Reflecting on Laudato Si’ Week - Divestment from fossil fuels

We need to refrain economically from any activity harmful to the planet and harmful to people - Photo:bigstock.com.We need to refrain economically from any activity harmful to the planet and harmful to people - Photo:bigstock.com.

During Laudato Si’ Week (16-25 May), people across the globe gathered to pray, reflect, study, advocate and take action to care for Earth, our common home, as together we marked the end of the Special Anniversary Year to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si’: on care for our common home. In his encyclical Pope Francis said: “for we know that things can change.” This statement was lifted up as the theme for Laudato Si’ Week. (see link below - “Laudato Si’ Week in 60 seconds” from the Global Catholic Climate Movement)

During Laudato Si’ Week Catholics across the world, together with our brothers and sisters from other faith traditions, and all people of good will, rejoiced in the announcement that 41 more faith based institutions, with 26 of these being Catholic, committed to divestment, adding to the growing global tally of institutions who have decided to put their faith into action through divesting from fossil fuels. Now more than 250 Catholic institutions have decided to follow Pope Francis’ advice and divest.

Almost five years ago now, on the Feast of St Francis, October 4, 2016, during the Season of Creation, St Columbans Mission Society, inspired by Pope Francis, pledged to take steps to divest from fossil fuels and commit to putting resources into Positive Impact Investing alternatives. In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis says, “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels … needs to be progressively replaced without delay” (par. 165) and “a change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear of those who wield political, economic, and social power.  This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products” (par.206).

Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh, leading international eco-theologian, advocates for divestment and corporate responsibility. He says, “For religious people, the aim of divestment is to bankrupt the fossil fuel industry morally, not financially.  Hopefully, because of their duty to manage their resources, these companies will invest in renewable forms of energy.” 

Last year, to mark the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’, the Vatican released environmental guidelines that frame investing in fossil fuels as an ethical choice, on par with other significant ethical choices. The guidelines, Journeying Towards Care for our Common Home – Five Years After Laudato Si’ (see below), suggest that Catholic institutions should take care “not to support companies that harm human or social ecology (for example, through abortion or the arms trade), or environmental ecology (for example, through the use of fossil fuels).”

During Laudato Si’ Week Church leaders joined in dialogue to voice strongly as to why Catholic institutions should divest.  Fr. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, Head of the Vatican’s Ecology and Creation Office, said that divestment is a physical, moral, and theological imperative. Fr Kureethadam said, “We need to refrain economically from any activity harmful to the planet and harmful to people. So let us listen to Pope Francis’ invitation to divest from fossil fuels and protect our common home.” 

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of the Diocese of Luxembourg and the President of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, said that institutions that choose not to divest risk their other work ringing hollow with the faithful. He said, “If we do not do this, our message, our proclamation of Christ, of the Gospel, nobody will believe it in the end. They will say, ‘You are among the people who could have changed and didn’t do anything,’” .

Brendan Leahy, the Bishop of Limerick, Ireland said: “If we dare to care for the environment we need to act. One of the practical steps to care for our common home is to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable sustainable energy.” In 2018 Ireland became the first country in the world to divest publically from the fossil fuel industry. That same year the Catholic Bishops Conference of Ireland also announced it was divesting its shared assets in the fossil fuel industry. Ireland was the first Bishops Conference in the world to divest from fossil fuels.

Last year, to mark the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’, the Vatican released environmental guidelines that frame investing in fossil fuels as an ethical choice, on par with other significant ethical choices. The guidelines, Journeying Towards Care for our Common Home – Five Years After Laudato Si’ (see below), suggest that Catholic institutions should take care “not to support companies that harm human or social ecology (for example, through abortion or the arms trade), or environmental ecology (for example, through the use of fossil fuels).”

Columban Fr Kevin O’Neill, is a member of the Peace, Ecology and Justice Office at the Columban Mission Center, Essendon.

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