Catholic Theological Society of America resolves to divest from fossil fuels (2022)

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Catholic Theological Society of America resolves to divest from fossil fuels (1)

A tugboat in New York City pushes a fuel oil barge past the Statue of Liberty Oct 13, 2021. (CNS/Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

The Catholic Theological Society of America at its annual conference resolved to divest its financial funds from fossil fuels, a move great in moral weight and one backers hope is rich with potential to inspire similar actions at its members' institutions in light of the current urgent "global environmental disaster."

The board of directors of CTSA, the world's largest organization of theologians, counting more than 1,300 members, passed three resolutions related to fossil fuel divestment during its June 9-12 conference, held this year in Atlanta and in person for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.

The resolutions freeze any new investments, as of June 30, in companies included in the Carbon Underground 200, a list of oil, gas and coal companies with the largest fossil fuel reserves worldwide. The resolutions direct CTSA to divest all direct or commingled investments in those companies by the society's 2025 convention.

The divestment resolutions, which CTSA said follows guidance on environmentally responsible investing from the Vatican, note 2025 is when scientists have projected that global greenhouse gas emissions — whose primary source is the burning of fossil fuels — must peak in order for the world to have a greater-than-50% chance to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the more ambitious temperature goal under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

"Given the global environmental disaster that grows more urgent each day, it was necessary that the CTSA finally make these decisions and thus move irreversibly toward divestment," Jesuit Fr. Francis Clooney, incoming CTSA president, said in a statement. Clooney is the Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard University, which itself divested in the fall.

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Catholic Theological Society of America resolves to divest from fossil fuels (2)

Jesuit Fr. Francis Clooney (Wikimedia Commons/Caorongjin)

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While the size of CTSA's investment pool is unclear, the power in the theological society's move away from fossil fuels may well rest more in its moral heft, as a long-respected voice in the Catholic Church with the potential to send a ripple effect through its membership and the wider church.

"Ours is a small contribution to a great cause, but we hope that it will also inspire CTSA members to work all the more vigorously toward divestment at their home institutions," Clooney said.

A third resolution directs Clooney as CTSA president to create a task force to develop a plan ahead of next year's conference to carry out the fossil fuel divestment process.

Christine Hinze, a theologian at Fordham University and outgoing CTSA president who oversaw the resolutions' passage, called the decision "most fitting."

"It is a move which culminates over a decade of cumulative research, consultation, and deliberation concerning fossil fuel divestment by dedicated CTSA members and leadership," she said in the statement.

CTSA becomes one of the most notable U.S. Catholic institutions to publicly declare intentions to cease financial investments in companies whose primary business is the extraction and refining of coal, oil and gas.

Seven U.S. Catholic universities have made public divestment pledges:

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  • University of Dayton (2014);
  • Seattle University (2018);
  • Georgetown University (2020);
  • Creighton University (2020);
  • Loyola University Chicago (2021);
  • University of San Diego (2021);
  • Marquette University (2022).

So too have the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, the SSM Health medical system, the philanthropic network FADICA, and more than a dozen religious congregations, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, who in June completed the divestment process.

Globally, approximately 300 Catholic institutions have committed to divest their finances from or to avoid future investments in fossil fuel companies.

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The Laudato Si' Movement, which has played a leading role in pushing divestment within the Catholic Church, has planned its next joint divestment announcement for July.

In its statement, CTSA said the resolutions "enact the Vatican's divestment endorsement." In recent years, the Vatican has recommended divesting from fossil fuels and companies responsible for environmental degradation in guidelines for implementing Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," and as part of its Laudato Si' Action Platform.

CTSA's decision also came on the recommendation of an ad hoc committee appointed to study the topic. The committee was chaired by Erin Lothes, an associate professor of theology at St. Elizabeth University and a senior program manager for the Laudato Si' Movement. Lothes has been a leading theologian on environmental and climate issues, including energy ethics on which she led a three-year study of the U.S. bishops' 1981 statement on energy.

That statement came after the country faced several oil shortages throughout the 1970s. CTSA's decision to divest comes as new fuel anxieties have emerged as prices soar globally amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine and inflation in the wake of the pandemic.

Lothes told EarthBeat that even with today's rising fuel costs, she believed moving away from fossil fuels was still the right move.

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Catholic Theological Society of America resolves to divest from fossil fuels (3)

Erin Lothes (Courtesy of St. Elizabeth University)

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"Gas prices go up and down but what isn't changing is the scientific fact of the worsening climate crisis," she said in an email.

"Now is the time to act by rapidly scaling up the positive technologies of renewable energy that already exist and by replacing the polluting, unhealthy fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis. We can't have change if we continue to invest in fossil fuels, and we have options," she added.

