Republican lawmakers shrug off Pope Francis' climate message

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pope Francis' call for dramatic action on climate change drew a round of shrugs from congressional Republicans on Thursday, while many of the party's presidential candidates ignored it entirely.

"I don't want to be disrespectful, but I don't consider him an expert on environmental issues," said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, a senior Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a comment echoed by a number of other Republicans.

Even Capitol Hill's many Catholics, despite their religion's reverence for the holy father, seemed unmoved by his urgent plea to save the planet. The reactions suggested that the pontiff's desire to translate his climate views into real action to combat greenhouse gases could fall flat, at least as far as the American political system is concerned.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a Catholic who invited the pontiff to address Congress later this year, said the pope is not afraid to challenge thinking on various issues. "I respect his right to speak out on these important issues," Boehner said, but he demurred when asked whether Francis' views, made public in an encyclical released Thursday, might spur legislative action by the Republicans who run Congress.

"There's a lot of bills out there. I'm not sure where in the process these bills may be," Boehner said.

In the encyclical, a landmark foray by the Vatican into the area of environmental policy, Francis called for a bold cultural revolution, framing climate change as an urgent moral issue and blaming global warming on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that harms the poor most. He urged people of every faith to save God's creation for future generations.

Francis is to address lawmakers in September in the first speech by a pope to Congress.

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Republican lawmakers shrug off Pope Francis' climate message
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JUNE 14: Pope Francis greets a baby during a meeting with the Roman Diocesans in St. Peter's Square on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Pontiff invited everyone to pay attention to environmental issues during his Sunday Angelus blessing. His upcoming encyclical 'Laudato Sii' on the environment will be launched at a Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JUNE 14: Pope Francis talks with Vicar General of Rome cardinal Agostino Vallini (L) during a meeting with the Roman Diocesans in St. Peter's Square on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Pontiff invited everyone to pay attention to environmental issues during his Sunday Angelus blessing. His upcoming encyclical 'Laudato Sii' on the environment will be launched at a Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JUNE 14: Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square for a meeting with the Roman Diocesans on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Pontiff invited everyone to pay attention to environmental issues during his Sunday Angelus blessing. His upcoming encyclical 'Laudato Sii' on the environment will be launched at a Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JUNE 14: Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for a meeting with the Roman Diocesans on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. During his today Sunday Angelus blessing ÊPope Francis has invited everyone to pay attention to environmental issues. His upcoming encyclical 'Laudato Sii' on the environment will be launched at a Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Pope Francis delivers his message on the occasion of an audience with participants of Rome's diocese convention in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Francis engaged in some self-promotion during his weekly blessing, alerting the thousands of people in St. Peter's Square that his first solo encyclical is coming out on Thursday and inviting them to pay attention to environmental degradation around them. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis is hugged by a child on the occasion of an audience with participants of Rome's diocese convention in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Francis engaged in some self-promotion during his weekly blessing, alerting the thousands of people in St. Peter's Square that his first solo encyclical is coming out on Thursday and inviting them to pay attention to environmental degradation around them. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, flanked by Ecuador's President Rafael Correa attends a Vatican conference on the environment, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Ban Ki-moon, who earlier in the morning met Pope Francis during a private audience, opened the conference that is a key part of the Holy See's rollout of Francis' eagerly awaited encyclical - a pope's most authoritative teaching document - which is expected in June. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, background center, flanked by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, left, and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, delivers his speech during a Vatican conference on the environment, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Ban Ki-moon, who earlier in the morning met Pope Francis during a private audience, opened the conference that is a key part of the Holy See's rollout of Francis' eagerly awaited encyclical - a pope's most authoritative teaching document - which is expected in June. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - JUNE 14: The sculpture featuring The Christ Redeemer on the terrace overlooking St. Peter's Square during a meeting of Pope Francis with the Roman Diocesans on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Pontiff invited everyone to pay attention to environmental issues during his Sunday Angelus blessing. His upcoming encyclical 'Laudato Sii' on the environment will be launched at a Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center, flanked by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, left, and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, delivers his speech during a Vatican conference on the environment, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Ban Ki-moon, who earlier in the morning met Pope Francis during a private audience, opened the conference that is a key part of the Holy See's rollout of Francis' eagerly awaited encyclical - a pope's most authoritative teaching document - which is expected in June. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center, flanked by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, left, and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, delivers his speech during a Vatican conference on the environment, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Ban Ki-moon, who earlier in the morning met Pope Francis during a private audience, opened the conference that is a key part of the Holy See's rollout of Francis' eagerly awaited encyclical - a pope's most authoritative teaching document - which is expected in June. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, right, talks to the media during a press conference, at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Ban Ki-moon, who earlier in the morning met Pope Francis during a private audience, opened a Vatican conference on the environment that is a key part of the Holy See's rollout of Francis' eagerly awaited encyclical — a pope's most authoritative teaching document — which is expected in June.(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis shakes hands with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during their meeting at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The U.N. chief praised Pope Francis on Tuesday for framing climate change as an urgent moral imperative, saying his upcoming encyclical combined with a new round of U.N. climate talks in Paris provide an "unprecedented opportunity" to create a more sustainable future for the planet. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, right, flanked by U.S Ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett, answers reporters' questions during a meeting with media in the ambassador residence in Rome, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. The Obama administration is seeking to hitch its climate change message onto that of the ever-popular Pope Francis, whose upcoming environmental encyclical has drawn more speculation than any papal document in recent memory. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency met Friday with senior Vatican officials who helped draft the document, which is expected to be released in June or July. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis meets with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Vatican, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The U.N. chief praised Pope Francis on Tuesday for framing climate change as an urgent moral imperative, saying his upcoming encyclical combined with a new round of U.N. climate talks in Paris provide an "unprecedented opportunity" to create a more sustainable future for the planet. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy listens to reporters' questions during a meeting with media in the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See residence in Rome, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. The Obama administration is seeking to hitch its climate change message onto that of the ever-popular Pope Francis, whose upcoming environmental encyclical has drawn more speculation than any papal document in recent memory. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency met Friday with senior Vatican officials who helped draft the document, which is expected to be released in June or July. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
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Despite his status as an exalted spiritual figure and leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, his pronouncements on climate were received much as a presidential address might be: with enthusiastic embraces from those who already agreed with him, and disavowals or silence from most everyone else.

President Barack Obama fell into the former category. "I welcome His Holiness Pope Francis's encyclical, and deeply admire the pope's decision to make the case - clearly, powerfully, and with the full moral authority of his position - for action on global climate change," the president said in a statement.

The Republicans vying to replace Obama were not so full-throated. A number of them, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, did not respond to requests for comment or avoided answering when questioned by reporters on the topic.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush questioned the pope's foray into climate science when discussing the issue Wednesday ahead of the encyclical's release.

"I don't think we should politicize our faith," he said.

A statement from a spokesman for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did not directly mention Francis but said, "Gov. Perry believes the climate is always changing, but it's not clear what role humans have in it."

It's not the first time the Catholic Church's teachings on political or social issues have created complications for Catholic lawmakers who take a different view. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who is Catholic, faced questions in the run-up to passage of Obama's health care bill over her support for abortion rights in light of the church's opposition.

But with his entry into the contentious politics of climate, and his attempt to reframe the issue in moral terms, Francis opened a new chapter in the long-running debate over the intersection of politics and religion.

And it was one that most Republicans did not particularly welcome.

"I think the pope needs to continue to study this," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "I think it will be given respectful treatment, but I don't think it's going to change a lot of votes."

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Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that Rick Perry is the former governor of Texas, not the governor.

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