Pope Francis and Coal Country Catholics

  • Donna Zofcin sits in her kitchen in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She relies on her late husband's coal company pension, which has left her with mixed feelings about the Pope's recent comments on climate change. Photo: Dan Boyce

September 25, 2015
by Dan Boyce | Inside Energy

Some conservative Catholics say Pope Francis is meddling in American politics with his recent encyclical on the environment, the biggest papal statement ever on the subject and one which included a call for action on climate change. Meanwhile, for the faithful in western coal country, he is raising moral questions.

Donna Zofcin’s husband was injured in a coal mining accident in Kentucky. He was paralyzed for a time, then doctors helped him walk again. He died a few years later, in 1992. Still, the walls of her humble Cheyenne, Wyoming home are an homage to coal, with framed watercolor prints of mining equipment. Living now in the country’s biggest coal state, that theme still runs through her life. So too, does her Catholic faith.

“Oh, we’re very devout,” Zofcin said of her and her family, “and we go to church every Sunday.”

Back in June, Wyoming’s State Bishop, Paul Etienne, delivered a special homily at Zofcin’s church in Cheyenne. The homily focused on the Pope’s headline grabbing encyclical. A challenging and bold teaching, Etienne said, which outlines humanity’s responsibility to be good stewards of the earth.

The document acknowledged the scientific consensus of man-made climate change and called for aggressively addressing its core causes—primarily the use of fossil fuels. Etienne said the document may be disturbing for many people in his state, and that he is getting questions from his congregation.

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