Today, approximately 40 Catholic institutions reportedly will announce that they will divest from fossil fuels. The total amount has not yet been publicly disclosed, but today’s news follows the trend of Catholic organizations repeatedly announcing such divestment in tandem with global events, an example of which being the G-7 Summit this spring. Today’s fossil fuel divestment is timed with the anniversary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church’s patron saint of the environment and animals.
One year ago, a similar announcement, also timed with the anniversary of St. Francis’s death, included seven Catholic organizations and was then touted as the largest faith-based divestment announcement ever.
A spokesperson from Caritas, a German Catholic relief agency that reportedly has assets worth $4.5 billion, told the Guardian that it would soon divest from any holdings tied to coal, tar sands and petroleum.
And the Italian town of Assisi, which the iconic St. Francis called home, is also joining this divestment movement, as both the local church diocese and the city’s government said it will shed any assets linked to fossil fuels. “The Church that hears ‘both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ cannot stay indifferent in front of the catastrophic consequences of the climate change that are unfairly affecting poor and vulnerable communities,” said Assisi Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino in a public statement. “Taking the example of Saint Francis, we want to act to overcome an economic and energy system that is damaging too much our common home.”
More Catholic organizations and faith groups have made such changes to their portfolios ever since Pope Francis issued his encyclical on climate change last year. “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” the pope had exclaimed in May 2016, and today’s surge in divestment indicates Catholic organizations are putting his words to action.
Pope Francis has long been critical of the global energy sector and its rhetoric that its business practices help combat “energy poverty” by noting the many of the poorest communities worldwide are the most vulnerable to climate change.
The pope has continued his push to raise awareness of climate change. After hurricanes devastated much of the Caribbean along with parts of Mexico and the U.S., he attacked climate deniers as “stupid” and urged them to talk with scientists and review their work first-hand. And during his trip last month to Colombia, he urged the country’s leaders to take action to “respect” its rich biodiversity and ensure that it is preserved for future generations.
Former United Nation’s climate office head, Christiana Figueres, applauded this week’s announcement. “I hope we will see more leaders like these 40 Catholic institutions commit, because while this decision makes smart financial sense, acting collectively to deliver a better future for everybody is also our moral imperative,” Figueres said in a statement.
Image credit: UN Climate Action Program