‘Thou shalt not burn coal’: Catholic institutions abandon fossil fuels en masse

In a symbolic gesture, the Italian town of Assisi will also divest from fossil fuels. [Sam Morgan]

Forty Catholic institutions from across the world will pull money out of fossil fuels this week, in the biggest single divestment made by religious institutions, including banks, universities and even the Italian town where Saint Francis of Assisi was born.

In this way,  Tuesday (3 October) will go down as both the anniversary of Saint Francis of Assisi’s death and the day Christianity’s relationship with coal, gas and oil entered its swan-song, following Pope Francis’s 2015 papal letter which stated that concern for the natural world is no longer “optional”.

Green finance group calls on EU to stop funding fossil fuels

A group of financial experts has set out their vision for hardwiring sustainability goals into the European Union’s financial system, calling on 28-country bloc to stop pouring public money into polluting fossil fuels and focus spending on clean energies instead.

This mass divestment is likely to have a significant impact on the rest of the Catholic world, as a number of the institutions involved are doing so based on both moral and financial concerns.

Tomás Insua, head of Global Catholic Climate Movement, a major convener of the divestment said the “moral clarity of these 40 divesting institutions is cause for celebration”, adding that it shows leadership ahead of a meeting of the World Bank in Washington DC on 13 October.

Divesting institutions include Germany’s Bank for the Church and Caritas, one of the first Catholic banks to divest in this way; Oikocredit, one of the world’s largest private microfinanciers; the Episcopal Conference of Belgium; and the UK’s Newman University.

The president of Caritas Europe, Luc Van Looy, who is also the bishop of Ghent, highlighted how “people of faith all Europe are taking [climate] action with increasing momentum”. He added that “this is a statement that politicians at the head of the EU’s institutions will not be able to ignore”.

While the amount of money being dragged out of fossil fuel investments this time is unknown, as faith groups rarely publish supporting figures, the total value of the companies and institutions globally to have committed to divestment to-date is approximately $5 trillion. Nearly a quarter of institutions to have divested are faith-based.

For reference, the overall balance of the Bank for the Church and Caritas is worth some €4.5 billion, illustrating the significant sums of money that are at stake.

Christiana Figueres, the United Nation’s former climate change chief, said she hopes “we’ll see more leaders like these 40 Catholic institutions commit, because while this decision makes smart financial sense, acting collectively to deliver a better future for everybody is also our moral imperative”.

Today’s announcement quadruples the size of a similar divestment made in May, when nine other Catholic groups said they would no longer keep their money in fossil fuels.