S&P Dow Jones Indices, which brings us the much-followed S&P 500, now has a new index for Catholics who want to put their money where their religion is. The new socially responsible investment tool is called the Catholic Values Index, and it excludes S&P 500 companies that are linked to military production, labor abuses, medical practices and other activities that the church opposes.
The new Catholic Values Index notably includes companies that explore for, extract and process fossil fuels, which Pope Francis critiqued in his June 2015 encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home. In the encyclical he wrote: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels — especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”
Catholics and Catholic institutions in the U.S. have billions of dollars in investment portfolios. The money is in archdiocese pension and operating funds, Catholic university and charity endowments, and church investment clubs.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sets guidelines for how that money should be invested ethically. And S&P is following those guidelines, explains Alka Banerjee, S&P global head of equity indices: “They do not want to invest in nuclear weapons, adult entertainment, conventional military sales, child labor and also abortion and stem-cell activity,” she says.
Reuters reported recently that energy stocks represent between 5 and 10 percent of Catholic institutional investments. Thus far, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has not taken aim at Catholic institutional investments in oil and gas stocks, and they are still included in the S&P Catholic Values Index. Banerjee predicts that may change in time, as the bishops study and respond to Pope Francis’ activist stance on climate chang and the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable countries and poorest people.
Management professor Jared Peifer, an expert on socially responsible investing at Baruch College, says the fossil fuel divestment movement has had some impact on university endowments. But he predicts that socially screened mutual funds will not respond right away.
“Divestment from fossil fuels — I don’t think it’s mainstream yet,” Peifer says. “We’re seeing more of that in universities, and some universities are bowing to the pressure. But I’m not aware of a lot of mutual funds that have taken a stance on this.”