Pope Francis has made a statement on climate change at once comprehensive and clear: in June, he released a 192-page environmental encyclical; earlier this month, the Vatican deemed September 1 annual “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation”; and the pope is expected to address Congress about the urgency of the issue during his trip to the U.S. next month.
A new PRRI/RNS survey finds that American Catholics are much more likely to agree with the pope’s position on climate change than to disagree (47 percent vs. 24 percent): however, one in five (20 percent) Catholics are unfamiliar with his position on the issue.
There are sharp racial and ethnic divisions among Catholics on this issue. Non-white Catholics—83 percent of whom identify as Hispanic—are more likely than white Catholics to agree with the pope on climate change (56 percent vs. 40 percent, respectively), and are also significantly more likely to be familiar with his stance (14 percent vs. 23 percent, respectively).
Notably, there were no significant differences among Catholics who attend religious services weekly or more, monthly to a few times a year, and seldom to never.
Despite a substantial number of Catholics being unfamiliar with the pope’s view on the issue, support for government action to address climate change is strong. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Catholics say the government needs to do more to address the issue of climate change. The same racial and ethnic divisions are found on this question, but the support overall is much higher: non-white Catholics (86 percent) express much stronger support than white Catholics (64 percent) for increased government action on environmental issues.
One potential factor driving the ethnic divide among Catholics is the frequency with which they hear about the issue from religious leaders. According to our recent climate change survey, Hispanic Catholics (70 percent) are more than three times as likely as white Catholics (20 percent) to report that their clergy leader speaks about climate change at least sometimes.