Members of religious congregations pledged to speak urgently to their investment managers after attending a conference hosted by the Mount Street Jesuit centre to promote ‘clean’ energy as a way of tackling climate change; Catholic orders’ combined UK investments are estimated at over £2 billion. The Conference of Religious was a sponsor of the event along with Operation Noah, Cafod, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, National Justice & Peace Network and the Association of Provincial Bursars.
More than 1,000 organisations around the world including Caritas Internationalis, the Passionists in England & Wales, and the Columban Missionaries internationally have taken the step of divesting from fossil fuel companies in response to the global threat of climate change. Fr Martin Newell of the Passionists and Ellen Teague, a Columban co-worker presented examples of the divesting process. Both stressed the tension between the urgency of the environmental crisis and the slow process of divestment, which should be completed within five years of the initial announcement. Charting the effects of climate change is increasingly falling to overseas missionaries, for instance, documenting the effects of salination of soil in the Pacific islands due to increasing typhoons.
The meeting heard that the Irish Bishops’ conference divested last August; sixty orders in Ireland and all 26 dioceses are now on a path to follow suit. Keynote speaker Lorna Gold, Coordinator of the Laudato Si' Project at the Irish aid agency Trocaire and Vice-Chair of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, called on the Church in the UK to take similar action. Edward de Quay of the Bishops Conference Environmental Advisory Group was questioned over the lack of divestment commitments by dioceses in England & Wales. He responded: “We are aware of the work going on in dioceses to encourage divestment from fossil fuels and we hope these conversations are constructive. We are pleased that investment in renewable energy through the Churchmarketplace and Interdiocesan Fuel Management groups has been so successful, with 20 dioceses now buying green energy together.”
Sr Sheila Kinsey FCJM, Executive Co-Secretary of the JPIC Commission of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome, spoke of the new UISG campaign 2018-2020, 'Sowing Hope for the Planet'. A key element will be promoting divestment from fossil fuels by religious orders and supporting Pope Francis in his mission to "hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor." She spoke of the importance of responsible stewardship, that "it is not enough to do good things by ourselves; we need to do these things with others,” adding “We need personal conversion & community conversion.” Sr Sheila Kinsey made an urgent appeal for congregations to consult a website that has been set up: www.sowinghopefortheplanet.org.
A Cafod representative told the conference that it wouldn’t succeed in ending poverty if climate change isn’t tackled and gave examples of the daily struggles people already face, eg., mothers in low lying areas having to rush to put babies in buckets to protect them when waters start to rise.
Fr Tom O’Brien of the Augustinians of the Assumption described the conference as hugely informative: “We’ve got an AGM shortly and I’m going to make sure we encourage our investment company not to invest in fossil fuels.” Sr Anne Hogan of the Sisters of St Gildas observed : “Today was very inspiring. We need to take a serious look at our own investments as a congregation.” Sr Elaine Kelly of the Helpers of Holy Souls added: “My congregation is already affected by climate change. I’m off to Kenya shortly and in the past it was always clear when the rainy season was expected ; now it’s unpredictable.”
As for the Jesuits’ own ethics, Brother Stephen Power SJ explained: “We do not invest in any company with more than 10% involvement in thermal coal or oil from tar sand. Our ethical investment committee regularly reviews this position and I would expect movement towards divestment unless progress towards sustainable business models are adopted by fossil fuel companies in the near future.”
One of the speakers at the conference, Fr Martin Poulsom SDB, senior lecturer in theology at Roehampton University added: “Religious congregations can play an important, prophetic role today, showing that they care for our common home – not just by the lives that their members lead, but also by where they invest their money. By divesting from fossil fuels and re-investing in zero-carbon energy generation, they can be signs of hope for our world, making possible the brighter, cleaner future that is needed for all who live on this earth that we share. The time to act is now.”
Additional summary from Lorna Gold of Trocaire:
Over the last two years Trócaire has been on a journey with the Irish church to examine how we can put Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Laudato Sí’ into practice. This has been a wonderful, inspiring journey, which has involved working on many fronts. Laudato Sí opens our hearts to a new vision of what it means to be a Christian on a precious, but fragile planet. It requires responses both on an individual level, but also a communitarian conversion experience. Many things need to change! An early part of this journey involved establishing a Laudato Sí Committee under the auspices of the Council for Catechetics, which is part of the Irish Bishops Conference. Through this diverse group comprising scientists, pastoral workers, eco-theologians, campaigners, and education advisors, amongst others, we were guided by the Spirit to come up with a number of key actions. These involved asking the bishops to endorse the global “Season of Creation” in Irish churches, to divest their resources from fossil fuels, as well as including care for creation in RE curriculum and Adult Faith Development. Very soon on our journey we realised that the biggest obstacle to ecological conversion was perhaps a serious lack of knowledge about the crisis we face today and how it connects with faith. In fact, we soon realised that if we were to have an impact on implementing Laudato Sí we needed to start first with filling basic knowledge gaps. For this reason, the Laudato Sí group offered to host in-service retreats and trainings for the bishops and their employees. The bishops accepted this offer and last February we spend a day in Knock up-skilling the bishops on ecological issues, including the climate crisis. It was a wonderful and engaging experience for all – and particularly for the clergy, who saw perhaps for the first time, the profound connection between our faith and our planet. Since then, the work of the group has grown and through it many initiatives have been successfully introduced. During the World Meeting of Families in Dublin the group organised a whole project on sustainability which included a beautiful pop-up Laudato Sí garden and a new holy well. This highlight of this journey to date, however, happened on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland last summer. In front of a packed inter-faith gathering in Christchurch Cathedral, the bishops made a bold decision and announcement – to divest from fossil fuels. In doing so, they recognised that they were taking a step to address the unsustainable nature of fossil fuel extraction and the need to shift financial resources into climate solutions. The work to implement Laudato Sí continues. Whilst much has been achieved in two years, we still feel we are at the beginning. In the next two years we hope to see a blossoming of Laudato Sí in many dioceses and parishes across Ireland.