Holy See’s Uncritical Support for COP26 Causes Concern

Catastrophic crisis or a Trojan horse to push a secular agenda?

A photo illustration of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) logo is seen displayed on a smartphone.
A photo illustration of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) logo is seen displayed on a smartphone. (photo: Shutterstock)

VATICAN CITY — As the Holy See gives unreserved public backing to a major United Nations conference on climate change, concerns are growing that it is lending its weight to “climate alarmism” that is being used to usher in policies and ideologies antithetical to Church teaching.

Otherwise known as COP26, the intergovernmental summit taking place in the Scottish city of Glasgow Oct. 31-Nov. 12 is being billed as the most pivotal series of climate talks since 2015, when nations signed the so-called Paris Agreement binding them to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels. 

COP26 is expected to generate even more ambitious targets on the back of peer-reviewed U.N. climate studies, increasing concern over the frequency of natural disasters, and a rise in alarmist rhetoric about the climate. 

“We don’t have any more time,” President Joe Biden said in September when touring the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida. The world is on “a one-way ticket for disaster,” warned U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, two weeks before the Glasgow summit. 

For his part, Pope Francis has said COP26 “represents an urgent summons” to tackle “the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing, and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations.”

The Holy Father, who was hoping to visit COP26 but decided not to go for undisclosed reasons, hosted a Vatican meeting of faith leaders and scientists in October who appealed to world leaders gathering in Glasgow to step up their action against climate change. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who will be leading the Holy See’s delegation at the summit, has also added his voice to the chorus of world leaders, telling the U.N. General Assembly in September, “It is far past time to act.” The international community, he said, is “compelled” to act after “decades of inaction.” 

 

Ambitious Targets 

COP26 is expected to lead to significant changes to people’s everyday lives, mainly by having 200 countries cut their carbon emissions by 2030 in an effort to achieve the 1.5-degree temperature-rise limit. 

Within this overarching goal are other measures, including speeding up the switch to electric cars, phasing out coal power, cutting down fewer trees, and protecting nations from possible climate disasters by measures such as funding coastal-defense systems. Developed countries will also have to mobilize at least $100 billion in climate finance per year, a pledge made at the 2015 summit with an unachieved target of 2020. 

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development reiterated the message of the faith leaders’ and scientists’ Oct. 4 appeal, strongly urging nations to uphold the commitments of the Paris Agreement: limiting global warming to 1.5° C, ensuring high-income nations deliver the money to the Green Climate Fund, and ending fossil fuels with a just transition. (Although the dicastery is part of the Vatican, it stressed these were not Vatican or COP26 positions).  

“We have a moral obligation to recognize that the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth are the same cry, and to address this — that we need to act now,” Father Joshtrom Kureethadam, the head of the ecology and creation sector of the dicastery, told the Register. 

But critics are warning that these ambitious goals are also paving the way for excessive anthropocentricism, utopian visions and ecologism — ideologies that Pope Francis denounced in his environmental encyclical Laudato Si (Care for Our Common Home) as various groups latch on to the so-called “climate crisis” to push their own agendas. 

One of them is the World Economic Forum (WEF), an international NGO of political and business elites, and its controversial “Great Reset” initiative that some critics view as a blueprint for a centralized, digital technocracy leading to “a deChristianized society.” The WEF is one of COP26’s leading partners

Other groups piggybacking radical proposals onto the climate agenda are abortion providers and other family-planning organizations, who are demanding a share of climate funds. USAID, the federal government’s agency for development, has announced it will integrate gender ideology in climate policies. 

 

‘Clear Danger’

John Klink, who was a Holy See negotiator at the Environmental Summit in Rio in 1992 and played a key role in the Church’s pro-life battles at other major U.N. discussions in the 1990s, told the Register Oct. 25 he sees a “clear danger” that billions of dollars committed to the Green Climate Fund — a U.N. body aimed at financing developing nations to adapt to, and counter, climate change — “will be funneled to abortion providers.” 

He also pointed out that the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) is linking programs to reduce the impact of climate change on Africa with universal access to abortion and contraception under the guise of “reproductive health.” 

The U.N. agency says its aim is to build “climate resilience” — “the latest nomenclature to be used by an ever-voracious UNFPA and its pro-abortion allies to access international governmental and U.N. swill,” Klink said. 

Stefano Gennarini, vice president for legal studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam), an organization lobbying the U.N. on pro-life issues, noted “a resurgence of population control internationally in recent years,” including after the 2015 Paris Agreement. “Many Catholics, especially those who work on the development and climate policy, remain unaware or not sufficiently concerned about this,” he told the Register. “It would be helpful if the Holy See were to often repeat Pope Francis’ concern with population control in Laudato Si.” 

