps in Australia, which has 2 per cent of the world’s industrial capacity and only 1.2 per cent of its CO2 emissions, while continuing to sell coal and iron worth billions of dollars to Asia.

Extreme weather events are to be expected. This is why I support the views of Bjorn Lomborg and Bob Carter that money should be used to raise living standards and reduce vulnerability to catastrophes.

The cost of attempts to make global warming go away will be very heavy. They may be levied initially on ‘the big polluters’ but they will eventually trickle down to the end-users. Efforts to offset the effects on the vulnerable are well intentioned but history tells us they can only be partially successful.

Again, you may not agree. But Pell is not the pope and he has not attempted to incorporate a temporary scientific consensus and a grandiose political project into the teaching of the Church. Indeed, if he were pope, I’m certain he wouldn’t use the chair of Peter as a platform for his own secular manifesto.

This is what Laudato Si’ does. The encyclical is not primarily a secular document: Pell himself says that it ‘beautifully’ sets out the Christian obligation to protect the environment. But, in fantasising about supra-national climate police, it betrays apparent ignorance of a subject on which the Australian cardinal possess more expertise than his boss – the proper relationship between the eternally valid magisterium of the Church and the always tentative conclusions of scientists.

That is why Cardinal Pell spoke out. And why he was right to do so.




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Show comments
  • quaredunt

    Cardinal Pell is anti science. He barely understands evolution and he certainly does not understand climate science or climate change.
    His effort to debate Richard Dawkins some years ago was embarrassingly pathetic.

  • John McKeon

    The climate science has determined that humanity is at great Risk of causing the earth’s climate to change into a condition that is far from the steady climate that allowed our ancestors to prosper in the first place, some 10 or 12 thousand years ago when agriculture started to take off. We have to decarbonise our economies. Business as usual is an option, but it is likely to end in tears if that is the option that remains in force as now.

    I know that I am merely restating the environmental perspective, but this article makes no concession to it. I agree with Pope Francis that the issue is serious and requires us to step away from the business as usual option. The safety and prosperity of humanity requires us to actually tackle climate change head on by not continuing to drive the climate into a new dynamic state which is unlikely to be as comfortable for humanity.

  • Clarence Chester Jr Schmidt


  • Jeffreyoore

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  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Definition of RC priest (and indeed, any other kind of priest): A man who lies to children for a living.

  • Mnestheus

    “We’ve moved on, thankfully, from the days when climate scepticism was represented by statistically illiterate Right-wing culture warriors”

    Holy agnotology , Damian– moving on from scientific illiterates to Calvinist Climate Creationists is hardly an improvement :

    Have you ever dropped in on one of those revival meetings Lord Lawson’s climate wars strormtroopers style ‘Climate Conferences ‘?

  • Robertoff

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  • credulousdolt

    It’s great that one libertarian wants to study complicated stuff like cipherin’ and statistics and such; however, climatology and statistics aren’t the same thing. Now, maybe if this libertine or libertarian had said “Why are you asking me, I’m not a climatologist?” we could all pat him on the back and thank him for a rare bit of honesty. But alas… And quoting Mrs. Doubthat? Oh, the indignity.

    This is pulpy “journalism” at its finest.

  • volker_lives

    The basics of global warming are not that difficult, unless you really are scientifically illiterate. The fact that greenhouse gases create a radiative imbalance in the atmosphere is pretty much ‘consensus’. Only the very stubborn suggest this will not lead to surface warming. But how much is the question? Without dynamic feedbacks, there is a consensus of around 1.2C from pre-industrial times by the end of this century. Assuming no rush to increased fossil fuel use. Around half of this temperature rise has already happened. So actual consensus is another 0.6C or so. The rest is highly uncertain dynamic feedbacks which the Pope (presumably) and others believe will inflate this heating by a factor of 3-4 times. There seems to be almost no solid evidence for this beyond the GCM computer simulations. These have rather less credibility than actuarial projections of economic output, life expectancies, etc at the end of the century. And who believes those?

