Pope's climate change stand gets uneasy reception in Catholic heartland of Poland

by Reuters
Thursday, 18 June 2015 13:15 GMT

A man fishes in an artificial lake outside Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant, Oct. 31, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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Poland, the heartland of European conservative Catholicism, relies heavily on coal for power

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By Pawel Sobczak and Jakub Iglewski

WARSAW, June 18 (Reuters) - Pope Francis's plunge into the climate change debate has caused uneasiness in the heartland of European conservative Catholicism in Poland, exposing the dilemma for Catholics who are devout but prefer their leaders to steer clear of "liberal" causes.

The pope's call on Thursday for everyone to take responsibility to curb global warning is especially awkward for Poles because they rely heavily on coal, a big contributor to greenhouse gases, to generate electricity.

A conservative Polish newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, said before the publication of the encyclical, which was leaked earlier this week, that the document could be problematic for Poland because it emphasised the harm to the environment done by burning coal.

"The new encyclical is already being interpreted as an 'anti-coal' document. In the Vatican one can also hear voices that this encyclical is 'anti-Polish'," the newspaper wrote.

The reaction demonstrates how polarising the document is liable to be among Catholics around the world. Liberal Catholics have cheered his stand but conservative believers may bristle.

U.S. presidential candidate Jeb Bush, a convert to Roman Catholicism, has already said it is not the place of religious leaders to get involved in setting economic policy.

In a country where the church is revered by most people, few people were willing to openly criticise Pope Francis. But some conservatives signalled they did not share his views.

Poland was the birthplace of Pope John Paul II, one of the most conservative leaders of the church in generations.

Asked about the document, Andrzej Jaworski, a member of parliament with the Law and Justice conservative opposition party, said: "The Polish energy sector not only should, but must be based on coal.

"We can't turn our backs on coal production, building coal mines, or building coal power plants," said Jaworski, who is deputy head of parliament's treasury committee.

Poland, home to Europe's largest coal-fired power plant at Belchatow, has repeatedly blocked European Union efforts to deepen carbon cuts.

For many Poles, coal is a national security issue. Without it, the country would need to import much more gas from Russia, making it dependent on a former overlord which it views with deep suspicion.

Piotr Naimski, a member of parliament who is drafting energy policy for Law and Justice, would not comment directly on the encyclical but said: "All actions related to climate policy should be based on local needs." (Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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