The encyclical on the environment set to be published this summer could have a far greater impact on the lives and lifestyle choices of Catholics than other areas of pontifical direction have had in recent decades, according to new research.
Results from a thousand-plus poll of Catholics released this week show that more than half say they have given increased thought to the issues facing modern society as a result of Pope Francis’ leadership.
A third of respondents say that, if he makes an official statement on climate change, they are likely to alter their behaviour as a result, for example by driving less and recycling more.
The YouGov survey of 1,049 Catholics in England and Wales, commissioned by the Church’s aid agency, Cafod, also showed that almost one in five (18 per cent) say they have already made active changes to their own lives as a result of the Pope. And a clear majority of Catholics questioned – 70 per cent – say they believe the Catholic community will heed the message of the Pope on climate change.
Sources say that the eagerly awaited encyclical is now complete and is in the process of translation. It is due to be released in next few months and the expectation is that it will call for much stronger environmental protection, including limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Francis has already said he believes climate change is caused by human action, which many believe is an indication of the direction of the encyclical.
Meanwhile the poll found that some seven in 10 Catholics (72 per cent) say they are concerned about the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest people, and more than three quarters (76 per cent) say they feel a moral obligation as Catholics to protect these people. In addition, 80 per cent say they feel a duty as Catholics to care for God’s creation.
The older respondents were, the more likely they were to want political action, too, on climate change. More than half (51 per cent) of those aged 55-plus felt strongly that politicians should mobilise on climate change if Pope Francis calls for action, while 53 per cent of all Catholics questioned, regardless of age, believe the Pope can make political inroads in tackling climate change where others have failed.
Neil Thorns, director of advocacy at Cafod, said: “While the data shows us that almost two thirds of Catholics have engaged with the climate debate already, what’s most telling about these results is how many Catholics link the impact climate change is having on vulnerable people with their faith, which calls us to protect the poorest in society.
“The world will be watching what the Pope says next on climate change in anticipation of the impact he will have, not just within the Catholic community but on the wider political process leading to Paris this year.”
World leaders are due to agree a new global deal to cut carbon emissions in December in the French capital, and the papal encyclical is timed to try to have an impact on that meeting.
Above: Cafod supporters in Southwark and Westminster promote the charity's campaign that highlights the impact of climate change on communities in the developing world