POLITICS

Rick Santorum says Pope Francis 'not credible' on topic of climate change

GOP presidential candidate and devout Catholic Rick Santorum has called out his faith's leader for voicing his concerns about global climate change.

Speaking to a radio station in Philadelphia, the former U.S. Senator said that while he loves Pope Francis and is a "huge fan of his," the Catholic Church is not qualified to speak about climate change, and if the pontiff issues an encyclical on the topic it could hurt his credibility.

The Vatican Thursday took the unusual step of announcing the release date in advance of its environmental cyclical "to avoid confusion over the diffusion of unconfirmed information."

During his interview with Philadelphia's WPHT 1210 host, Dom Giordano, Santorum said, "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 focus on what we're really good at, which is theology and morality."

He added: "And I think when we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, then I think the Church is probably not as forceful and credible."

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No papal document in recent times has elicited quite as much anticipation. The Vatican has helped fuel interest by mounting an unprecedented roll-out including conferences, speeches and book launches tied to it.

Environmentalists are thrilled the pope is lending his moral authority to the climate change debate ahead of U.N. climate talks this year in Paris. Skeptics have voiced alarm that he is getting involved.

"I understand, and I sympathize and I support completely the pope's call for us to do more to create opportunities for people to be able to rise in society and to care for the poor," Santorum said in the Giordano interview.

The former senator, who announced his candidacy for president last week promising to ease the plight of blue-collar workers, is no stranger to bringing his views of science into politics.

In 2001, while in Congress, Santorum introduced a provision to an education bill that has since become known as the Santorum Amendment. It promoted the teaching of intelligent design and questioned the standing of evolution in U.S. public schools. While it was eventually stricken from the bill after 96 scientific and educational organizations wrote a letter to the conference committee arguing that evolution is regarded as fact within the scientific community.

The words of the amendment survive in modified form in the Bill's Conference Report, but they do not carry the weight of law.

Santorum ran for president in 2012, and he opens this campaign season as a heavy underdog in a race expected to feature more than a dozen high-profile Republicans — most of them newcomers to presidential politics. He is among the nation's most prominent social conservatives, having dedicated much of his career to opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights, while advocating for Christian family values.

He has acknowledged his challenges in 2016 but says his experience could pay dividends the second time around. Most of the GOP's recent presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and Bob Dole among them, needed more than one presidential campaign to win the nomination.

"The last race, we changed the debate. This race, with your help and God's grace, we can change this nation," Santorum said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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