A report from the ad hoc committee, submitted on Earth Day (April 22) this year, reviewed the latest science on climate change alongside the papal teachings of Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II as well as the work of theologians like Leonardo Boff, Ivone Gebara and Daniel Castillo. It also reviewed environmental justice principles and the recently updated socially responsible investment guidelines from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which in a section on environmental concerns encourage engagement with companies but allow for divestment as an option with "companies that consistently fail to initiate policies intended to achieve the Paris Agreement goals."

The CTSA ad hoc report noted that the planet has already heated roughly 1.1 C above preindustrial times and at current emissions rates is set to reach 1.5 C as early as 2030. Surpassing that level is expected to bring about disastrous consequences, they wrote, as floods, wildfires, droughts and storms increase in strength and frequency, and "poses an existential threat to civilization" — particularly upon poor and marginalized communities.

"Simply put, our use of fossil fuels is incontrovertibly changing the global climate," the ad hoc committee wrote in its report.

It also pointed to church teaching on social sin and the role of the market economy, citing John Paul II's warnings against the "idolatry of the market," Benedict XVI's emphasis on the moral consequences of every economic decision, and Francis in Laudato Si' stating, "The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces."

'Divestment morally interrupts the status quo, shifts the social narrative around fossil fuels, and has the potential to move legislators away from accepting the support from fossil fuel companies.'

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"The Church's social teaching suggests that the economic patterns of production and consumption that contribute to the destruction of the natural environment, and the carbon fueling climate change in particular, should be considered social sins or structures of sin," the ad hoc committee wrote.

The committee members cited a study published in the scientific journal Nature that roughly 60% of global oil and methane gas and nearly 90% of coal must remain in the ground to keep the 1.5 C target within reach. The International Energy Agency has said that countries must halt all new fossil fuel exploration in order to achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050.

While some religious organizations have supported dialogue and shareholder engagement with energy companies, the committee said the combination of the fossil fuel industry's decadeslong opposition to addressing climate change and the shrinking window to avoid its worst impacts make that approach ineffective today.

"Divestment morally interrupts the status quo, shifts the social narrative around fossil fuels, and has the potential to move legislators away from accepting the support from fossil fuel companies that ties their hands regarding fossil-free legislation," they wrote.

Lothes in a statement added that the decision to divest doesn't have to be an either-or choice between that and shareholder efforts, noting that in some cases groups have maintained a minimal amount of stock to continue engagement with fossil fuel companies.

"Many very well-regarded institutions have already chosen divestment," she said. "In joining them, the CTSA signals the critical moral importance of divestment for Catholic institutions, for whom the impact of climate change on human dignity and life, especially among the poor, is a preeminent concern."

A version of this story appeared in the July 8-21, 2022 print issue under the headline: CTSA resolves to divest from fossil fuels .

FAQs

Does the Catholic Church invest in fossil fuels? ›

Vatican's Call for Divestment

Joshtrom Kureethadam, Coordinator of the Ecology Sector in the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development, recalled that already in 2020, the Vatican called on Catholic institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies because of their damage to the environment.

Who started the divestment movement? ›

It was first coined by Benjamin A. Franta, in an article in the Harvard Crimson, as a reference to the University of Toronto's fossil fuel divestment process. After 350.org submitted a petition for divestment on 6 March 2014, President Gertler established an ad hoc Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil Fuels.

What does the Catholic Church invest in? ›

The Vatican has big investments in banking, insurance, chemicals, steel, construction, real estate. Dividends help pay for Vatican expenses and charities such as assisting 1,500,000 children and providing some measure of food and clothing to 7,000,000 needy Italians.

Does the Church of England invest in fossil fuels? ›

In 2018, the Church of England's (C of E) General Synod voted to divest from all oil and gas companies that are not in line with the Paris Agreement by 2023. Yet three years later, the Church continues to hold shares in Shell, TotalEnergies, and ExxonMobil – all of which are planning significant fossil fuel expansion.

How many institutions have divested from fossil fuels? ›

earth and 350.org, tracks institutions that have pledged to divest from fossil fuels fully, partially, or with regard to certain subsets, such as coal. The roughly 1,500 institutions include pension funds, governmental, philanthropic, faith-based, and educational institutions, and others.

Does divesting from fossil fuels work? ›

Divesting works: Study finds ditching fossil stocks lowers corporate footprints. For the leaders of the divestment movement, which encourages institutional investors to sell off their shares in fossil fuel companies, winning isn't everything.

What does it mean to divest yourself of fossil fuels? ›

Fossil fuel divestment is the act of investing in climate solutions and selling stakes in non-renewable energy sources. Divestment places social, political and economic pressure on fossil fuel companies because it limits their overall financial gain as partners stop contributing to their companies.

Is the Mormon Church richer than the Catholic Church? ›

For Latter-day Saints, who have 16.3 million members, our church's wealth translates to about $6,130 per member, or 161 times the Catholics' money-to-member ratio. Looked at in the aggregate, $100 billion seems like a hell of a rainy-day fund.

