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Pope Francis Has Your Back

by John Gehring 11-29-2023
The pontiff offers a climate change manifesto as the world nears its breaking point.
The illustration shows Pope Francis reaching out a hand on an orange background with blue waves

joscreative / Shutterstock 

POPE FRANCIS MADE history eight years ago when he became the first pope to publish an encyclical focused on the environment and our collective responsibility to end the poisoning of our planet. Unlike most such documents that stir debates largely confined to theological circles, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” sparked a global reaction far beyond the Catholic Church.

In October, the pope again pulled our attention back to a worsening climate crisis and even more dire threats to our common home with the release of “Laudate Deum” (“Praise God”), which comes at a time when mounting evidence of more frequent climate emergencies has been met most often with apathy, not action.

“I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” the pope writes. There are good reasons for the pope’s stark assessment. The burning of fossil fuels continues to reap obscene profits for oil executives while the impact of human-induced climate change, especially on impoverished nations, is devastating. Pope Francis laments that “the necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels, is not progressing at the necessary speed.” The publication was timed for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) taking place in November and December.

I’m particularly encouraged by the pope’s support for activists and grassroots organizers who have far outpaced most political leaders when it comes to mobilizing for climate justice. Francis endorses “a multilateralism ‘from below.’” While right-wing demagogues who fancy themselves populists exploit fears of cultural displacement and economic anxiety, the pope’s hopeful populism is rooted in standing in solidarity with the poor, bringing people together across divides, and challenging structures of injustice that prop up immoral syst

Put Down Your Nukes and Step Away

by John Gehring 05-31-2018
What "realism" looks like in the age of nuclear weapons.

THE ARREST OF SEVEN Catholic activists from the Plowshares movement who entered a nuclear submarine base in April again highlights the enduring threats posed by nuclear weapons. The Kings Bay Plowshares carried religious banners promoting peace onto the naval base in Georgia that houses Trident submarines armed with missiles with nuclear warheads. “This weapons system is a cocked gun being held to the head of the planet,” the activists said in a statement as they were arrested.

At a time when President Trump reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. would win a nuclear arms race between the two countries, nuclear disarmament efforts feel tenuous. Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who helped broker the Iran nuclear agreement, has warned that the chance of a nuclear launch is “higher than it’s been since the Cuban missile crisis.”

Against this backdrop, the clock is ticking on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 2010 by President Obama and Russia’s then-President Dmitry Medvedev that limits strategic warheads and delivery systems in the two countries. Unless action is taken to extend that agreement, it will expire in 2021. If that happens, for the first time in more than 40 years the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals would operate free of an arms control agreement.

The Pentagon released a nuclear arms policy in February that requests two new types of nuclear weapons, essentially ending the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis described the changes as a need to “look reality in the eye” and to “see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

Why I Got Arrested Saying the Rosary

by John Gehring 03-01-2018

Photo courtesy John Gehring

Earlier this week, I participated in civil disobedience for the first time. Forty Catholic sisters, priests, and other lay Catholic advocates were arrested in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in solidarity with young undocumented “Dreamers.” These immigrants, brought to this country as children, are living in fear of deportation after the Trump administration ended an Obama-era program that offered them protection. Congress now has to find a solution. About a third of all House members, including Speaker Paul Ryan, and a quarter of senators are Catholic. More than a 100 Catholics, including Dreamers, showed up for a rally and press conference outside the Senate building, urging lawmakers to act.

Paul Ryan Faces an Urgent Moral Challenge

by John Gehring 02-06-2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) attends a news conference with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Blues legend Robert Johnson, the story goes, made a deal with the devil and sold his soul on a Mississippi highway to play virtuoso guitar. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s musical tastes reportedly lean more toward Metallica than the Delta blues, but he faces a crossroads of his own that will test whether he will trade in his values to the nativist wing of the Republican Party or do what’s right for young immigrants.