The Holy Father warned in his 2015 environment encyclical against “blaming population growth” for environmental damage “instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some,” saying it is “one way of refusing to face the issues.” 

Gennarini insisted the Holy See has not been reluctant to speak against abortion and contraception at the United Nations, but he is concerned that the U.N.’s climate policies hurt the poor through a “new top-down industrial revolution being promoted by wealthy countries.” 

The Church, he added, should therefore be “very careful and avoid endorsing” such policies. 

 

Holy See Too Uncritical?

A further problem critics cite within the climate-change debate is a weakness in the Holy See’s approach, specifically what they regard as an overly accommodating stance toward the U.N.’s worldview and allowing itself to become too embroiled in the minutiae of climate-change science at the expense of resisting false ideologies and approaches. Father Paul Haffner, author of Towards a Theology of the Environment, said he believes the Holy See should be “stating principles” rather than “giving too many details.” Climate science, he cautioned, “is not an exact science; it’s very approximate and is always evolving.” 

Father Haffner, who teaches systematic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, also warned that this science has, for many, turned into a “climate religion,” a kind of “new-age religion” that is “basically cosmo-centricism, whereby the cosmos is placed at the center, the human being is a nuisance, and you want to push him or her aside.” 

“Therefore,” he added, “abortion, euthanasia and depopulation, of course, are all a part of this wicked agenda, which obviously wants the person put in second and third place and the exaltation of animals, putting them on the same level of human beings.” 

“Hierarchy in creation exists,” Father Haffner said, “and this is forgotten because what is being promoted is basically ecologism, as we call it — a socialistic or communistic ideology which wants to level everything out and forget there is a hierarchy in which the human person is the apex, under God, under Christ, exercising priestly stewardship over creation.” 

 

Practical Problems

The Holy See is also facing other, more practical problems in defending the Church’s position when it comes to climate change, according to sources close to the Holy See. These include the fact that countries listen less to the Holy See than in the past; that Rome is slow in responding, having “lost the culture war in global U.N. policy”; and that developing countries have lost respect for the Holy See because it’s often seen as a “cheerleader for the European Union” — a bloc imposing ideological colonization on poor nations. 

“The Holy See is a subject of international law that exercises sovereignty and engages other sovereign states and international persons,” said Jane Adolphe, a law professor at Ave Maria Law School.

Adolphe, who also worked as an expert adviser on U.N. international human-rights issues for the Vatican from 2003 to 2020, added, “Due to its spiritual and moral mission, in a certain sense, it represents the ‘soul’ of the United Nations, offering a supernatural and moral vision through the eyes of faith for all people of the world. 

But Adolphe said, “Many Catholics question whether this mission has become politicized with a correlative dimming of the light.” 

 

More Alertness

Despite these major questions and headwinds, including recent Vatican appointments that appear to fly in the face of Church teaching, hope remains that the Holy See will effectively push back on these concerns. 

“The Church continues to speak on these issues,” Gennarini said. “It has never stopped. And I believe it will do so even more as the threat of population control becomes clearer to all.”

Klink said he was “very pleased” that Pope Francis again referred to abortion as “murder” recently, adding he was “confident that the Holy See will be more alert than ever to the continued attempts by the pro-abortion lobby to piggyback and link climate change to pro-abortion mandates under the guise of reproductive and sexual rights and health.” 

He also valued the fact that Cardinal Parolin would be present at COP26, recalling how effectively Pope St. John Paul II made use of his chief diplomat, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, at the Rio Summit in 1992. 

Klink believes the cardinal’s presence, and the Pope’s own meeting with President Joe Biden on Oct. 29, would provide an opportunity to “ensure that Pope Francis’ pro-life policies will be duly reflected in the final Glasgow document.” 

But at the same time, he stressed it is “vital that the allocation of vast international funding in Glasgow not become yet another trough for feeding abortion or abortion-related programs rather than addressing actual climate-change concerns.” 

“Let us pray,” Adolphe said, “that the Holy See continues to illuminate everything with the light of Christ and the grace of God, ever encouraging the good, underlining errors with truth and charity and opposing evil.”   

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Mississippi River are seen from East St. Louis, Illinois, on June 27. Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on June 24, abortion is now banned in Missouri. The nearest clinics to St. Louis are across the river in Illinois, including a Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights that was opened in 2019 in anticipation of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

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