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Catholic bishops to meet with Congress, White House on climate change

Catholic bishops to meet with Congress, White House on climate change
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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is planning to take Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change to Congress, the White House and Catholics nationally.

Stephen Colecchi, director of international peace and justice for the group, told reporters Thursday it is planning a pair of briefings with the House and Senate on Thursday and a White House briefing Friday.

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Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB and the archbishop of Louisville, Ky., said his group will be being a message that the pope is calling for a constructive dialogue on climate change and not prescribing specific actions.

“It’s meant to be a challenging dialogue,” Kurtz told reporters. “We’re always looking for bipartisan solutions; we’re always looking to bring people together.”

Responding to some Republicans who have criticized the Catholic Church for getting involved in political and economic issues like climate change, Kurtz said there’s an appropriate role.

“We know that politics and economics have moral content,” Kurtz said.

“We know that faith and people of good enrich public life. So we don’t see this as an added burden, we see this as an essential part of the solution if we look for the common good. And politics has, as its face, the common good serving all,” he continued.

Kurtz and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and a close confidant of the pope, spoke hours after the Vatican released Francis's letter on climate change, in which he said fighting climate change is a moral issue and fossil fuel use should be reduced dramatically to protect the poor and others who suffer from climate change’s consequences.

Wuerl said Francis is trying to construct a moral framework for policymakers and others without dictating specifics.

Francis, Wuerl said, is asking for “engagement, discussion, and what he’s offering is a moral framework within which that discussion will take place … the moral frame of reference is what the Holy Father is offering, but he’s not saying ‘this is the conclusion of that discussion.’ ”

Wuerl and Kurtz avoided specific policy questions, but the USCCB has previously come out in favor of the Environmental Protection Agency limiting carbon pollution from power plants, one of the agency's most controversial proposals.

Wuerl said he is working to talk with his priests and parishioners about the encyclical, and he said other Catholics should do the same, though they should take time.

“The first thing we’ll do is to help people understand, and our priests to say, this is going to take a lot of unpacking,” he said. “There’s a great amount of richness in this document. Let’s do that. Let’s do that over a period of time.”