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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Most of us are familiar with the title phrase above. It is the capitalist version of the Civil Rights’ movement’s aphorism “if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk.” I’ve thought about this in relation to Pope Francis’ recent 180-page encyclical on the environment.

The Pope’s “Laudato si” encyclical has given a tremendous boost to the movement to combat human-induced warming and climate change, resource depletion, and mass extinction. I stumble when reading something that is couched in such deeply religious terms, but despite my difficulties, this document can open the eyes of millions to our growing peril, and propel large numbers to take good actions. Moreover, his document attacks capitalism and its deification of the market. For these reasons, I believe the Pope’s environmental statements are the best things that have happened to our growing movement this year.

While I am elated that the Pope has issued this statement and spoken so forcefully about it in the belly of our consumerist, military monster, it is mistake to treat him as a hero who is, therefore, above criticism. This was driven home to me when the progressive British newspaper, The Guardian, recently reported that Peter Turkson, a key papal advisor, announced that the Vatican did not plan to divest from its holdings in fossil fuels.

I don’t know the size of the Vatican’s fossil fuel holdings. Nor do I know enough about the financial structure of the Catholic Church to know if Vatican divestment would result in every Catholic Church, School and Social Service Agency worldwide divesting. However, I expect such Catholic Institutions would follow the Vatican’s lead and that those among the world’s one billion Catholics who hold stock would, at least, think about doing the same.

While I doubt such action would bring the oil and gas companies to their knees, Vatican divestment, coupled with the Church’s urging its parishioners to follow suit, would have a momentous impact. Despite our nation’s backwardness on the issue, the Catholic Church is one of the primary reasons that three quarters of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty. The divestment movement would become an exponentially more powerful international force once the Catholic Church jumped on its bandwagon.

I raised the Vatican’s disinterest in divesting with an environmental activist friend last weekend. She responded that I shouldn’t attack the Pope now; she believes Pope Francis personally favors divestment. Her understanding of the Pope’s personal feelings could be wishful thinking, but if the Pope favors divestment, wouldn’t agitating for Vatican divestment support, rather than attack, him?

Regardless of the Pope’s beliefs, as long as the Vatican holds fossil fuel company stock it is setting a bad example. Now that he has issued his encyclical, the next step for this Pope of the poor is to put the Vatican’s money where its mouth is.  Read More 
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