Jeb Bush's opposition to addressing climate change won't be moved by Pope Francis's advocacy on the issue, as he made clear this week in New Hampshire. When he was governor, though, his religion intertwined with his politics much more freely.
On March 20, 2005, at the height of the debate in Florida over whether Terri Schiavo's family should be allowed to remove her feeding tube, Bush sent an e-mail to one of the Republican state senators who favored the removal -- something Bush disagreed with.
"With all respect," Bush wrote to former state senator Nancy Argenziano, a fellow Catholic, "I send you this column. I hope and pray that you reconsider your position." The column was titled, "Passion of Terri Schiavo" and was written by Thomas Wenski, then-bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando. It outlined the Catholic argument against removing the feeding tube -- a decision that was expected to end Schiavo's life.
"As Pope John Paul II points out in his just released book, Memory and Identity," Wenski wrote, "the crisis of our age is rooted in the presumption that we can decide for ourselves what is good and evil without reference to God."
Ten years later, the New York Times' Coral Davenport reports that Wenski once again hopes to serve as counsel to Bush's politics. Now archbishop of Miami, Wenski plans to deliver a series of sermons linked to Pope Francis's encyclical on the urgency of addressing climate change. "Wenski will repeat those messages in his sermons," Davenport writes, "and he hopes that they will resonate with two members of his flock in particular: Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both Catholics and both Republican presidential candidates."
It was never likely that the pope's decision to focus on climate change would shift American politics too dramatically. We noted in April that Francis's strongest opponents are the most conservative Americans, a group that largely rejects the idea that humans made the climate warmer. A poll from Pew Research this week shows that attitudes on climate change are split within the Catholic Church along those same partisan lines.
There's little political incentive for a Republican running for his party's nomination -- even a Catholic -- to pay heed to the pope's new concern. On Tuesday, Bush rejected the idea that the pope should influence his political decision-making. "I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope," he said, according to The Guardian. "I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm."
That's a change from his time as governor. His e-mail archive includes a standard reply to those wondering how he could be both Catholic and in favor of the death penalty. "I am aware that many spiritual leaders, including the Pope, have called for the abolition of the death penalty and that 10 states have abolished capital punishment," he wrote multiple times. "However, after many years of deliberation on this subject, I am also convinced that Florida's capital punishment law is just because it is applied so rarely and only in the most horrific cases." He would then continue: "[A]ccording to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm" -- an argument that would likely find resonance with those hoping to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
And when it came to Schiavo, Gov. Bush was entirely unafraid to apply religion to the political realm. In 2004, Christa Calamas, then-secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, sent him an e-mail summarizing a speech given by Pope John Paul II on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas."
Bush's reply was short.
"Maybe we should ask the florida bishops to explain the new position of the church. - jeb"