For the first time in 20 years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is updating its socially responsible investment guidelines, which inform investment decisions made by many faith-based organizations across the country.
One thing worth considering: Now that the Vatican is party to an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons, could the guidelines address investments in companies related to the manufacture or sale of nuclear weapons?
In January, the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW) became international law. It is the first major multilateral nuclear weapons treaty in decades. As a historic milestone, it became the first legally binding international agreement to establish a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, placing them in the same category of prohibition as other weapons of mass destruction such as chemical and biological weapons.
The new treaty enjoys the support of more than two-thirds of the members of the United Nations, including the Holy See. The nuclear weapon states, including the United States, are not yet at the table.
Echoing Pope Francis ‘call to work “decisively to promote the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons”, several Catholic Bishops’ Conferences and religious authorities around the world have already expressed their support for the treaty and called for campaigns to mobilize society and politics to promote universal adoption of the agreement.
The Catholic bishops of Japan asked their government to sign the treaty, as did the bishops of Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium.
Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called on national and world leaders “to persevere in their efforts to abolish these weapons of mass destruction, which threaten the existence of the race human and our planet “. This call can be implemented in the new investment guidelines.
In 2015, Francis told Congress that profit from the arms industry was money “drenched in blood.” The only reason to own shares in arms companies is to encourage them to end their involvement in the production of illegal and inhuman weapons through shareholder defense. Responsible investment policies, whether through shareholder initiative or divestment, offer opportunities to shift narrow economic interests into efforts for the global good.
At present, the bishops’ investment guidelines are not that restrictive. They are not suggesting that bishops and their dioceses completely avoid “stocks of sins”. Instead, they offer advice on how to own investments in some of these nefarious industries in order to exert influence from the shareholder podium.
This guidance facilitates the many faith-based investors who present ethical shareholder resolutions. These are not investors looking to cash in on bloody money; on the contrary, they own just enough companies to ask ethical questions on boards of directors across America.
At the same time, shareholders should not dismiss the power of divestment as an option, and the new guidelines should encourage this for any uninvolved investor. Divestment by large investors, executed with appropriate publicity, can change the business climate and cause banks and manufacturers to reconsider their involvement in the production of these most destructive weapons of mass destruction. Divestment offers prophetic testimony against profit from nuclear weapons.
Responsible investing requires maintaining a delicate balance in addition to a solid moral foundation, but it is not impossible. A policy indicating the intention to implement the new treaty ban on aid for the production or maintenance of nuclear weapons and encouraging companies to change course within certain deadlines will clarify the moral basis and comply to Catholic education.
Catholic investors like the Sisters of Charity of Elizabeth, New Jersey; the Co-operative Investment Fund of the Sisters of the School of Notre-Dame; and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, among others, are leaving the door open for businesses to repent and find a way back to less harmful practices. Their shareholder proposals are an educational tool and an invitation to reflect on what is behind the board presentations and the company’s benefits.
encyclical letter from Francis Fratelli Tutti recognizes that the arms industry has every interest in continuing armed conflicts and perpetuating discord between populations. He describes the munitions industry as “an accumulation of weapons and ammunition in a global context dominated by uncertainty, disillusionment, fear of the future and controlled by narrow economic interests”.
Francis told the people of Hiroshima, Japan, “The use of atomic energy for the purpose of war is immoral, just as the possession of atomic weapons is immoral.” The same is true of profits from the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
Bishops’ guidelines should clarify that unless divestment, the only reason to own shares in nuclear weapons makers is to have a voice in persuading other investors to end their involvement in instrument making. of mass death and planetary destruction.