  • tb_kol

    ‘The Church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters.’

    Its too convenient and easy to forget that one of the most important scientific inventions and discoveries have been led by religion. The Church, especially has spawned inventions. The invention of the clock is a result of the church bells.

    I did download the Laudoto Si to see it for the first time. I am not a christian. The paragraphs on Climate change are the first of its pages followed by numerous covering like 184 pages in the pdf file. I consider its quite easy to abstain from reading the full volume and exploit with terms that could be classified as ‘sceintific’ meaning not for the lay.

    The next easy and convenient is to rally somebody today as a heretic and make a hero out of. For, the paragraphs 20 to 26 in Laudato Si which i believe deal with the climate change are written in plain english and make complete sense. There is worldwide exploitation of nature. Second what Rev. Francis mentions about recycling. He means to say we may not be producing enough materials and things that actually recycle as nature does. Which is not wrong!

    So which part is wrong, leading to the above comment. Why should not lay dwell into scientific. Which lord said atoms may only be seen and talked about by University degree holders with black spectacles and black or white coats on.

    Had there been some good substance in this article, it would have been worth the time. I don’t find it educative in any way. The Laudo Si paragraphs are better read.

    Also, recently ive read about bio incenerator experiments and recycling of urban plastic waste experiments being carried out by some companies and municipal corporation which is quite heartening. For example the Tees Valley in Scotland. Let us reach the source and discover the facts for ourselves and not only rely on heretics and some bloggers.

    I do not disagree that the finances and other aspects in the Vatican need improvement, perhaps to a great extent.

    • sidor

      The first mechanical clock was invented in China in 11th century. Liquid-based clock was known in Baghdad in 8th century. The Church has nothing to do with these inventions.

      • tb_kol

        The church and religion has led to development of clocks. Please see Wiki The earliest medieval European clockmakers were Christian monks.

        They developed it like 996 (10th century). Although your mention of China and Baghdad would be right ofcourse. In India for example Sun clocks were prevalent in very early times. The Jantar Mantar complex in Delhi has a huge sun clock.

        As we know necessity is mother of invention- so bec of religious necessity they seem to have been developed. Thank you.

      • tb_kol

        That’s true. India, we had sun-dial clocks long back. A relic is in Delhi in a garden. Christain monks did make clocks in 10th century. Wiki could show some details (i’ve checked after your mention) .

        We need to know if the religious leaders speak something worthwhile or not. If they do, they will speak about science, politics and everything which influences our future. We should’nt be going into the future with new ipads and iphones and amazon (the online one) only, right. The actual amazon forest reserve is more essential today and always.

  • tomgreaves

    Total garbage! Pell is a red-neck bullyboy, just like his sidekick Tony Abbott, the pugilistic PM of Australia. What a win double they are. Climate change deniers hardly describes their moronic defence of extreme environmental views that fly in the face of a massive collection of evidence. Just like the smoking defence lobby these guys are shoring up their wallets and their power base by brown-nosing the establishment. Pell, who is still in the sights of the law in Australia for his alleged cover-ups of child sexual abuse by his cronies, was made in the same mould as the army of abusive clergy his slimy religion cultivates and protects.

    • Sean L

      But the establishment is uniformly pro AGW.

    • Malus Pudor

      You have a very big axe to grind…..

  • Mistah Varnish

    Mr Thompson, as an Australian I am well-acquainted with the pronouncements of Pell. No doubt he is an expert on “the proper relationship between the eternally valid magisterium of the Church and the always tentative conclusions of scientists” because that is the kind of arch-conservative doctrine that he has lived his life by. The fact that Pope Francis has a regard for science is the surprising part of this, the fact Pell defends the status quo is, believe me, business as usual for this unimaginative, bureaucratic, ladder-climbing Churchman. Far from taking a brave or principled stance, the old dog is continuing to bark, just as he has for the last 50 years.

    • sidor

      “The fact that Pope Francis has a regard for science is the surprising part of this”

      Do you mean his regard for the climate scientist Nobel laureate Al Gore?

