Tag Archives: moral

Investing in good conscience

Catholics increasingly are choosing to get their assets in line with their moral values

People invest their assets in order to turn a handsome profit — the greater the gain, the better. Increasingly, however, investors are taking an interest in just how those profits are being earned. They still want to get the highest return on investment, but they don’t want to profit from companies that engage in products or business practices that go against their moral compass.

It goes by many names, but it’s often called “socially responsible investing,” or SRI, a blanket term for practically any form of values-based investment principles, whether rooted in selected social concerns, religious ethics, or personal beliefs.

Many Catholics have gotten on board with the idea. They want competitive earnings, but not at the price of compromising their moral conscience. It’s a matter of putting faith ahead of financial gain.

“Catholics aren’t called to check their ethics at the door of the church when they leave Mass on Sunday. We’re called to be Catholic in all that we do – whether it is in private or in the public square,” said Tony Minopoli, president and chief investment officer for the Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors, and member of Legatus’ Fairfield County Chapter. “As an investor, it would be difficult to reconcile how to maintain your integrity if you are opposed to certain activities — such as abortion, discrimination, or nuclear weapons — but then directly profit from the manufacturing or distribution of products and services involved in those activities.”

Rise of moral investing

“In our view, more Catholics are investing in accordance with their moral beliefs,” said George P. Schwartz, chairman and chief executive officer of Ave Maria Mutual Funds, which in recent years has grown to serve more than 100,000 shareholders with entrusted assets of over $2.7 billion.

The Ann Arbor Legate observed that among investors in general, too, “there has been an explosion of interest in socially responsible investing, or impact investing, which aligns investments with personal beliefs.”

According to a 2019 CNBC report, socially responsible investing (SRI) assets have grown by 40 percent annually since 2016 and now comprise one-fourth of all managed assets in the United States. Another survey shows that millennials — those presently in the range of 24 to 39 years of age — are the adult demographic most committed to SRI, more so than Generation Xers or baby boomers. It seems the younger the generation, the more they embrace it.

Values-based mutual funds are not created equal, however. They go under an array of names and packages, and they vary widely to appeal to particular types of investors. Some portfolios favor “clean technology” or environmentally friendly corporations, for example, while others prioritize companies that stress racial, gender, or LGBT diversity. Other might steer clear of tobacco or alcohol products or particular political agendas.

Some brokers offer portfolios designed to suit Islamic or Jewish investors, and there is a broader SRI subcategory often called “biblically responsible investing” that aims to satisfy scriptural principles.

Then there are asset management firms offering investment opportunities based on Catholic values. Even these differ from portfolio to portfolio. Inevitably, fund managers may emphasize some identified Catholic values ahead of others, and not necessarily in order of moral gravity. One fund might focus entirely on life and bioethical issues, for example, while another might lean more heavily toward social justice concerns.

Why Catholics should care

In 2003, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved guidelines on socially responsible stewardship. Although meant to govern the USCCB’s own investments and not binding on any other Catholic institutions or individuals, the document exemplifies the kinds of Catholic moral and social principles that should inform investment decisions.

“Those principles are a good starting point, but we also understand the bishops’ conference will hold themselves to a higher standard,” said Father Jason Tyler, bioethicist for the Diocese of Little Rock. “They want to provide a good example.”

The USCCB guidelines read a bit like a Hippocratic Oath for investors: first, do no harm by refusing to invest in companies whose products or policies run directly counter to Catholic moral teaching; use shareholder influence to improve corporate policy where possible; and support companies that are proactive in moral causes and attentive to the common good.

The bishops’ policy thus forbids the USCCB to invest in companies involved in abortion, contraceptives, or human cloning, and also to examine their commitment to human rights, economic justice, labor standards, arms production, and environmental concerns.

At the same time, the policy admits the possibility of “mixed investments” in companies with some morally or socially problematic practices. In such instances the bishops urge the prudent application of moral and ethical criteria to avoid scandal and determine whether divestment is necessary.

Applying prudence

Ave Maria Mutual Funds and the Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors each use “moral screens” to weed out companies that violate the Catholic principles that define their investment criteria.

Ave Maria uses what they call “morally responsible investing” (MRI) by screening out companies that support abortion, pornography, and embryonic stem cell research. Their Catholic Advisory Board governs the policy and meets regularly to review the funds’ religious standards and criteria.

