Bishops approve new socially responsible investment guidelines

BALTIMORE (CNS) – Bishops have approved new guidelines governing financial investments from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that include broader limits on where money would be invested and advance a policy of engagement on business practices that have an impact on human dignity.

With 216 votes in favor, 10 against and five abstentions, the guidelines that were approved on November 17 update the USCCB’s investment policy which was last amended in 2003.

Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the USCCB’s committee on international justice and peace, said the new guidelines had been under development for three years as part of a broad consultation. involving nine USCCB committees under the leadership of Christian Brothers Investment Services, which acted as process manager.

Bishop Malloy presented the guidelines on November 16, replacing Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg, Fla., Treasurer of the USCCB, who was unable to travel to Baltimore due to illness. .

The guidelines were approved with some changes proposed by the body of bishops meeting in person at their fall general meeting Nov. 15-18 in Baltimore.

The new document includes contributions gleaned from a survey of bishops on what they believed should be included in a revised policy, Bishop Malloy said.

The policy adds guidance in areas such as telecommunications, media and social impact investing, and expands consideration of steps from no investment to engaging companies in their business practices.

“This update maintains and builds on aspects of the (existing) guidelines that users find most useful,” Bishop Malloy told the assembly.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego thanked the committee that considered the bishops’ proposed amendments overnight for adding a footnote to the document that called for promoting “responsible investments in social sectors. and environmental, for example by assessing the gradual divestment from the fossil fuel sector. . “

“I think we’re going to have to move on to an absolute ban on fossil fuels if we’re going to be a witness to the direction of the world,” Bishop McElroy said.

The document obtained by Catholic News Service includes many concerns in which the USCCB will not invest as well as others in which the conference will engage companies through proxies and support for shareholder resolutions to change practices. enterprises.

Recognizing that the USCCB is responsible for growing its financial assets in order to carry out the various departments it undertakes, the document argues that the conference has a responsibility to do so responsibly “to foster the growth of every person. and the whole person. As Pope Francis said in a 2019 speech to the Council for Inclusive Capitalism.

The paper opens with a review, more than three decades ago, of the American bishops’ explanation that the proclamation of the gospel in a complex economic world requires “a prudent strategy where decisions are made by following the law. ‘moral teaching of the Church’.

Such an effort requires evaluating investments by determining how companies and other entities “protect life, promote human dignity, act with justice, improve the common good and take care of the environment”.

The document also reviews the principles of stewardship that shareholders must adopt to protect human dignity.

“The tangled web of corporate relationships that are today’s economy makes it almost impossible to know all the effects that investing in a single company, specific security or investment fund can produce. Nonetheless, we must do all we can to ensure that we invest in businesses and institutions that promote human dignity and enhance the common good, ”the document said.

He adds: “Companies, securities or investment funds that generate a significant amount of income from immoral activities should not be invested. “

The document proposes three business strategies to follow: avoiding harm, actively working for change and promoting the common good.

In implementing the strategies, the USCCB will continue to build on current efforts and monitor how Catholic education and conference policies are advanced or undermined by corporate actions, according to the document.

The draft guidelines also call on the USCCB to work with investment advisers “to clearly articulate its objectives and policies”; use common sense and prudence in implementing investment strategies; and requiring financial advisers to report every three years on the effectiveness of the guidelines and how they are being implemented.

The investment policies in the document cover five categories: protecting human life, promoting human dignity, improving the common good, seeking economic justice, and saving our global common home.

The policy does not require any investment in a business directly involved in abortion; euthanasia; assisted suicide; in vitro fertilization; human cloning; contraceptives or embryonic stem cell and fetal tissue research that terminates a child’s life in the womb or uses tissue derived from abortions “or other life-terminating activities and / or develops products and services based on this research ”.

Other businesses where investments would not take place include those involved in pornography or sexual exploitation or those “directly involved in performing gender reassignment surgery or administering drugs or drugs. Hormones for the purpose of delaying normal puberty or altering an individual’s body correspond to gender discordant with biological sex.

Investments would also not be made in companies “which derive income from the production of weapons incompatible with Catholic war teaching” such as biological and chemical weapons, landmines, nuclear first-strike weapons. and weapons of mass destruction.

Beyond these investment restrictions, the policy calls on the USCCB to “actively engage” companies through proxy votes and support for shareholder resolutions involving other concerns arising from the social teaching of the company. ‘church.

An effort would allow the USCCB to encourage companies that make life-saving drugs and vaccines available to do so at affordable prices in the United States and developing countries, according to the guidelines.

Another area of ​​engagement cited in the guidelines is to urge companies “to advocate for an understanding of marriage or sexuality consistent with Church teaching and natural law.”

Beyond engagement, the USCCB “will seek opportunities to collaborate with other investors to invest in businesses, organizations and other financial initiatives that not only aim for financial performance, but also intend active in addressing the common good, generating positive and environmental change ”, the guidelines mentioned.

The draft policy calls for engagement, rather than not investing, with businesses on climate change, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental protection, water depletion , human rights, racial and social discrimination, human trafficking, hate speech in social media, discrimination or violation of religious freedom, privacy and civil liberties.

The document also seeks to sustain investments to enable efforts to encourage companies to improve labor standards, encourage social, environmental and financial responsibility, embrace ethical and responsible banking, and support affordable housing initiatives.

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Copyright © 2021 Catholic News Service / United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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