On the flight back to Rome from Cartagena on Sept. 10, Pope Francis addressed two questions that are much discussed in the United States today: the situation of the 800,000 Dreamers whose could face deportation and the moral responsibility of governments that deny climate change.
Responding to a question about the negative effects of the suspension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in the United States, Pope Francis said that since the president presents himself as pro-life, then he should also be pro-family and not do anything that would be detrimental to the family.
The pope also addressed questions about climate change, saying that those who deny its reality should listen to scientists, who “speak very clearly.” He insisted that people at every level have to take responsibility to care for the environment, since “it’s true that if we don’t turn back we will go down.”
Speaking to reporters shortly after take-off, Francis had a dark mark around his left eye from an accident in the popemobile in Cartagena. He sought to play down the injury saying, “I was leaning down to greet children and then I banged my head.… I now have a puffed eye!” Despite a physically grueling five days visit to Colombia, Francis was in good spirits fielding questions in what he calls “the lion’s den.”
Recalling that whenever Francis meets young people anywhere in the world, he always tells them “don’t let them rob you of hope, don’t let them rob you of your future,” a reporter asked Pope Francis: “Don’t you think that with the abolition of [DACA], young people will lose their joy, their hope, their future?”
While acknowledging that he had not been able to study the DACA decision in detail, Francis spoke about the challenges facing young immigrants more generally, saying that “to take away young people from their families is not something that bears fruit, neither for the young people nor for their families.” Referring to the current negotiations over a legislative solution, the pope expressed “hope that it can be re-thought a little.”
If he is a good pro-life [man] then he will understand that the family is the cradle of life, and that it must be defended as a unit.
Then, in a highly significant remark, Pope Francis referred to President Donald J. Trump, saying, “I have heard it said that the president of the United States presents himself as a man who is pro-life, and if he is a good pro-life [man] then he will understand that the family is the cradle of life, and that it must be defended as a unit.”
Francis added that he was very concerned about the negative effects on young people left without hope and separated from their roots, including the possibility of drug addiction and suicide. He emphasized that “the relationship to their roots are very important for the young”, and observed that “the young are uprooted today, they ask for help, they want to find again their roots, and that is why I insist very much on the dialogue between the young and the elderly.” He concluded: “young people today need to find again their roots, and whatever goes against the roots takes away their hopes.” Noting that he did not want to express himself on an issue he had not studied closely, he repeated his intention to “study it well.”
Francis also responded to a question about the moral responsibility of governments that deny climate change, an issue that is very much on the radar given President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accords on climate change.
Noting that the extensive damage from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, potentially connected to the warming of the oceans, a reporter asked the pope about the moral responsibility of “politicians who refuse to collaborate with other nations to control emissions” because they deny human responsibility for climate change.
The one who denies [climate change] should go to the scientists, and ask them. They speak very clearly. Scientists are precise.”
Pope Francis rejected climate change denial as strongly as he did in his encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” saying that “the one who denies this should go to the scientists, and ask them. They speak very clearly. Scientists are precise.”
He recalled recent news reports about the disappearance of ice in the Arctic, and referred to recent studies “that said we have only three years to turn back, otherwise the consequences will be terrible. I don’t know if we have three years or not, but it’s true that if we don’t turn back we will go down.”
Noting that “the scientists say clearly what are the roads to follow,” Francis emphasized that “all of us have a responsibility…and I believe we must take it seriously.”
Addressing the moral responsibility of politicians who deny climate change, Francis said “if one thinks it is not so true, then let that person go and ask the scientists. They are most clear. Theirs is not an airy-fairy opinion, they are most clear. Then let the person decide, and history will judge the decisions.”
Another journalist asked Francis why he thought it took “so long for governments to gain consciousness on this question, while in other areas, like on the question of arms, they can decide quickly?”
There’s a phrase in the Old Testament, I think in one of the psalms, where it says man is stupid; he’s stubborn and does not see.
Pope Francis began his response by noting “there’s a phrase in the Old Testament, I think in one of the psalms, where it says man is stupid; he’s stubborn and does not see.” He added that attachment to money “has effects on creation, and also on so many other questions, like that of arms. There are many contradictions linked to money.”
Francis recalled a visit earlier in the day to a poor neighborhood in Cartagena and where there’s also “the tourist section, luxurious, without any moral measure. But those who go there, they don’t take note, nor do the socio-political analysts.” Francis concluded, “man is stupid, and when he doesn’t want to see, he won’t see, he only looks at one side.”
Pope Francis also fielded several other questions, including one on Venezuela, saying that the UN should act on the humanitarian crisis there. He also addressed questions about his visit to Colombia and how he hopes the peace process will develop and the Italian response to the migrant question.
Editor’s note: the quotes in this article are a working translation by the author in advance of an official transcript of the press conference.