  • Mobius Loop

    Thompson’s twisted little article typifies the abject failure of our media to deal with this complex and serious issue. Although we have a belated recognition that the argument from one side is typified by ‘statistically illiterate Right-wing culture warriors’, or roughly translated – people who are either wrong or lying, the article then ‘balances’ this observations with the grossly inaccurate and lazy characterization of scientists as zealots!

    Having tracked the issue for some 20+ years now, I don’t recognize that description. With few exceptions, the scientific case has been carefully and consistently presented across that period without fuss or drama but with ever growing certainty, in the face of a relentless and aggressive campaign to misrepresent and politicize the entire subject.

    In that time a core scientific position has been reached, indeed it has been repeatedly and exhaustively summarized to political and religious leaders (and anyone else who cares to listen) since the late 1980’s. Yes there are still recognized gaps in knowledge and understanding, and it is in these areas that debate and investigation is keenly focused.

    It is nonsensical to dismiss any leader acting on the scientific advice as an ‘amateur’. The implication of this statement, that we can never take any decision on any complex issue, is demonstrably wrong and patently foolish. Following that logic, any form of decision making would not be possible in our technically complex world. The unnamed ‘libertarian’ journalist who so impressed Thompson has decided the ideological answer before even asking the question, will not look at the issue and pours scorn on those who do…………. a journalist? Really?

    Pope Benedict has done what leaders should and must do, he has drawn on the best advice available to him and has offered words of leadership based on that information. Yes he has taken sides, choosing decades of research instead of the ideology of Thompson’s ‘right-wing culture warriors.’

    At the centre of what the Pope says, and what numerous scientists (not zealots) have been telling us with increasing clarity for years, is one of the most important stories in human history, but what we read in the article above is the typical response of an infantile and lazy media, uninterested in anything more complex than a f**k or a fight…..

    ……the real story is ignored in favour of a playground scrap.

  • Corbus

    “Argentina has always been the most anti-American country in South America”, hmmm, bar Venezuela, I’d say.

    The problem with climate change analysis is that change occurs both pre- and post-mankind’s activities. The difficulty remains in proving anthropogenic cause and effect. The assumption that we are destroying ourselves can be only that.

  • Giuseppe Cappa

    The Pope should indeed abstain from taking positions in the scientific debate, especially wrong ones. However, the debate about global warming is ideological and political, as there is no evidence whatsoever of the fact that human CO2 emissions are influencing the climate, nor that the temperatures are increasing at an abnormal rate (and even it they were, it would be good for humanity to have warmer climate as in the Middle Ages or the Roman times) — check Ian Plimer’s “How to get expelled from school” to see that it does not take much to see this. I am an ex-scientist who quit a “research” job because the scientific community is full of nazi-liberal activists who use their position to waste taxpayers’ money and to support forces (state powers mainly) who are eager to increasingly restrict freedom. There is no need for a global conspiracy to have scientists support the global warming scam, as anyone objecting the flawed hypothesis of the warmists is immediately ostracised and banned from grants and peer-reviewed publications. In the meanwhile the government powers are preparing to tax us for breathing and to restrict freedom of movement and production — freedom of speech is more or less gone. God save us.

  • SMC

    Cardinal Pell is wrong on his basic point, namely, that “The Church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters.” There are many mixed matters which involve both material sciences, as well as doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church. Creation in time, as well as from nothing, are dogmatic teachings which bind material sciences. Teachings on just wages and just prices help inform economics. The list goes on and on. But this is really the great problem of the pope’s recent letter. Its Scriptural and traditional principles regarding ecology are buried under the ideological overreaches surrounding climate change. As a result, people become dismissive of papal authority to rule on mixed matters.

  • Faceless Bureaucrat

    “One dreads to think how this ‘new world political authority’ would behave, endowed with unlimited powers by corrupt governments and sanctified by papal authority.”
    Bit like the Borgias I suspect – seem to remember that ending well…

  • John Thomas

    You say that many people sceptical about climate change/warming, such as Cardinal Pell, are not experts, and that climate scientists who believe in it are essentially, among scientists, in a majority, they have a real consensus, you say; but so often those scientists are shown to be non-rational zealots who fake/hide evidence – so what value should be placed on their consensus, or their belief?

