First African American Catholic Cardinal Supports the Fight Against Climate Change


By Natasha Lasky, ODP Contributing Writer

Wilton Gregory, appointed the first African American Catholic cardinal, is an ally in the fight against global warming. He not only believes in climate change, but he also has supported the Pope’s landmark environmental treatise— “Laudato Si:’ On Care for our Common Home” —when many archbishops in the United States did not, and put together a plan to address the Pope’s concerns about climate change that has been an inspiration for other faith leaders in Boston, Columbus, Minneapolis, San Diego, and other cities.

Why this Matters:  Spiritual leaders across faiths have been taking a stand against climate change. On November 16th, 47 faith institutions— 42 representing Catholics— announced their divestment from fossil fuels. In addition to the pope, recently, in an interview with Channel 4 News and the Guardian, as we reported, the Dalai Lama put out a call to action to fight climate change, urging world leaders to take immediate action. Cardinal Gregory has been willing to speak up about a range of progressive issues, including racial justice, openness to LGBTQ Catholics and having a “zero-tolerance” response to sex abuse in the United States. He has been especially keen to note the intersections between different global issues, including the way climate change disproportionately affects poor people and people of color.

Working with Washington

Gregory is currently an archbishop in Washington, DC, and plans to stay there after his cardinal appointment. Tomás Insua, executive director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, told InsideClimate News: ”What happens in D.C. is seen by more eyes than other dioceses. There is the potential for inspiring a lot of action. He will be there in a highly public role in the church.” On October first, Catholic leaders met with Senators Michael Braun and Chris Coons, the co-chairs of the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. Because of Gregory’s position in Washington and Biden’s recent election, many believe that they will find common ground and ways that D.C. Diocese can support the incoming President’s work on climate change.

President-Elect Biden and the Pope’s Climate Stance

In 2017, Biden spoke of the experience of reading “Laudato Si,” in an interview with the Jesuit Review: ”The way I read (Laudato Si’) it was an invitation, almost a demand, that a dialogue begin internationally to deal with what is the single most consequential problem and issue facing humanity right now.”  This might prove helpful in moving Catholic constituents towards climate action. Eighty-two percent of nonwhite Catholics and 77 percent of white Catholics said they were worried about climate change, according to a poll by the Yale University Program on Climate Change Communication, Climate Nexus and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.  Tomás Insua summed up Gregory’s potential to help reach these Catholics for InsideClimate News: ”The conversation about climate … is about science, energy policy and all this complex stuff. Faith has the potential for reframing the conversations. Fundamentally, it’s a spiritual and moral crisis. Our relationship with the earth is broken.”

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