Jeff Sessions Needs a Sunday School Lesson on Immigration

by John Gehring 01-09-2017

Image via RNS/Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

Sessions has long been, in the words of one prominent immigration advocate, the “most anti-immigrant senator in the chamber.” When George W. Bush, a self-styled “compassionate conservative” and born-again Christian, pushed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007 that was supported by many business and law-enforcement officials, Sessions railed against what he called the “no illegal alien left behind bill” and led the charge against the failed effort. “Good fences make good neighbors,” he said at a press conference the year before.

Why Christmas Is Radical

by John Gehring 12-22-2016

Image via RNS/Tommy Lee Kreger via Creative Commons

You probably don’t think of Christmas as a revolutionary holiday. Twinkling lights on trees, Starbucks gift cards, and sweet carols are not exactly the stuff of subversion. A domesticated Christmas is comforting, but considering our fraught political landscape today, we might find better lessons by reflecting on the disruption caused by Jesus’ birth, and the radical implications of his life.

Trump Has Ground to Make Up With Catholics

by John Gehring 07-20-2016

Image via REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/RNS

Donald Trump takes pride in rattling the GOP establishment, but he faces a major roadblock on the way to the White House.

Catholic voters, who have been key to picking the winning ticket in almost every modern election, reject Trump decisively. In 2012, President Obama won the overall Catholic vote 50 percent to 48 percent. Hillary Clinton now leads 56 percent to 39 percent, a sizable gap unlikely to close much by November.

In Honoring Biden and Boehner, Notre Dame Lives Up to Pope Francis' Vision

by John Gehring 05-13-2016

Image via REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/RNS

When Pope Francis became the first pontiff in history to address Congress last fall, two of the most powerful Catholics in Washington sat behind him.

Texas School Board: The "Common Good" as Liberal Conspiracy

by John Gehring 06-07-2010

'Doing God's Work': A Moral Case for Financial Reform

by John Gehring 04-27-2010
As financial reform legislation stalls in the Senate for the moment and embattled Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein testifies today before a congressional subcommittee, faith-based organizations an

Another Vatican II Moment for the Catholic Church?

by John Gehring 04-23-2010
These are dark days for Catholics and our church. The clergy sexual abuse scandals are a source of profound pain and raw anger.

What Catholics Can Teach Glenn Beck About Social Justice

by John Gehring 03-24-2010

While it's generally not worth spilling any ink over Glenn Beck, his recent attacks on churches that preach "social justice" has rightly earned the condemnation of diverse faith leaders

A Torture Apologist's Flawed Theology

by John Gehring 03-10-2010
The Washington Post has a new op-ed page writer drawing scrutiny for his hearty endorsement of "enhanced interrogation," which translated from Orwellian into English means torture.

The Pope vs. Climate Change Deniers

by John Gehring 02-19-2010
The recent blizzard of bunk coming from climate change deniers giddy over the recent Snowmageddon that paralyzed the nation's capital is a classic case of putting ideology and politics before scien

Is George W. Bush Pro-Life? Is Any Politician?

by John Gehring 02-05-2010

Former President George W. Bush receives a pro-life award this weekend from Legatus, an organization of Catholic business professionals.

Honoring King: Economic Justice for All

by John Gehring 01-18-2010

God's Economics: Pope Benedict -- and Jim Wallis -- Go Where Many U.S. Politicians Fear to Tread

by John Gehring 01-15-2010

Bishops Flex Moral Muscle for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

by John Gehring 01-11-2010
While attention is focused on final negotiations over health-care legislation, Catholic bishops have signaled they will play a leading role in pushing for comprehensive immigration reform this year

Big Oil, Corporate Greed, and Social Sin

by John Gehring 11-06-2009
As an urbanite fortunate to live within walking distance of work and trendy restaurants, I rarely drive these days.

The Media's Favorite Catholic Culture Warrior

by John Gehring 10-23-2009
Just in time for Halloween, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is once again spooked about all those "radical secularists" lurking ominously behind ever corner.