This summer, the Sisters of Loretto voted unanimously to divest from fossil-fuel companies.
In a resolution published July 17, the Kentucky-based group voted to divest all investments in fossil fuel companies shortly after the release of the first letter by Pope Francis to Catholics worldwide.
The 160-page message is considered the highest form of teaching by a Pope. In the letter, titled “Laudato Si’” (“Be praised”), Francis urges development of global policies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
“We are proud to join the ranks of religious groups voting to divest,” wrote Sr. Maureen Fiedler in a column for National Catholic Reporter.
Fiedler, who worked on the resolution, said the encyclical does not mention divestment, but is highly critical of fossil fuels and their impact on climate change.
The Loretto congregation finance committee had been evaluating reinvestment in renewable energy companies prior to the publication of the Pope’s letter.
“We wanted to make sure that when we reinvested, our portfolio wasn’t damaged because the bulk of our portfolio goes to provide income to care of our sick and elderly sisters,” said Loretto treasurer Sister Kathy Wright.
Wright said fuel stocks lost value in the group’s portfolio last year, but that fossil fuel stocks – like Exxon Mobil (XOM) – lost more value than renewable energy companies.
“Had we held on to the fossil fuel stock, we would have been worse off,” Wright said.
Over the past two years, the group’s investors looked for ways to reinvest the funds from fossil fuel companies into green companies other than the energy sector. The sisters can then support companies responding to climate change in other ways.
“We know that the renewable energy sector is quite young,” Wright said. “We had to look for other things to invest in, like pollution clean companies.”
Wright said universities that have moved away from fossil fuel investments have done it because of faculty and student initiative.
In a university statement, Webster Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin commended the sisters on the resolution.
“We applaud the Sisters of Loretto for pledging to divest from fossil fuels,” Giblin said.
Giblin also stated that the university has never actively purchased fossil fuel stocks, a policy that was corroborated by the student-run Sustainability Coalition.
“We had students approach the board in 2012 and we were able to show that we don’t invest in fossil fuels at all,” Giblin said.
However, the statement did confirm that the university has purchased some fossil fuel stock as part of larger mutual funds.
Giblin said most of the stocks in these funds are not necessarily name-brand oil companies, but are related to fossil fuels and represent less than two percent of the university’s portfolio.
The Loretto finance committee will divest from fossil fuel stocks over a five-year period. According to the resolution, the money must be re-directed to renewable energy companies during the same period.
“We’ll begin to move stuff and reinvest it by our fourth quarter this year,” Wright said. “We’re still trying to assess what our options are.”