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Put your money where it can do the most good in world

Priest says Catholics have more responsibility to invest properly, to better society

Published: August 22, 2015   
Arkansas Catholic
Among the many tools available to help investment decisions, religion can be the one that helps improve the world as well as family finances.

Third in a three-part series on Catholic Responsible Investing

The concept of Catholic Responsible Investing or CRI, in considering the tenets of the Catholic Church before choosing where to invest, can on the surface be a simple concept. Companies that fully support abortion or pornography or ones that harm the environment can be easy to spot and avoidable. However, researching what company subsidiaries support can be a struggle, which is why Catholic mutual fund firms, like Ave Maria Mutual Funds or Epiphany Funds, can help the process along.

Spot moral traps

With retirement plans, investment companies typically share with the employer a list of mutual funds and what companies are associated with each, allowing Catholics to identify some red flags.

“I can just tell you pharmaceutical companies in general violate the policies,” of CRI, said Greg Wolfe, Diocese of Little Rock finance director. “It’s either going to be they’re involved in abortion or contraception or even much worse, research that uses fetal tissue for embryotic stem-cell research … that would be something you want to avoid if you’re trying to be with the Church.”

However, looking at a big company and determining what their subsidiaries are involved in is not easy, Wolfe said.

“That’s why it’s really best if you can to go with a (mutual fund) company who is doing the research for you,” Wolfe said. “That’s what they do — (find out) what subsidiaries do they have and what do they make their money on.”

Some even go as far as what Forbes magazine calls “shareholder advocacy” or engaging, which means instead of avoiding a company, buying stock in it to try to influence or change corporate policy or money expenditures a person deems immoral or harmful to society.

“Stock owners vote at the stockholder meetings and set policy for the company, that’s how it’s supposed to work,” Wolfe said, adding that for the individual investor though, it is difficult to have much impact through shareholder advocacy.

Religious implications

While the topic of CRI has not been extensively written about on a universal scale by the Church, there is still a religious responsibility to invest morally, said Father Jason Tyler, diocesan ethicist and pastor at St. Edward Church in Little Rock.

“When you invest money, on the one hand, you’re seeking an investment return for your family and all sorts of good things … but if you invest in a company that is doing something morally illicit such as abortion … with the specific goal of furthering abortion, making it more abundant in society, that’s definitely morally wrong,” Father Tyler said.

He pointed to the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) where the master gives five talents to one servant, two to another and one to a third. The first two traded their talents and earned the master double, while the third one buried the money.

“One puts it in the ground,” Father Tyler said. “(The master is) upset because he did not use well the gifts he’d been given.”

Therefore, focusing on moral investments is key, Father Tyler said.

“Rather than focus on sin or how to avoid evil, how do we use our money to accomplish the most good?” he said. “By the personal good of one’s own family benefits, retirement benefits by seeking out companies that are doing morally good things … doing things that we definitely agree with, then we’re using that tool of money for the greatest good possible.”

“Each individual has the responsibly to invest in a way that seeks to build up the good in the world. If you become so indifferent to that and you don’t care and your only motive is the return, that becomes a sort of moral negligence,” he added.

Bottom line

Though there is not a universal guideline in Church teaching for investments, the individual Catholic can let their conscience be the guide when it comes to where they put their money.

“In good conscience, we have to do what we can to avoid activities that are against our Church teaching,” Wolfe said.

Ave Maria Mutual Funds chairman and CEO George Schwartz added that it is, of course, a “personal choice.”

“We can just make them available to people that are like-minded, that are pro-life and pro-family. If they want to invest this way, it’s available,” Schwartz said.

As CEO of Trinity Fiduciary Partners Sam Saladino said, putting CRI into practice is more than just investing — it’s putting a person’s faith to work.

“There are options out there nowadays that weren’t there in the past, but mainly this is very important. If you want to make a difference culturally your investment is probably the biggest way to have an impact because companies are listening; you’re an owner of these companies,” Saladino said. “If you want to get your faith into action, this is the way.”

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