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Pope Francis’ new encyclical on environmentalism and social justice, Laudato Si (“Praise Be To You”), has placed right-wing politicians in an awkward situation: After having conflated religion and conservatism for so long, proudly bolstering their political views with their Christian ones, many must now contend with one of the most prominent religious leaders in the world, who is advancing a progressive vision on some key issues.

George Weigel at National Review gives a remarkably balanced take, highlighting Pope Francis’ commitment in the document to morality and tradition: “Francis’ counter-proposal leads him to argue that being ecologically conscious and environmentally committed necessarily means being pro-life.” Weigel stresses that the encyclical is about far more than global warming and that it contains a call to revitalize the human condition.

Others, however, have not been receiving it quite so well.

Folks at The Wall Street Journal are already criticizing Pope Francis, dubbing it “Pope Francis’ New Religion: Environmentalism,” and accusing of him of having “an anti-capitalist bent.”

In recent days, Republican sort-of-frontrunner Jeb Bush — a convert to Catholicism — walked on eggshells as he distanced himself from Francis.

“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush told Sean Hannity this week. “And I’d like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issues before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

(Of course, this discomfort with mixing religion and politics might seem odd coming from a man who, under the banner of right-to-life rhetoric, interceded in the Terri Schiavo affair while serving as Florida’s governor.)

In the run-up to the encyclical’s release, Rick Santorum made a classic blunder a week and a half ago on Fox News Sunday. “I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists,” Santorum said — only to be reminded by host Chris Wallace that Pope Francis does have a background in chemistry.

Santorum’s skepticism of religious figures getting involved in science is also a major turnaround for him. While championing the teaching of creationism in schools, he was skeptical of scientists’ involvement in science. As he said in 2011, during his first campaign for president: “It’s very interesting that you have a situation that science will only allow things in the classroom that are consistent with a non-Creator idea of how we got here, as if somehow or another that’s scientific.”

Rush Limbaugh was railing against the pope as well, claiming that he has long been “attacking capitalism using Democrat Party language,” and that “this guy sounds like a Marxist.”

Mark Levin says Francis “wants to go beyond his leadership of the Catholic Church” and boss all of us around — “replacing true faith and religion with this phony faith that they believe is the new religion,” referring to environmentalism. (Levin also took the occasion to trash not only left-leaning Catholics, but liberal Jews as well.)

And there’s the always-unhinged Michael Savage: “He has been hand-selected by the New World Order. He is the first non-European pope in 1,200 years — the same people who gave us Obama gave us this pope.” Savage also demanded that the Vatican sell off its fine works of art (many of which are in fact on public display, mind you) and give the money away.

Photo: AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro


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Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir.

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