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Vatican leaders dismayed by reports that United States will leave Paris climate accord

Pope Francis listens to President Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. (Evan Vucci/AFP via Getty Images)

Vatican leaders who are confidants of Pope Francis expressed their dismay on Wednesday upon reports that President Trump is likely to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, just days after Pope Francis personally handed the president his writings urging care for the planet.

“This for us is something we hoped would not have happened,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, who led a Vatican delegation that was influential in brokering the Paris agreement in 2015. “Certain issues should be taken out of the political discussion domain and not be politicized. … The truth is, climate is a global public good and not limited to any country.”

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Though neither the Vatican nor the White House would disclose what Francis and Trump discussed in their half-hour private meeting last week, observers believed that the environmentally minded pontiff pressed the president to stick to the Paris agreement, as other European leaders also urged during Trump’s trip to Rome.

On Wednesday, Vatican officials came to believe through news reports that their advice had apparently not persuaded Trump, though the president had not yet announced his decision.

“The Vatican would always respect the decision of a sovereign state,” Turkson said. “We will continue to still talk about climate change and all of that, and hope that some change can occur midstream.”

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Turkson, a Ghanaian cardinal who leads the Vatican’s efforts on a long list of issues including ecology and social justice, is among Francis’s closest advisers and has been talked about as one of his most likely successors as the next pope someday. He spoke to reporters Wednesday during a visit to Georgetown University.

Turkson and Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, a leader of the same Vatican division who was previously the church’s observer at the United Nations, discussed the lengthy list of issues where the notably progressive pope diverges from Trump and the surging right-wing politicians elsewhere in the world.

“If you look around the world,” Tomasi said, “there is a tendency in a part of the population to close in on itself. You have a nationalist trend in Europe, as you have in the United States. There are two outlooks. One thinks the solution to the problems of today comes by closing in on itself as a country. The other knows if we join forces, we try to solve the problems.”

The Vatican has been heavily involved in pushing such a cooperative effort on climate change, and Tomasi said he fears the nationalist governments will undermine that. “If you limit yourself to the needs of your own country, you’re not going to solve the problem.”

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He also named the global refugee crisis as a problem in need of a worldwide good faith effort. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has sharply criticized President Trump’s attempt to suspend refugee admissions to the country, and during Trump’s presidential campaign, Francis said that a person who builds a wall, as Trump promised to do to stop Mexican migration, “is not Christian.”

Tomasi and Turkson said the Vatican will try to communicate to the White House and other governments that accommodating migrants is not just morally right but also a good economic choice, and will aim to help craft plans for integrating migrants into their new homes.

Turkson diagnosed much of the opposition to migration, especially in Europe, as the anxiety of societies with low birth rates confronting demographic shifts. That anxiety can lead to antipathy, as he has seen against Muslims in Europe.

“Between fear and hate, the distance between them is not great at all.”

Following Trump’s visit, Turkson said, the Vatican looks forward to sharing these opinions with the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Callista Gingrich, the wife of former House speaker Newt Gingrich, has been appointed to the position but not yet confirmed by the Senate.

Gingrich struck some as a touchy choice as the American emissary to a seat of religion, as she conducted a long affair with her husband while he was still married to his previous wife. That didn’t trouble Turkson, though. “Pope Francis is the one who said, ‘Who am I to judge?,’ ” he said. “That was in a different context, but Pope Francis is not judgmental to people’s moral stance. He leaves that to God.”

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