When Roman Catholic cardinals chose Germany’s Joseph Ratzinger to succeed Pope John Paul II last week, they probably gave little thought to the implications for the environment. That said, though, the Pope, given his influence over the world’s billion Catholics, can play a significant role in environmental issues simply by interpreting Bible passages in one way or another.
While Ratzinger’s environmental leanings are still unknown, Pope John Paul II often decried human abuse of the planet, saying in 2002 that the world was in a state of "environmental emergency." Nevertheless, the environment was never a top issue for John Paul II, and some have gone so far as to say that his opposition to birth control may have spurred excessive population growth in some predominantly Catholic countries.
Debate over the Bible’s intent on environmental issues still rages today. While some passages of the "Good Book" clearly stress safeguarding the planet, others justify the exploitation of natural resources. Analysts predict Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, will continue to tow the conservative line on environmental and other issues instead of distancing himself more from his predecessor.