How much do you know about the inner workings of your retirement account? If the answer is not much, then it’s possible your investments are helping to finance abortions, fuel racial discrimination or produce weapons.
When an individual makes an investment decision, that decision has the potential to affect many other people, explained Father Louis Sirianni, diocesan judicial vicar and pastor of St. Mark Parish in Greece. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recognized this fact in 2003, when it published a set of guidelines for socially responsible investing, he noted.
Many people make investment decisions by simply measuring their profits, without giving a thought to where the money comes from or goes to, said Father James Hewes, parochial administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Rush. Church leadership, however, calls Catholics to hold themselves to a higher standard.
"As Catholics making investments, we want to do two things," Father Sirianni said. "We want to make investments that will provide us the return for whatever purpose we’re making the investment, whether that be retirement or an education fund. And secondly, we want to make sure that our money is not being used for something contrary to our Catholic teachings."
The USCCB’s socially responsible investment guidelines, which may be found at www.usccb.org//finance/srig.shtml, list a number of uses that are contrary to Catholic teachings, including abortion and contraceptives, embryonic stem-cell research, racial and gender discrimination, pornography, and the production and sale of weapons.
"The main thing is that responsible investing means planning for your future with that money, but not in a way that adversely affects other people," Father Sirianni said.
There are several ways for Catholics to ensure that their investment funds are being used in a socially responsible manner, Fathers Sirianni and Hewes agreed. One such way is to work with an investment company that offers mutual funds specifically tailored for Catholics, such as Ave Maria Mutual Funds or LKCM Aquinas Funds, Father Sirianni said. These funds screen companies before adding them to their investment portfolios, and companies that directly violate Catholic teachings are not included.
This approach makes it easy for Catholics to invest their money without fearing it will be used to fund such negative things as abortions, or to invest in companies that actively promote activities consistent with Catholic teachings.
"It’s nice to have a thing like Ave Maria Mutual Funds or the Aquinas Mutual Fund because they do the work for you," Father Hewes said.
As surprising as it may sound, Father Sirianni said another option is for Catholics deliberately to invest in companies that currently engage in practices against church teachings.
"When we invest in a company, we become owners of the company, and then in a way we’re responsible for what the company does," he said. "People can steer the company according to the wants of the majority of the stockholders."
Thus, the Catholic-oriented mutual funds sometimes invest in companies in the hopes of changing some of their policies. If this tactic doesn’t appear to be working, the funds will usually drop these companies from their rosters, Father Sirianni said.
Boycotts can be another effective way of effecting change in companies, Father Hewes added.
"Investing is more than what I invest in my 401(k). It’s also what I buy," he said.
Some groups offer lists of companies that employ questionable ethical practices. Life Decisions International, for example, maintains a list of companies that contribute to Planned Parenthood and urges individuals to boycott those companies. To date, approximately 40 or 50 companies have stopped making contributions to Planned Parenthood in order to get off that list, Father Hewes said. Boycotting a favorite product or brand may be a sacrifice, but it’s one that can help enhance the dignity of life and end company policies that have harmful effects on others, he added.
The first step toward ending such abuse, Father Hewes noted, is realizing that nearly every purchasing decision one makes will have some type of effect on someone else.
"We do affect other people," he said. "That investment is not an isolated incident, but how we invest really affects other people, whether it’s the unborn or people in other countries."