“Abortion is the big one – no abortifacient drug makers, no hospital companies that perform abortions, and no insurance companies that pay for abortions,” Schwartz said. “Also, any company that contributes to Planned Parenthood is out…. We have zero tolerance with respect to companies that are offenders of our criteria.”

Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors handle their managed investments as well as the fraternal order’s own assets using moral screens in accordance with the USCCB’s policies, according to their website.

Consequently, their mutual funds demonstrate zero tolerance on key moral concerns such as abortion and the production of anti-personnel mines, and tolerate limited mixed investments in certain other areas.

“Our job as investment professionals is to translate the common-sense standard into actionable guidelines,” Minopoli said.

Yes, but does morality make money?

When values-based investing became a thing a couple decades ago, often there were worries that investing morally would limit profit margins significantly. Not any more, however.

“While it used to be assumed that excluding investments in any group of securities would harm an investor’s ability to perform, there is now a growing sense that avoiding bad corporate actors has the ability to reduce risk because you avoid the volatility,” Minopoli explained. “It may even be helpful to the overall returns of a diversified portfolio as ethical companies may be more likely to make sound decisions and focus on long-term growth.”

Schwartz of Ave Maria agreed that values and solid returns are not incompatible.

“Our goal is to provide good returns without compromising moral values,” he said. “We place emphasis on producing good investment performance in a morally responsible way. Investors should not have to sacrifice financial performance potential because of their prolife and pro-family beliefs.”

Don’t go it alone

Although some Catholics might prefer to plan their own investment strategies and cobble together an eclectic portfolio, it’s a daunting task perhaps best left to the professionals, the experts said.

“While it is admirable that an individual would attempt to invest in a morally responsible way on their own, research resources and time commitment makes it difficult,” said Schwartz.

Minopoli concurred with that judgment. “It can be both time-consuming to read through all the available financial statements and disclosures, and challenging to receive honest and transparent information from corporate investor relations professionals,” he advised. And then there’s the matter of monitoring the new products and services companies introduced and studying the effects of corporate mergers and acquisitions.

“So if an investor’s portfolio is larger than a few well-known names, we recommend that Catholic investors outsource this task to finance professionals who are informed by moral theologians,” he said.

The trend toward morally responsible investing is filled with positives, as Catholic investors become more aware of a critical way in which they can live out their faith and asset managers develop and sustain mutual funds specifically curated to meet those needs — a win-win situation for all.

“These are exciting times in the investment business,” Minopoli said. “We’re optimistic that moral investing offers Catholics the opportunity to pursue profits without sacrificing our integrity.”

NOTE: Legatus was excited to announce the Legatus Donor Advised Fund (DAF) at January’s Summit East. The Legatus DAF is powered by the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund and offers investment opportunities with Knights of Columbus funds or Ave Maria Mutual Funds. Visit Legatus.org/DAF for more information. 

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine editorial consultant.

 

Investing for health of soul

“An appropriate starting point for developing an authentically Catholic investment ethic may be to focus on how to avoid evil when making investment choices,” according to Samuel Gregg, research director for the Acton Institute.

Most corporations, he noted, are likely to be associated in some way—however remote—with activities or policies that conflict with right reason. The best analysis, he suggests, regards not which company does the least harm, but whether the investment would amount to a formal or material cooperation in evil.

Formal cooperation in the evil act of another entity is always immoral. “This occurs when the person cooperating intends to help the other do what is wrong,” Gregg said. “Anyone who directs, encourages, approves, commands, or actively defends another’s immoral act formally cooperates in that immoral act.”

Material cooperation involves facilitating an evil act by another entity without intending the evil ourselves. We might foresee the connection between the investment and the objectionable act and therefore bear some responsibility, but we must weigh whether the good we accomplish justifies the evil effect, he explained. The material cooperation might be tolerable if it is very limited and remote — for example, if an otherwise morally solid mutual fund makes a small investment in a corporation that has a subsidiary that engages in some objectionable practice or product.

Additional moral considerations include the possibility of giving scandal to others, or whether even remote material cooperation might become a kind of slippery slope leading in time to rationalizing a closer or even formal cooperation with evil. All things considered, it’s best to do all one can to avoid morally problematic investment links entirely while still supporting morally good options.

“Though this formal/material distinction may sound complicated, it does help us to assess the correct moral choice when faced with different investments,” Gregg said.

When it comes to investments, “Catholics should remember that the maxim ‘Let the buyer beware’ involves more than just protecting ourselves against fraud,” he concluded. “It also concerns the moral health of our souls.”

