By Hugh Finlay
NCR reports that parts of the Catholic Church is coming out against the use of fossil fuels in response to Pope Francis speaking out for the quick removal of such fuels, for the safety of the Earth’s environment.
9 Catholic organisations have pledged to divest from the use of fossil fuels. This followed the commitments made by 7 Catholic institutions at the time of last year's Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment.
Cecilia Dall'Oglio said that these developments offer "clear evidence that the fossil fuel divestment movement is growing in strength and momentum" among Catholics. She is the European manager for the Global Catholic Climate Movement which is leading the divestment campaign.
She called those divesting Catholic groups "prophetic in their stand against dirty energy, which fuels climate change and hurts families around the globe." A communications director for the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Rebecca Elliott, sees this collective action as another sign of "united Catholic leadership on protecting creation."
"These institutions are representing some of the most significant places and people in the church," she said, adding that the inclusion of Assisi gave "a beautiful connection" back to St. Francis with his close connection to nature.
These latest divestments come at the end of the a month of prayer and reflection for Christians that began on Sept.1, with the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.
Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of the environment, and Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi said "The Church that hears 'both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor' cannot stay indifferent in front of the catastrophic consequences of the climate change that are unfairly affecting poor and vulnerable communities. Taking the example of Saint Francis, we want to act to overcome an economic and energy system that is damaging too much our common home."
Fr. Mauro Gambetti, the Sacro Convento monastery custodian, said that the monastery's decision to divest from fossil fuels is part of a wide commitment to sustainability and environmental issues, and that it was inspired by what Pope Francis had said about the environment.
"We draw on his gestures to renew our commitment to sensitize ourselves, the public opinion and those who are called to govern to ensure that the commitment for the implementation of the Climate Paris Agreement is carried out for the benefit of future generations," said Gambetti.
In April, the Belgian bishops signed the Charter for the Good Management of Church Properties, which brings Pope Francis’s views into decisions on investment policy, giving priority to companies that are focused on sustainable and renewable energy and overall energy efficiency.
"In the coming years, efforts must be made to fully replace investments in exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels with investments in sustainable development, renewable energy and the transition to a low-carbon economy," the Belgian bishops said.
In Germany, the Bank for the Church and Caritas announced it would divest its assets, about 4.5 billion euro, away from companies that are engaged in extracting coal, oil shale and tar sands oil.
"As a Catholic bank, we feel strongly responsible to participate in tackling the issue of climate change," said a sustainability research officer from the bank that represents individual Catholics along with church foundations and institutions.
"We are convinced that the integration of sustainable criteria in all of our investment and saving products is one of our fiduciary duties," he added.
Outside Europe, Catholic organizations in Kenya, Argentina, Australia, South Africa and Sierra Leone also announced that they had plans for divestment in fossil fuel companies.
Said Kevin Roussel, the executive director of Catholic Welfare and Development, working in South Africa, "As a developing country it would be easy to continue to raise emissions through the global framework and feel we are doing our equitable part. We are making a strong commitment to divestment to promote a just transition in the economy which is good for the planet and good for us all."
The Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr, who is in charge of the Albuquerque-based Center for Action and Contemplation also said that his center will divest, calling the action "a deeply spiritual act."
"A world that lets climate change grow is a world that does not honor our Creator," Rohr said in a statement.
2 congregations and 2 orders of women’s religious groups that work internationally said that they had divestment plans. For instance fossil fuel investments have been removed from the retirement fund of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, which has its base in Connecticut.
Sr. Ethel Howley, speaking for the group said "It seems evident to me that fossil fuels are one of the major causes of climate change … if we say that, then I don't think we can be invested in companies that are producing the fossil fuels. I think we need to be consistent,"
Nevertheless, the group believes that it is important to keep a small investment in fossil fuel companies for engaging a contact with these energy extraction companies. The School Sisters of Notre Dame as members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, are among religious groups that signed into a resolution, by nearly two-thirds of shareholders, that asked the company to produce an annual report on the impact on its business from various international climate polices, especially the Paris Agreement.
"It's also important to have corporations make some changes in their policies, so that it's less detrimental to the climate and to our planet," Howley said.