WASHINGTON — Citing Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” on humanity’s relationship with the earth and each other, seven Catholic institutions from around the world said they plan to divest from fossil fuel corporations.
Joining the divestment movement were St. Louis-based SSM Health; Jesuit Fathers of Upper Canada; Missionary Society of St. Columban, based in Hong Kong; Presentation Society of Australia and Papua New Guinea; Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesians) in Italy; Diocese of Umuarama, Brazil; and Federation of Christian Organizations for the International Voluntary Service in Italy.
The organizations join a steadily growing movement that is seeing hundreds of groups worldwide divest from companies involved in the extraction of coal, oil and natural gas in recent years and turning to firms developing renewable energy instead.
Up to 97 percent of climate scientists have attributed climate change to human activity, at least in part.
“It’s important because we’re finally, as a Catholic community, starting to connect the dots between ‘Laudato Si’’ and our investment policies,” said Tomas Insua, coordinator of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which announced the divestment plans Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
“This is the tip of something much bigger,” Insua told Catholic News Service.
The announcement came as the monthlong “Season of Creation” closed. The period of prayer and reflection began Sept. 1 with the World Day of Prayer for Creation that religious institutions have been observing in recent years. Pope Francis committed the global Catholic community to joining the day of prayer in 2015.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, touched on the issues of pollution, climate change and “old-school industrialization” during a mid-September Vatican conference examining the pope’s views on the world economy. Insua said he attended the conference and the topic of divestment from fossil fuels was widely discussed.
“We’re very concerned with stressing the level of urgency on this issue and stressing divestment,” Insua said. “The urgency is dramatic, and business as usual is terrifying.”
He said his organization’s effort to urge divestment stems from the call of the world’s Catholic bishops to world leaders in support of an accord on capping carbon emissions during the COP 21 meeting in Paris last December. While the countries of the world reached an agreement on the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, it will not enter into force until at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions sign on and file plans detailing their commitment to it.
Small and large institutions have joined the divestment campaign. Fossil Free, a project of environmental group 350.org, tracks the divestment movement. It says 595 institutions have withdrawn an estimated $3.4 trillion from fossil fuel stocks. Another 50,000 individuals have divested about $5.2 billion, the website said.
In its announcement, the Global Catholic Climate Movement released statements by representatives of the organizations involved in the divestment effort.
“Climate change is already affecting poor and marginalized communities globally through drought, rising sea levels, famine and extreme weather. We are called to take a stand,” said Jesuit Father J. Peter Bisson, provincial superior of the Jesuits of English Canada.
Bishop Joao Mamede Filho of Umuarama, Brazil, pointed to Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si,’ on Care for Our Common Home,” as the reason for divesting from fossil fuels.
“We cannot accommodate and continue allowing economic interests that seek exorbitant profits before the well-being of people, to destroy biodiversity and ecosystems, nor continue dictating our energy model based on fossil fuels,” he said. “We know that Brazil has abundant resources of clean and renewable energy that do no harm our common home. Therefore, I believe that the proposal to turn the Diocese of Umuarama into low-carbon is a practical way to achieve what ‘Laudato Si’’ calls for.”
Presentation Sr. Marlette Black, president of the Presentation Society of Australia and Papua New Guinea, explained that her religious order has committed to divest from fossils fuels to help heal Earth.
“We are one planet and one Earth community and we have a common destiny,” she said.
At SSM Health, William P. Thompson, president and CEO, said its effort was meant to align with Pope Francis’ vision for a peaceful world.
“Our renewed commitment to the environment keeps us consistent in word and deed with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, our founding congregation, and with the climate change encyclical released by Pope Francis,” he said.