U.S. Catholic bishops' silence and denialism on climate change

Sabrina Danielsen, Daniel R. Dileo, Emily E. Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Catholic Church recognizes climate change as a moral issue, has called for social action, and has the institutional potential to meaningfully address climate change. Many hoped Pope Francis's 2015 encyclical Laudato Si' would spark widespread climate action. However, our quantitative and qualitative content analyses show that U.S. Catholic bishops responsible for leading the Church were silent and denialist about climate change around Laudato Si'. Using a newly constructed dataset of 12 077 columns published by U.S. Catholic bishops in the official publications for 171 of the 178 U.S. Catholic dioceses between June 2014-June 2019, we find that (a) as a group, U.S. Catholic bishops were generally silent about climate change and (b) as a group, when U.S. Catholic bishops did mention climate change, they often: (a) diminished and distanced themselves from Church teaching on this issue; (b) downplayed parts of Laudato Si' that conflict with a conservative political identity/ideology; and (c) emphasized parts of Laudato Si' that correspond to a conservative political identity/ideology. On climate change, our findings indicate individual U.S. Catholic bishops' diocesan communications have collectively snuffed out the spark of Laudato Si'. Our findings suggest politics may trump religion in influencing climate change beliefs even among religious leaders, and that the American Catholic Church subtly engages in climate denialism even though its top religious leader (Pope Francis) has emphasized the scientific reality and urgency of climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114006
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume16
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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