For over 50 years, the Sisters of Loretto (Loretto Community), a Catholic coalition of ordained sisters and laypeople have maintained creation care as one of their core tenants. So, it came as no surprise when they decided to divest their financial holdings from fossil fuels, as so many other religious communities are starting to do. What did surprise many was the unanimous vote the measure received. That's right, unanimous! One hundred percent of the community voted in favor of divesting interests from fossil fuels. Hallelujah!
Sisters of Loretto community member, Maureen Fiedler, who has worked for many years in the field of creation care, contends that Pope Francis' Encyclical, Laudato Si, gave the initiative the extra boost it needed. Our 'intensive use of fossil fuels' has contributed greatly to the emission of greenhouse gasses, and while divestment initiatives such as this will likely not topple the energy giants, it does make a symbolic statement about how to move forward as a person of faith, a sentiment shared with Blessed Tomorrow leader, Rev. Jim Wallis, who divested his personal holdings earlier this year.
I have to admit: I was stunned.
I am a Sister of Loretto, and my Loretto community is very environmentally conscious. For years, we have passed strong resolutions on climate change and preserving creation, but this week our delegate assembly voted unanimously to divest the congregation from all stocks and bonds in fossil fuels.
I had been working on that resolution for months, so I did expect it to pass. But unanimously? I was stunned.
In addition, the Loretto community as a whole (both sisters and co-members) voted to recommend to all friends and co-members of Loretto that they likewise divest. Many co-members to whom I have spoken are moving to do exactly that.
This resolution has been in process since late 2014, but the new encyclical by Pope Francis -- “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” -- gave us a boost. The encyclical does not mention divestment, but it is highly critical of fossil fuels and their devastating impact on climate change.
“The problem [of global warming] is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system,” Francis wrote.
A few paragraphs later, he said, “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”
This Loretto resolution is in sync with a worldwide strategy urging groups and individuals of all kinds get rid of their investments in the fossil fuel industry (coal, oil, gas). The overall coordination of the movement has largely come through the grassroots climate group 350.org, and its Fossil Free campaign, spearheaded by its co-founder Bill McKibben.
But the religious effort has been led by GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental group led by the Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest. GreenFaith lists on its website the religious groups that have so far decided to divest. That includes the Episcopal Church USA (earlier in July), the Anglican Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarian Universalists.
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