A secure and comfortable retirement. College education for our children. Protecting our assets from excessive taxation. These are probably the primary goals most of us have when we contemplate the subject of investing our hard-earned financial resources. Yet how many of us stop to consider how our investment practices conform to the teachings and tenets of our Catholic faith?
Maybe we believe that finances and religion are two completely separate areas of our lives. Perhaps we are skeptical that investments made with a nod to our spiritual beliefs can provide the kind of return we seek. In today’s economy, some might think Catholic investing involves saying a Hail Mary or two before checking the latest Dow Jones or NASDAQ numbers.
Church teaching is clearly not silent on the subject of the relationship between faith and financial success, emphasizing that such success shall never come at the expense of human dignity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2424) states “a theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed this issue of socially responsible financial practices in their 1986 pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All,” calling upon Catholics to consider the “human consequences and moral content” of their economic decisions. In 2003 the USCCB issued Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines to govern its own investing practices, noting that as “a Catholic organization, the Conference draws the values, directions and criteria which guide its financial choices from the Gospel, universal church teaching and Conference statements.”
These guidelines are broken down into six main areas of concern used by the USCCB to determine a company’s suitability as a candidate for investment. They are Protecting Human Life, Promoting Human Dignity, Reducing Arms Production, Pursuing Economic Justice, Protecting the Environment and Encouraging Corporate Responsibility.
That the guidelines prohibit investment in companies directly involved in the practice of abortion, that manufacture or sell contraceptives, or engage in embryonic stem cell research or human cloning is no surprise as these are all clear and direct violations of church teaching. However, the guidelines also take into consideration such wide-ranging subjects as racial and gender discrimination, fair wages and safe work environments, and good stewardship of the world’s natural resources.
So what does all of this mean to the average Catholic trying to build the best financial foundation for the family? In addition to deciphering the intricacies of profit and loss statements, it now seems that the conscientious Catholic investor must align a company’s practices with church teaching. It may not be as difficult as it sounds, however.
In the 30 years since “Economic Justice for All” was published, companies dealing with and advising on faith-based investing have become much more readily available to the consumer. One such company is Investing for Catholics, located in Irvine.
Mary Brunson, a vice president of Investing for Catholics, is a former financial writer who has some words of wisdom on these subjects. She advises that for Catholics trying to tailor their investment practices in a way that complements their faith, a good investment policy is key to getting on track and staying that way.
An investment policy typically is a written document. “It is a road map, if you will,” says Brunson. “It is really quite simple to tailor your investment policy to incorporate faith consistency. I have seen some folks apply an individual stock selection approach to pick the companies they ‘like’ from a faith and investment perspective.” Not only is this tedious and costly, it can increase risk.
Brunson cites Catholic publications such as National Catholic Register Online and U.S. Catholic as good sources of information for investors. She says that the advice offered by Investing for Catholics closely matches the USCCB guidelines. “This filtering criteria and process is the most comprehensive one I know of,” she says, “and yet still results in a massively diversified portfolio.”
Brunson cautions investors to take a pragmatic approach and first identify a sound investment strategy. “Take your time to learn about what works in investing,” she says. “There’s much to learn about how the markets work.”
Once the investor gets down to the business of implementing that sound strategy, then it’s time to approach the last piece of the puzzle – faith consistency. “The key,” she says, “is to find the information source that marries sound investment principles with faith-based investments. It’s worth the effort because in doing so, a Catholic investor can have a portfolio they feel good about in every way.”