EarthBeat Weekly: Discerning what the Vatican really means when it comes to divestment

It's not always easy to sort out the nuances

Screengrab from video of June 18, 2020 Vatican press briefing five years after the release of Laudato Si'.

by Bill Mitchell

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Many mornings, well before NCR's U.S.-based staff members have opened our browsers, Vatican correspondent Joshua J. McElwee is alerting us to news of the day via Slack, the digital communications tool we use to link up our geographically dispersed colleagues.

In the EarthBeat channel of Slack on Thursday, five years to the day after Pope Francis released Laudato Si', Josh reported that he was just back from the first in-person briefing the Vatican press office had conducted since the pandemic lockdown. He said the Vatican had released an extensive report about what the city-state had done about the environment since the pope's encyclical.

In the last paragraph of his story, Josh reported that the Global Catholic Climate Movement had issued a statement highlighting the Vatican's suggestion that Catholic institutions might divest from the fossil fuel industry.  

That was in line with what the Vatican's office of peace and justice office said last month, inviting Catholic communities across the world to work toward "total sustainability," a path that would include carbon neutrality, simpler lifestyles and divestment from fossil fuels.

It also fits with the Vatican's own practice, as Josh reported last month: Director general confirms Vatican bank is not invested in fossil fuels.

In other words, although the discussion of divestment in the report issued Thursday was interesting, it didn't strike us as all that new.

In its statement on Thursday, though, the Catholic Climate movement drew a distinction: "This is the first-ever endorsement of the fossil fuel divestment campaign to come from the Vatican as a whole."

In posting Josh's story to, I included divestment in the subhead but not in the main headline.

The Reuters news agency took a different approach, reporting: "The Vatican urged Catholics on Thursday to disinvest from the armaments and fossil fuel industries and to closely monitor companies in sectors such as mining to check if they are damaging the environment."

That quickly lit up the Twittersphere. Bill McKibben, the activist and writer who has been urging the Vatican to take a leadership position on divestment for years, linked to the Reuters story and told his 349,000 followers:

The Vatican just called for our planet's 1.2 billion Catholics to divest from fossil fuel stocks--indeed to 'shun' those companies. It is one of the great moments in a 10-year campaign--thanks to all!

Al Gore, addressing his 3 million followers, tweeted:

5 years after the groundbreaking encyclical #LaudatoSi, the Vatican has called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to #divest from fossil fuels. God bless @Pontifex for his strength and moral leadership.

Interestingly, neither the Associated Press nor Catholic News Service included any mention of divestment in their stories Thursday.  

Whatever the particular significance of the Vatican's wording on Thursday, one thing is clear: Divestment is coming up more and more frequently in the strategies the Vatican is recommending for addressing the climate crisis.

The Vatican has also hosted two meetings of fossil fuel company executives, though. So it wouldn't be fair to say they've ruled out shareholder engagement -- the idea of trying to persuade companies to do the right thing -- as a strategy, either.

Here's what else is new on EarthBeat this week:

Here's some of what else is new in the world of climate news:

Upcoming Event:

At 10 a.m. EDT tomorrow (Saturday June 20), the Franciscan Action Council will present a webinar focused on the climate crisis and ecological conversion. Br. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, will lead the webinar, joined by Br. Joe McKay, OFM, from Australia, Junghee Min from South Korea, and Steeven Kezamutima, OFS, from Kenya.  

One advantage of so many events moving online is their accessibility to a wider audience. If you'd like to expand the audience of your next virtual climate event, please post it here.

Closing beat:

At some point next month, I'll be moving to a new role at NCR. That means we need a new EarthBeat editor. If you're interested – or know of someone who might be – please read the job description and follow up!

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Thanks for reading!

Bill Mitchell

NCR Climate Editor


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