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Prominent climate change activist to visit Philly this fall

Pope Francis' brave stance on climate change isn't so much proof of his divinity as his humanity.

A lot of cops stopped going to Bruce Springsteen concerts after he wrote and performed the song "American Skin (41 Shots)" -- a screed against police brutality (at a time when the issue wasn't on the nation's front burner). In that same vein, I wonder if any Catholics (or other curious folks) will now shun Pope Francis when he comes to Philadelphia in September -- thanks to this:

After months of build up, an Italian-language document believed to be an early draft of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment was leaked four days early on Monday, breaking a Vatican embargo on an official papal teaching that flatly rejects traditional conservative Christian justifications for exploiting the planet.

Vatican officials condemned the leak on Monday, saying that the early release of the nearly 200-page document constituted a "heinous act" and insisting that it is "not the final text." Regardless, if genuine, the Italian-language draft of the encyclical — or one of the highest forms of official Church teaching a pope can produce — will undoubtedly make waves not only for its insistence that humanity protect the environment, but also for its deconstruction of conservative arguments against climate change.

So while there's some controversy over the leaked document -- which proclaims that "[w]e are not God. The earth precedes us and was given to us" -- is a final draft, there's no dispute that Francis is on the brink of a powerful plea for action on manmade global warming. In doing so, the Argentinian-born pontiff has an opportunity not only to spur real political action on limiting carbon pollution, but to reframe our worldview on humankind's role as stewards of the environment.

Conservatives -- including some conservative politicians who happen to be devout Roman Catholics -- are already apoplectic. None more so than ex-Pennsylvania senator and longshot presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who attends an ultra-conservative Catholic church in Virginia where Mass is still uttered in Latin, but who apparently believes that Francis is speaking pig-Latin. "The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we're good at, which is theology and morality," Santorum said recently on Philadelphia's WPHT-1210.

Really? Was there not some science involved in the Vatican determining that human life begins at conception, or that homosexuality is a sinful human choice? Santorum not only accepted those judgments, but he's been eager to impose them on the citizenry at large. Now, suddenly, the Pope and his aides are more than a little fallible on these sorts of matters? Hypocritical much? For years, a self-appointed "moral majority" has been telling us we can't pick and choose when it comes to what's moral.

Now, they're picking and choosing?

But some conservatives do have a point, and it's this. It's also hypocritical for the non-believers and others who once decried the influence of a Religious Right in American politics to suddenly believe in a kind of papal infallibility now that we have a pope who talks liberal on economic and environmental issues. Personally, I'm agnostic on whether Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama or anyone else who walks among us has a direct pipeline to the heavens.

No, I think the man formerly known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio exudes moral authority not because of his divinity -- but because of his humanity. For much of the world, his power as a spokesman against the excesses of modern capitalism comes as much from what he's seen in the slums of Buenos Aires and the humble way that he's chosen to live as from the symbolic robes that he wears. So it is with climate change: Francis is wise enough not only to agree with 97 percent of the world's climate scientists, but he understands how such a viewpoint doesn't detract from, but in fact amplifies, a Christian theology.

The bottom line is that when the pope brings that message to Philadelphia in September, he doesn't need to be infallible. On this one, he's just plain correct.