Pope Francis will not now be attending the climate change summit COP26 in Scotland next month.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, said today that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will now represent the Holy See at the UN conference in Glasgow. He said: “I can specify that the delegation will be led by His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness.”
There had been growing speculation in recent days that Pope Francis would not after all attend the conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Among the concerns locally was the question of what if any pastoral aspect there would be to the visit, which would by its nature have been short because he was intending to fly in and out in the same day.
He is understood to have hoped himself to celebrate a Mass in Glasgow, but this proved not to be possible in the time available.
He would have been the first Pope to attend a COP meeting. His visit was intended to include some time with the Queen, who is also due to attend the summit, but on top of everything else, this would have made the possibility of any pastoral aspect to the visit even more remote.
A meeting with bishops and clergy in Scotland would have provided a boost to morale as the Church continues to recover from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Alistair Dutton, director of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, said: “We’re gutted the Pope can’t join us for COP here in Glasgow, as I’m sure Catholics throughout Scotland will be. Most importantly, it’s an enormous disappointment for everyone who had hoped that Pope Francis would inspire world leaders to really grasp the nettle and tackle the climate emergency.
“Pope Francis has always been clear that we all have an urgent collective
“Coming from Latin America, Pope Francis has always been a vocal champion of those on the frontline of the climate crisis, and we must ensure that their voices are front and centre at COP26. It is the world’s poorest who are facing devasting consequences, like droughts and floods, that are driving them from their homes, robbing them of their food & plunging them ever deeper into extreme poverty.
“But it’s not all doom and gloom. From Sciaf’s work around the world we know how communities are tackling the effects of climate change. With real global ambition we can turn the tide, and we must do so at COP26.”
A spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: “While Scotland’s Catholic bishops had welcomed the prospect of Pope Francis attending the COP26 Conference in Glasgow, in the event that he is unable to attend they would accept that decision with some sadness. The bishops welcome the announcement that Cardinal Parolin will lead the Holy See delegation as an indication of the importance the Church attaches to COP26 and will continue to keep Pope Francis in their prayers.”
The intention of Pope Francis to attend COP26 appeared to be confirmed in July, when he indicated to the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland that he would be coming, in response to a message from the Scottish bishops wishing him a speedy recovery after recent surgery.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI visited Scotland in 2010.
The issue of climate change is a passion of Pope Francis, whose encyclical on the environment Laudato Si’ is regarded as among his most significant.
A spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said at the time: “Having written to the Holy Father to assure him of a warm welcome, should he attend the conference, they are delighted to hear that he does hope to attend and would be glad to meet with them in Glasgow. The Pope will be in Scotland for a very short time, most of which will be spent participating in the COP26 Conference. While many pastoral, ecumenical and interfaith gatherings would be desirable while he is with us, time constraints sadly mean such a full programme will not be possible.”
Catholic campaigning groups will however be present. Members of the Young Christian Climate Network are currently among those walking to the summit from Cornwall as part of a 1,000-mile relay pilgrimage to demand action on the climate emergency.
The possibility of a papal visit to Scotland for COP26 was first revealed by Christopher Lamb in The Tablet.