Does “woke” capitalism induce “Catholic socialism?”

Some believers have been blindsided by the rise of “woke” capitalism. Tempted to see a conspiracy of elites, they look to the resurgent anti-market, big-government “right.” That’s a mistake. When CEOs jump on the latest “social justice” bandwagon, they’re not responding to secret memos from globalist bigwigs but engaging in one of the oldest practices of business owners: trying to appeal to customers by echoing their values. During the Middle Ages, guilds of candlemakers or brewers would sponsor religious plays to entertain their religious customers. They appealed to dominant values very different from the opinion makers of today, but the strategy is similar. They want to swim with the tide.

For too long the vaunted voices of “moral concern” in society and the churches have treated business as a necessary evil. Even some conservative religious leaders now cringing at the rejection of traditional Christian mores have treated business and the economy as some lesser realm where humane values are absent. Many business owners insist that they too care about promoting human well-being beyond the bottom line. Without a solid integration of their morality and their enterprise, they’re not listening to churchmen or believers about how to do that. Instead, they’re heeding secular activists promoting another gospel. Other corporate leaders listen to the squeakiest wheels trying desperately to avoid bad publicity. An effective executive often needs to make courageous, contrarian, countercultural decisions, not merely give in to the loudest bully.

Beyond the lack of moral formation or corporate cowardice is a deeper issue. The anti-religious, anti-family ethic of “woke” activists undermines the basic social structures of any free society. Liberty is fragile. It rests upon citizens schooled in self-restraint. Convince people to “follow their bliss” rejecting any ethic beyond “self-actualization,” and you get broken families and communities with massive government programs serving as Band-Aids on gaping wounds. Freedom is not merely the absence of restraint. True freedom is self-command, practiced virtue in pursuit of some higher goal. Abandon that, and you’re ruled by the iron law of addiction, or the heavy hand of a government desperate to impose order at any cost.

The “woke” have abandoned freedom. First calling for mere “tolerance,” they now target Christian businesses and schools with civil and criminal actions, using state coercion to demand submission. In past centuries the churches used state power intolerantly, forgetting that forced virtue is no virtue at all. That abuse faded long ago. Citing it today is no argument for empowering a new theocracy with a different creed. In the French Revolution, violent mobs attacked peaceful convents of nuns using the Inquisition as pretext for fresh massacres. We know where such “payback” leads.

Let’s break this cycle of vengeance. A free society offers plenty of space for peaceful coexistence: the competition of free markets guarantees it. Believers must build up a moral capitalism, one grounded in tolerance and candor. We will still demand the right to speak crucial and unpopular truths, but we must always do so in light of the God-given dignity of each human being. That includes those we consider profoundly mistaken. Call it “loving your enemy.”

True love entails wanting the best for everyone, and that includes their knowing the truth. Churchmen, more than most, need the free institutions of a liberal society. It’s there that churches build culture, train sinners in virtue, and help the needy. There is no deterministic “logic of capitalism.” It simply gives people what they want. The job of teaching what to want, how to use it, and where sane limits lie falls to us as free citizens. It’s our job to speak the truth that sets people free.

FR. ROBERT A. SIRICO is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute and pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and Academy, both in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues

Leila Miller with Trent Horn
Catholic Answers Press, 249 pages

 

With all the moral confusion that today’s secularized culture throws at us, how do we help our children and teens recognize the truth? Here’s a book that shows how you can break down into simple-enough language the guiding principles that underlie Catholic moral teaching on issues such as contraception, abortion, divorce, pornography, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, reproductive technologies, and transgender identity. Drawing from their own experiences as parents and professionals, the authors provide answer many of the objections we often hear so as to enable us to equip our children with the deal with some of the “hard questions” they must face.

Order: Amazon

Quandary of Teaching Truth

A lie is ‘saying the false in order to deceive,’ according to St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s become a modern-day life-art. Catholics are being cajoled into accepting the notion that ‘niceness’ and tolerance mandate silence or mitigating what they know as simple Catholic Truth. It’s a great acid test, and many of us get cut off at the pass in the guillotine of guile. It’s infected our workplaces, political banter, even many Catholic schools and parish programs. A few priests in our area who still preach unblemished truth are shunned, reported, and denied certain priestly assignments. What a cross they carry, but for love of Christ and His flock. But when these ‘unpopular’ padres say Mass, the Church is packed. That says something indeed.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

When we know the truth about Catholic teaching, we have a duty to proclaim it. But often when we do – as parents, teachers, writers, speakers, neighbors, even to families – we get a walk down a thorn-thicketed garden path. The ‘feelings police,’ and many running school and parish programs, will demand we retract ‘harshness’ and serve it afresh with ‘support’ of others and nice-guy compromise. Revisionist Catholicism has become the new golden calf.