Who is the richest Catholic in the world? ›

List of wealthiest religious organizations
OrganizationWorth (billion USD)Country
Holy See (Vatican)NA (Not Available)Vatican City
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints100worldwide
Catholic Church in Germany26.0Germany
Catholic Church in France23.0France
8 more rows

Is the Catholic Church the largest landowner in the world? ›

(CNN) -- True or False: The Catholic Church is the world's largest landowner. Despite many believing this to be the case, the Catholic Church is nowhere near the largest landowner on Earth.

Who created Church of England? ›

Church of England

What is Church of England religion? ›

The Church of England is considered the original church of the Anglican Communion, which represents over 85 million people in more than 165 countries. While the Church upholds many of the customs of Roman Catholicism, it also embraces fundamental ideas adopted during the Protestant Reformation.

When did England become Church of England? ›

The Church of England traces its roots back to the early church, but its specifically Anglican identity and its links to the State date back to the Reformation. Henry VIII started the process of creating the Church of England after his split with the Pope in the 1530s.

What universities have divested from fossil fuels? ›

This month, the University of Minnesota, Boston University and Harvard, our institution, announced that they'll divest from the fossil fuel industry. These decisions are the latest wins for both the planet and for activism against the industry most responsible for the climate crisis.

What kind of institutions are divesting? ›

An institution or corporation that made a binding commitment to divest (direct ownership, shares, commingled mutual funds containing shares, corporate bonds or any assets classes) from any coal and tar sands companies.

What companies are investing in fossil fuels? ›

Overall lending to the fossil fuel sector remained dominated by North American banks including JPMorgan (JPM. N), Wells Fargo (WFC. N), Scotiabank (BNS.TO) and RBC (RY.TO), all of which increased their financing over 2021, the report said.

Can you live without fossil fuels? ›

Without fossil fuels, the building materials for your home are very limited. Bricks, wood, cement, drywall, and a few other materials would be available to build your home. The wood might not be pressure treated though because some of the chemicals used in pressure treatment have fossil fuel raw material.

Does divestment actually work? ›

Equity divestment can also backfire. By thinning out the ranks of shareholders who might pressure boards, divestment concentrates ownership among those "who are at best agnostic about climate impacts," said Edward Sun, a portfolio manager of Engine No. 1. That means less likelihood of pro-climate shareholder activism.

Why the divestment movement is missing the mark? ›

Despite a strong media presence and pledges from high-profile investors, the divestment movement has largely failed to mobilize financial markets in the war on carbon. Divestment 2.0 will require major tweaking to more effectively redirect the flow of capital and catalyse greater corporate climate action.

How can we not support fossil fuels? ›

Conserve Energy
  1. Turning off lights, computers, televisions, video games and other electrical equipment when you're not using them.
  2. Buying equipment that uses less electricity, including lights, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators and washing machines. ...
  3. Limiting the use of air conditioning.
Jan 31, 2022

What is a divestment strategy? ›

A divestment strategy is the way to go when a particular business line doesn't perform to expectations and becomes a liability instead of an asset. Organizations may also turn to a divestiture strategy to prevent insolvency, reduce debts and maintain a low debt-to-equity ratio.

Why is divestment important? ›

A divestiture is an important means of creating value for companies in the mergers, acquisitions, and the consolidation process. Through divestiture, a company can eliminate redundancies, improve operational efficiency, and reduce costs.

Does the Catholic Church invest in the stock market? ›

The Vatican's economy is shrouded in secrecy, with some believing its financial numbers are more general than accurate. The Holy See is the governing body of the nation and generates money through donations; it then invests a portion of that money in stocks, bonds, and real estate.

Does the Catholic Church own bank of America? ›

Does the Vatican own the Bank of America? No. It did have a holding company called Bank America.

Is the Catholic Church in debt? ›

The Holy See had a deficit of 22 million euros in 2019 after extraordinary expenses, down from a 50 million euro deficit in 2018. The deficit is expected to grow this year because the coronavirus pandemic has drained income, particularly from the museums.

Do Catholic churches send money to the Vatican? ›

Peter's Pence (or Denarii Sancti Petri and "Alms of St Peter") are donations or payments made directly to the Holy See of the Catholic Church.

Videos

1. CREATIONTIDE 2021 at York Minster: Webinar 1 with Andy Atkins
(York Minster Official)
2. Justice and Climate Change Panel on April 16, 2015
(EthicsinSociety)
3. MAY 5, 2021 - Faith Meeting | Climate Crisis Policy
(Climate Crisis Policy)
4. The Biography of Desmond Tutu
(The Knowledge Video Channel)
5. Summit at the End of the World - Day 1
(Progressive International)
6. 5 7 Modern Economics for a Sustainable and Inclusive Planet
(International Humanistic Management Association)

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