Bishops’ climate advocacy clashes with fossil fuel investments

climate action

The United States Catholic bishops’ (USCCB) investment strategies are at odds with its passionate climate advocacy.

In a statement at COP28, the USCCB committee called decarbonisation of the economy the “preeminent environmental challenge faced by all nations” that must be addressed without burdening middle-and low-income citizens with increased costs.

However, according to Reuters, the US bishops continue to hold on to substantial investments in fossil fuel companies, directly benefiting from these industries.

“US dioceses hold millions of dollars of stock in fossil fuel companies through portfolios intended to fund church operations and pay clergy salaries, according to a Reuters review of financial statements.

“And at least a dozen are also leasing land to drillers, according to land records,” reports Richard Valdmanis.

Using data from the Laudato Si Movement, a Catholic environmental advocacy group tracking divestment, Reuters reports 354 Catholic institutions across more than 50 countries have divested fossil fuels since the 2015 encyclical, including scores of dioceses in the UK, Ireland and Germany.

However, “Notably absent are any dioceses in the US,” reports Reuters.

US Bishops stand firm

Despite Pope Francis’ impassioned calls to shun highly polluting fuels, the USCCB stands firm in its reluctance to divest from these industries.

Reuters investigations into the financial reports of various American dioceses reveal substantial holdings in energy stocks and land leases with drillers.

While the Vatican and other global Catholic institutions embrace divestment strategies, the USCCB’s investment guidance, guided by the Christian Brothers Investment Service, advocates active shareholder engagement with major oil and gas companies rather than wholesale divestment.

Media mirrors money

According to Sabrina Danielson, a professor at Creighton University, the bishops’ financial engagement with major oil and gas companies is mirrored in the Catholic media they own.

Danielson has studied the media engagement of US bishops on the issue of climate change.

Fewer than 1% of the more than 12,000 columns by US bishops in official publications since 2014 mentioned climate change, Danielson found in a 2021 study.

She says that many of those mentioning climate change downplayed the urgency of global warming or described the topic as controversial.

Vatican continues to lead

The approach of the US Catholic bishops on Climate Change runs counter to the Vatican’s lead.

In 2008 when Benedict XVI was pope, the first of 2,400 solar panels were installed on top of the papal audience hall in Vatican City.

Then, following this first move and several others in between, on 16 November 2023 the Vatican announced a new sustainability programme.

As part of the programme the Vatican

  • will expand the number of charging stations for electric cars
  • signed an agreement with German carmaker Volkswagen to replace the city-state’s entire car fleet with electric vehicles by 2030
  • ensure its electricity comes exclusively from renewable sources.


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