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Pope's climate message failed to sway Catholic conservatives: study

Pope's climate message failed to sway Catholic conservatives: study
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Pope Francis’s landmark statement on climate change and his call for more work on the issue failed to sway conservative American Catholics, according to a new study. 

The report, from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, concluded that last summer’s climate change encyclical only hardened views held about climate change.

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According to the study, 62 percent of Catholic Democrats believed in climate change and humans’ role before the encyclical came out. Only 24 percent of Catholic Republicans held that opinion. 

After Francis issued his encyclical in June 2015, those positions were simply more stark: Democratic Catholics aware of the encyclical were more concerned about climate change than Democratic Catholics unaware of it. Conservative Catholics who heard about the encyclical were less concerned about climate change than those who hadn’t. 

“While Pope Francis’s environmental call may have increased some individuals’ concerns about climate change, it backfired with conservative Catholics and non-Catholics, who not only resisted the message but defended their pre-existing beliefs by devaluing the pope’s credibility on climate change,” Nan Li, a Texas Tech professor and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. 

Catholics, liberals and environmentalists had hoped Francis’s landmark climate encyclical, “Laudato si,” would inspire Catholics to care more about the environment. In the encyclical and public speeches given by Francis, including those in the United States, the pope blamed human activity for climate change and urged readers to do more to address it. 

But polling has shown the encyclical did little to move the needle on climate. 

Li’s study is based on interviews with Catholics weeks before and after the encyclical came out. An Associated Press poll last year found most American Catholics were unaware of Francis’s position on climate change, and that Catholics generally had the same level of belief in global warming as the rest of Americans. 

According to Li, “worldviews, political identities and group norms that lead conservative Catholics to deny climate change override their deference to religious authority when judging the reality and risks of this phenomenon.”