Catholics, ethics - and getting out of oil

Time for ethical divestment

Universities can make a difference through divestment, writes Doug Demeo in America magazine.

Catholic colleges and universities have a long and storied history of providing full scholarships and affordable higher education to low income, minority and immigrant students. In addition, they continue to fulfill their mission to develop the whole person by linking liberal arts and professional studies to critical moral thought, promoting retreats, building faith-centered community service and justice programs and more.

But today there are key issues that challenge the fidelity of Catholic colleges and universities to their core mission. John Wilcox, emeritus professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, has made a compelling case in these pages that there is an urgent need to address the 'erosion' of the 'Catholicity' of Catholic colleges and universities.

He argues that the best way to do this is through the creation of 'mission communities' on Catholic campuses. Primarily, their call would be to 'play a prophetic role, at times "speaking truth to power"' for the purpose of 'keeping Catholicity vital in all areas of [institutional] life.'

Professor Wilcox offers several examples of how Catholic mission communities might work to maintain and strengthen the Catholic character of colleges and universities. The investment and management of Catholic universities’ financial endowments is one such area in which a new 'living endowment' could preserve and promote Catholic mission.

In particular, he suggests that mission communities would 'offer reviews of college policy and strategic planning and foster a palpable Catholic culture as shaped by the religious heritage of the founders.' While it would be interesting to examine more fully the issues, practices and value perceptions of 'mission-based' investing at Catholic institutions, the singularly urgent issue of climate change—and the powerful momentum that has been growing within the fossil fuel divestment movement—deserves attention in this moment.

Considering the strength of Catholic teaching on climate change and ethical investing, the divestiture of stocks and bonds from fossil fuel corporations taking place in a growing number of secular and non-Catholic religious organisations is bringing Catholic higher education—which, with a few exceptions, has been largely absent from the national conversation—to a crossroads of mission.

At this critical junction of institutional integrity, mission communities could play an important role in helping university administrators and trustees to envision a new way of being faithful to Catholic mission and to grasp the prophetic (and arguably financial) urgency of divesting from fossil fuel corporations.

The Church accepts that human actions like burning fossil fuels have a negative impact on the earth’s climate, and it understands that the effects of climate change raise crucial ethical issues as to how we tend to God’s creation.

FULL STORY Getting out of oil (America)

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