Pope Francis delivers his message on the occasion of an...

Pope Francis delivers his message on the occasion of an audience with participants of Rome's diocese convention in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, June 14, 2015. Francis engaged in some self-promotion during his weekly blessing, alerting the thousands of people in St. Peter's Square that his first solo encyclical would be coming out on Thursday and inviting them to pay attention to environmental degradation around them. Credit: AP / Gregorio Borgia

Pope Francis, in a sweeping manifesto calling for radical change to confront environmental degradation and climate change, says an economic system in which the rich exploit the poor is turning Earth into an "immense pile of filth."

The pope's much-anticipated and hotly debated encyclical on the environment, officially released Thursday, frames climate change as an urgent moral crisis and blames global warming on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that harms the poor the most.

The document is a stinging indictment of big business and climate-change doubters, and aims to inspire decisions at United Nations climate negotiations this year, as well as in domestic politics and everyday life. Citing Scripture and his predecessors, the pope urges people of every faith -- and even no faith -- to undergo an awakening to save God's creation.

"It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress," wrote Francis, a trained chemist who is a native of Argentina and the first pope from Latin America. "Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress."

The encyclical, which numbers 184 pages in English, was released in a total of eight languages. A draft received huge attention worldwide this week after it was leaked and an Italian newsmagazine published it on its website Monday.

In the official document, Francis accepts as fact that the world is getting warmer and that human activity is mostly to blame.

Citing the deforestation of the Amazon, the melting of Arctic glaciers and the deaths of coral reefs, he rebukes "obstructionist" doubters who "seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms." And he blames a "structurally perverse" economic system and politicians for listening more to oil industry interests than Scripture, common sense or the cries of the poor.

"The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth," he wrote.

The encyclical drew both praise and criticism from Catholics on Long Island.

In Amityville, a coalition of nuns held a news conference -- their first in reaction to an encyclical since their orders were organized on Long Island, according to Sister Margaret Galiardi, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Amityville for 50 years.

"I am elated. It's a wonderful, challenging document," said Galiardi, who said she nearly fell off her chair in surprise as she read it Thursday morning.

John F. Picciano, of Westbury, who attends St. Kilian Roman Catholic Church in Farmingdale, said he was uncomfortable with the pope wading into scientific debates such as climate change.

"The last time the church went out on a limb to declare a major scientific controversy to be 'settled,' she suffered a black eye by the likes of Galileo and Copernicus," he said.

The church in 1633 condemned Galileo for saying the Earth moves around the sun, which the physicist based on the astronomical theory of Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus. In 1992, Pope John Paul II acknowledged the church had erred, ending a Vatican investigation into the condemnation of Galileo.

Thursday in Congress, some Republicans shrugged off Francis' call for urgent action and dismissed his attempt to frame climate change as a moral issue.

"No, I'm sorry, it's a political issue," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. "Most people have their minds made up on this issue, so any more rhetoric about the issue doesn't really add a heck of a lot more to it."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "I thank, deeply, Pope Francis for taking such a strong stand on the need for urgent global action. His moral voice is part of a growing chorus of people from all faiths and all sectors of society speaking out for climate action."

With Zachary R. Dowdy

and AP

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