5 Ways Pope Francis Has Shocked Conservative Christians
Congressional Republicans invited Pope Benedict XVI to address Congress a while ago. Boy, do they wish they could rescind that invitation now that the much more progressive Pope Francis is gearing up to come to Washington on Sept. 24.
The pope’s encyclical on climate change in June was a groundbreaking document and the call to arms the environmental movement has been longing for. Photo credit: Shutterstock
The people’s Pope has been on a tear lately, one week suggesting that women who have had abortions might be forgiven, the next week saying there might be room in the church for divorced people and fast-tracking the annulment process.
All this forgiveness seems downright un-Christian to the conservative right, both here and Vatican observers say, within the church hierarchy where a culture war and conservative backlash is brewing. What has conservatives in such a tizzy? The Pope had already implied that atheists who live a moral life might find a way into heaven and declined to pass judgment on gay people (literally, he said, "Who am I to judge?"). This forgiving, inclusive and compassionate church is not the one conservatives signed up for.
Let’s review some of the more “radical” things the progressive pontiff has said and done just in the last few months that have set the right-wing’s blood boiling anew.
1. Pope Francis said it is our moral duty to address climate change.
The Pope’s encyclical on climate change in June was a groundbreaking document and the call to arms the environmental movement has been longing for. It told the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics—and everyone else for that matter—that it is our moral duty to save the Earth from this ongoing manmade destruction. The encyclical helped close the gap between science and religion and pointed out that the world’s most vulnerable citizens suffer the brunt of climate instability. It also called out capitalism, consumerism and greed as primary culprits for the Earth’s destruction.
Sure enough, the encyclical was taken as sacrilege among prominent Republican Catholics here at home, including Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, who suggested the Pope leave science to the scientists, which of course, is precisely what he did. Conservatives like Jeb Bush did not appreciate the swipe at his one true religion, capitalism. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my Pope,” he told his supporters at the time.
Climate change has amazingly and depressingly become the most contentious issue in America, more so than abortion, according to recent polling from the Carsey Institute. At least the Pope is on the correct side of this inexplicably polarizing issue.
2. Pope Francis said women who have had abortions can be absolved of their “sin.”
The Pope did not go quite so far as to suggest that abortion is not a mortal sin, but he did go where no Pope has gone before when he recently announced a year of mercy (starting this December) during which women who have had abortions can seek and be granted absolution. Repentance is, however, a prerequisite. It's not a full-on feminist victory or anything, but it is a tiny step.
That did not go over well among our rabid anti-abortion (and it seems, anti-forgiveness) wing like Huckabee, Cruz, Santorum and Walker, for starters. And once again, Jeb Bush found himself disagreeing with and even lecturing the leader of his faith, suggesting that if anyone deserves mercy, it isn't those sinful women, it’s the “unborn.” Bush did like the sound of repentant women, though and gave lip service to being pro-mercy.
3. Pope Francis called unfettered capitalism the “dung of the devil.”
You have to love Pope Francis’ way with words. On a July visit to Bolivia and its left-leaning leader, the Pope denounced the “new colonialism” in which richer countries and international banks impose austerity programs on developing nations. In a sweeping speech that sounded quasi-socialist, the Pope said the poor have the “sacred rights” to labor, lodging and land. He again called for a halt to the destruction of the earth before it is too late, destruction that disproportionately affects the world’s poor.
Needless to say, conservatives did not care for the Pope’s description of capitalism as Lucifer’s fecal material.
The integration of environmental, economic and moral issues puts the Pope on a par with some of the deeper and more radical thinkers of our time, like Naomi Klein, who recently gave a shout-out to Francis as a role model of the kind of transformational leader the world needs now.
4. Pope Francis rejected creationism.
For a man of the cloth, Pope Francis has a refreshing admiration for science. The world witnessed that with his encyclical on the environment, where he threw his lot in with science. We saw it again when he said one can be a good Catholic and believe in evolution and the Big Bang and that neither are incompatible with the existence of a creator.
Speaking at the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences recently, the Pope said, "When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so."
It’s a tough communion wafer to swallow for Bobby Jindal and other right-wing creationism advocates.
5. Pope Francis made it easier and cheaper to get marriages annulled.
It was a small bureaucratic change in some ways, but it spoke volumes about forgiveness, the recognition that families have changed and making more people feel welcome in the Catholic church. On Sept. 8, the Vatican unveiled new rules to make it easier, faster and less costly to obtain an annulment. Both of Francis’ predecessor’s, John Paul II and Benedict XVI had gone in exactly the opposite direction, consigning the miserable in marriage to eternal togetherness or living in sin.
“This is a 180-degree change in direction,” James Bretzke, a professor of theology at Boston College, told the Guardian. “Pope Francis has shown us over and over again his [different approach], which is, let’s look at the people in the pews, in the barrios, in the field and let’s respond to them in their existential needs."
An easier, less intimidating annulment process is one thing, but the even larger and more contentious issue is whether the Church will ease its stance on divorced Catholics and whether they can take communion. That and other issues affecting the modern family will be discussed at a meeting of the Synod of Bishops next month. But the annulment move makes it seem a lot more possible that communion for the divorced may be on its way.
American conservatives were pretty quiet about this change, probably because many of them have been divorced and remarried multiple times (Kim Davis), so that would be pretty hypocritical.
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By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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