About 10 years ago, I thought my mid-life calling might be to detox from communications deadlines and corporate crisis strategy and teach high school. My own kids were teenagers, and I applied to teach religion and English at an all-boys Catholic prep school. So when they hired me for the term as a substitute teacher, I was jazzed. It had to be right.

In a junior morality class, I was to teach formation of conscience. But as I studied the instructor materials, it was really the ol’ ‘I’m okay-you’re-okay’ values-clarification game. Nah. I decided to skip the facade, and tell them the truth on the moral situations we were to discuss. It was a critical time in their lives to be aware of – and hopefully embrace – Catholic truth. The stakes were already high.

The pivotal subject on a balmy Monday? Dating and marriage. Nice appetizer before lunch.

Suddenly, I had their rapt attention. These rammy 17-year-old guys, a week before their junior prom, all stared at me in shock as I explained church teaching on courtship and purpose of marriage, and what healthy dating should resemble. And the ringer – serious sin. I rained on their spring parade, but they didn’t move – they were engrossed. Arms shot up, with question after question. The discussion got loud and boisterous. They couldn’t get enough of what they’d somehow missed, when the Church had decided all these things, what Christ had to say … all of it.

“I never heard any of this stuff,” one bulky baseball player admitted. “Wow.” He had some thinking to do. When the bell rang, they still didn’t move.

On his way out into the hallway, another guy said, “This was amazing. I hope you get to teach here for good.”

But I didn’t. It was too much for the department head to take, such veritable Catholic talk. But it made a great difference, in just a short time.

 CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

Catholics don’t use ‘religion’ to discriminate – but natural law

Because the natural law is accessible to everyone through the power of reason, it tells each one of us what ought to be done or what should not be done. It does so in an absolute sense – no matter what, whether we like it or not, whether we feel it or not, whether others enforce it or not. In short, moral rights and moral duties are not just beliefs, but are objective truths rooted in a moral order.

Moral rights and moral duties are by their very nature not only absolute but also universal; if they were not, one could not claim that human rights are applicable to all humanity, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, or political affiliation. Societies and governments that violate the natural law with their legal laws cannot last long because they go against the moral order. Just as we cannot violate the physical order – the physical law of gravity, for instance – without getting hurt, we cannot violate the moral order of the natural law – the moral law of respect for human life, for instance – without hurting ourselves and society

When Catholic doctors use religious reasons of conscience for not providing an abortion, or Catholic pharmacists use religious reasons of conscience for not providing certain pills, their actions are not a matter of “imposing beliefs” on others, but of following the natural law that we all have in common through the power of reason. So we are not dealing here with an exemption of the civil law based on beliefs, but rather with a universal moral right based on the natural law. This is not a matter of their having freedom to do what certain religious individuals or institutions want, based on personal opinions and beliefs, but instead a freedom to do what they must do, in accordance with the natural law. What secularists ask them to give up is not their personal beliefs but their fundamental rights.

…Can religion be an excuse for discrimination? The answer is yes and no. On the one hand, the answer is yes, depending on what discrimination means. If it just means “making a distinction,” then those who say Catholics discriminate are themselves discriminating against Catholics as well. But if discrimination is seen as something morally good or bad, then we need to face the fact that Catholics have valid reasons to discriminate, for their reasons are based on the natural law that we all share – Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

On the other hand the answer can also be no. Once we reduce religion to mere set of beliefs and opinions, untested by reason, anything can go under that banner – even white-supremacist beliefs that qualify as “religion.”

Excerpt by Gerard M, Verschuuren, Ph.D., from his latest book Forty Anti-Catholic Lies: A Myth-Busting Apologist Sets the Record Straight (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2018), from Chapter 39, “Catholics Use Religion to Discriminate,” pp. 315-322.

GERARD M. VERSCHUUREN is a human biologist, specialized in human genetics. He also holds a Ph.D. in philosophy of science, and is a renowned writer, speaker, and consultant on the interface of science and religion, faith, and reason. He has written over 10 books. Learn more at www.where-do-we-come-from.com.