  • MonkeyBot5000

    “Moreover, he gave the impression that he was speaking for all Catholics
    when he did so; and, if by any chance he wasn’t, errant faithful should
    fall into line.”

    Who does he think he is, the pope? Oh, wait, that’s exactly who he is so do as you’re told.

    Fortunately, I’m not a Catholic so I can do what I like.

    • ardenjm

      “Fortunately, I’m not a Catholic so I can do what I like.”
      No you can’t, don’t be preposterous.
      You can’t make 2+2=5, nor rewrite the principle of non-contradiction.
      You can’t fly, grow another head, or turn base metals into gold.
      You live in a society hedged about by laws. Indeed, had you lived in a time of conscription even your bodily survival could be coerced – or if you’d refuse to comply you’d have faced prison: more bodily coercion.
      You have made other choices in your life that affect, and sometimes even determine, the choices you make now.
      In short the absolute freedom you appeal to here is, in fact, absolute only on those terms.
      And then we get to the hindrances to that freedom that come from our human stupidity, wilfulness, short-sightedness and weaknesses: the messy, compromised stuff that makes up our human nature.

      And THAT is where the Church – in my experience – has a great deal of helpful – indeed saving – expertise. Why? Because (and only in so far) as she communicates the saving truth of Christ: “The truth will set you free.”

      The problem with your childish version of freedom is that it is insufficiently free and I, and many other Catholics like me, want the real one.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        You can’t make 2+2=5

        If we round to whole numbers, 2.49 = 2.
        2.49 + 2.49 = 4.98 which is close enough to 5 for practical purposes.

        • Man In Black

          If a shop gives 25% free amount of each article purchased, then 2+2=5.

  • AndrewMelville

    If only some Cardinal would stand up to the Pope on issues such as RC idolatry and cannibalism. It would be great if the Pope could be persuaded to bring the RC Church back into Christianity.

    • Vichapte

      Super media job 680.98$/day


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    • ardenjm

      Andrew, vituperative gadfly that you are – I say to myself when I read your tirelessly bigoted anti-Catholic vitriol that you are in a state of invincible ignorance (“The Dwarves are for the Dwarves!” in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Last Battle’ come to mind).

      So it seems to be your role in God’s wise plan for the world, to be Shimei the stone-thrower to the Catholic Church’s King David – the original story of which is found in 2 Samuel 16. Who am I, then, to question what Providence seems to have blinkered and blinded you for?

      Two New Testament quotes come to mind, however, when I read your anti-Catholic rants:

      From Matthew 7:
      Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

      And from John 16:
      “the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.”

      Now, of course, the Catholic Church has had members – far too many indeed – that have done their share of persecuting and killing in God’s Name. But even the Quakers kepts slaves in the New World and whilst I’m not aware of the Salvation Army ever having killed or persecuted anyone they have only been around for a fraction of the time. But you’re incapable of listening to anything like reason when it comes to the Catholic Church.

      So I shall simply quote the wisdom of King David, who reminds us that God allows people like you to spew forth your bile because the members of the Church have failed to live up to the example of Christ:

      “Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.”

      • Stugo

        But the Church of Rome isn’t Christian – and the ‘Reformation’ didn’t go far enough, for example, why do Protestants still worship on Constantine’s “venerable day of the sun” in place of the seventh day Sabbath, as commanded?

        And Francis the Jesuit is showing himself to be working for the globalists to help them provide their one world government – it’s the reason ‘climate change’ was invented/pounced upon in the first place.

      • AndrewMelville

        Thanks for the bile. Right back at you.

        No point in supporting RC doctrine – because one can’t.

        Every Christian denomination including my own has its faults and its failings. I only know of one that refuses to acknowledge other churches as such. So that one is deserving of an extra heaping of contempt.