October 7, 2016 — On the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4, seven Catholic institutions and communities around the world, including the Jesuits of English Canada, celebrated the end of the monthlong Season of Creation with a joint announcement of their decision to divest from fossil fuels.
“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 Peter Bisson, Provincial of the Jesuits in English Canada.
In addition to the English Canada Province, other Catholic organizations moving their investments away from fossil fuel extraction include the Federation of Christian Organizations for the International Voluntary Service (FOCSIV) in Italy; the Presentation Society of Australia and Papua New Guinea; SSM Health in the United States; the Diocese of the Holy Spirit of Umuaramá in the Brazilian state of Paraná; the Missionary Society of St. Columban, based in Hong Kong and with a global presence in 14 countries; and the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco — Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Milan and Naples, Italy.
These organizations join a growing list of Catholic institutions that have committed to divestment from companies involved in the extraction of coal, oil and natural gas, including the Jesuits’ Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. See the list of Catholic organizations compiled by the Global Catholic Climate Movement here.
“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. “This is the tip of something much bigger.”
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, commented on the divestment movement during a press coference presenting Pope Francis' message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation on Sept. 1.
“Social pressure — including from boycotting certain products — can force businesses to consider their environmental footprint and patterns of production. The same logic animates the fossil fuel divestment movement,” Turkson said. “We must examine our consciences and repent. I realize that this is not the way we traditionally think about sin. These are sins, Pope Francis says, that we have not hitherto acknowledged and confessed. But we are now called upon to do so.”
Walking away from fossil fuels in Canada is going to be difficult, but it shouldn’t be seen as an attack on people who work in oil and gas, said Jesuit Father David Schulist, who sits on the Jesuits’ committee for social responsibility and investment and the order’s social justice commission.
“Any change is going to mean having to let go of something to be able to take on something new,” he said. “In a sense we don’t see this as instantly pulling the plug and everything gets emptied. The question is, how do we move through a process that tries to minimize the impact of unemployment and that provides new structures coming into place whereby there are new opportunities for training and to diversify those economies.”
Though Canada’s Jesuits will immediately halt all future investments in oil, gas and coal, it could take years to gradually shift all their investments away from greenhouse gas-producing forms of energy. But it’s important to make a move now, said Fr. Schulist.
Across the province there have been many conversations and reflections on how to respond to the realities of climate change, including the development of a Commission on Mission and Ecology and a subcommittee of the province’s finance committee to develop alternative investment strategies.
Fossil-Free LMU at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles hosted a campus celebration recognizing Pope Francis’ Season of Creation, which came to a close on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
Additionally, the student-run Jesuit Divestment Network (JDN), a coalition of student groups from nine Jesuit universities, is working to highlight the link between Jesuit values and socially responsible responses to climate change, including ethical investments.
Schools participating in the JDN include College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts; Loyola University New Orleans; University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania; Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles; Boston College; Georgetown University; Loyola University Chicago; Canisius College in Buffalo, New York; and Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California.
The Jesuit Divestment Network began their work in 2015 with a letter requesting support for fossil fuel divestment, delivered to Pope Francis at World Youth Day, garnering support from over 140 youth groups spanning 21 countries.
Students at Loyola University New Orleans advocating for the divestment of fossil fuels.
“Recently, Cardinal Turkson provided the first public, official acknowledgment of the fossil fuel divestment campaign from the Vatican,” said Anthony Rizzi, JDN spokesperson and Loyola University New Orleans Environmental Program representative, “signaling that our work thus far has reached the ears within the Holy See.”