Hopefully most of us properly understand the principles of Christian stewardship in sharing of our time, talent, and treasure in the service of God, others, and the building up of the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. We spend our time doing good works within our parish and our communities. We use our talents to promote the Good News of the gospel message to others.
We use the money that God has blessed us with by tithing to our parishes, dioceses, and other charities that speak to our hearts. However, there are other ways to be good stewards with our treasure that might be less obvious. Today, we’ll examine how Catholics are called to invest their money in ways that adhere to the Catholic faith.
In 2003, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a document called Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines. It primarily served as a guide for how the USCCB and other institutions in the Church should properly invest their money, and in 2020, they published another document explaining how these guidelines actually apply to all Catholics on an individual basis. The Guidelines were later updated in 2021, not so much to make significant changes to the guidelines, but to add extra enhancements based on additional teachings from Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Let’s take a closer look at these guidelines to inform how we should be thinking about our Catholic faith while investing our money.
The USCCB stated, “economic decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, advance or diminish the quality of justice in our land,” (Economic Justice for All, Introduction, no. 1). Essentially, this means that we are called to moral, ethical, and socially responsible investing according to the teaching of the Catholic Church. Applying Catholic values when investing our money provides an opportunity to directly influence society with our Catholic faith. The USCCB identified five major moral categories we should use when choosing companies and entities in which to invest – those that protect life, promote human dignity, act justly, enhance the common good, and provide care for the environment. Therefore, when we are making decisions about how to invest our money, we must examine each entity under each of these five categories through the lens of Catholic moral teaching and ask ourselves if they fit the necessary criteria. If not, we are using our own personal money to build up companies that promote things contrary to our faith. If they do fit the criteria, then we are using our money to positively build up God’s kingdom.
In its 2020 notes on individual personal investing, the USCCB identified a two-pronged approach to examine our investment choices which they call “negative and positive screens.” Negative norms specify evil acts which you should simply not do, such as, “You shall not have other gods beside me,” or “You shall not steal.” Positive norms are defined as pursuing good, such as, “love your neighbor as yourself.” So, in essence, when we are looking to invest our money, not only do we need to avoid companies that promote activities contrary to our faith, but we also need to look at companies that promote moral goods according to our faith. Let’s look at some specific examples of how this works.
The first in the five moral categories is to protect life. The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception and that abortion, for any reason, is an inherent evil, as it is the destruction of that innocent life. Under the negative screen, we are to avoid investing in entities that promote or fund abortion, as it means we are putting our own money into things that are in direct conflict with the Church’s teaching on life. Similarly, we ought to avoid investing in companies that engage in activities such as creating and destroying embryos in labs for any reason, including scientific research, as it is contrary to God’s natural law regarding procreation and respect for life. In a document entitled Donum vitae, the Church states, “To use human embryos or fetuses as the object or instrument of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings having a right to the same respect that is due to the child already born and to every human person.” In response, the USCCB says, in the context of morally responsible investing, “Hence a company seeking to develop vaccines or therapies through the destruction of human life in its earliest and most vulnerable states is engaged in a morally evil practice no matter how noble the therapeutic aims might be. We cannot do evil in the pursuit of good.” Then, looking at the same category under the positive screen, we must seek to invest in entities that promote the protection of life from conception to natural death. Does the company support life, create medicines or equipment that serve to protect children in utero, or promote adoption?
Looking at the second moral category, promoting human dignity, we can use the same negative and positive screens. From the negative screen, we ought to seek to avoid companies that produce and promote pornography, which is essentially a humiliation of the dignity of the human person and often amounts to using one person for another’s pleasure or even sex-trafficking. Through the positive screen, we ought to seek to invest in media companies that produce content that edifies the human person and elevates their dignity to that with which it was made, in the image and likeness of God.
These are just a couple of the endless examples of how we can use our money to avoid evil and promote good. You can also see how, when we do choose to invest our money in morally and socially responsible ways, we can truly effect change within our much-damaged society. Imagine if every Catholic took their money out of morally questionable investments and put them into companies backed by solid Christian principles. The world would change!
Now, there is a certain element to this that can seem daunting. Very few of us are financial investment experts. Similarly, to scrutinize every company in one’s own financial portfolio with a fine-toothed comb would be nearly impossible for the average person. So, I would like to offer some resources to help assure you that your money will be invested in places that you can trust. There are many Catholic-run investment firms and funds, such as Ave Maria Mutual Funds, that do all the research for you, ensuring that your money is only invested in morally and socially responsible companies, according to Church teaching, while also focusing on helping you to build your own individual wealth. Another firm is the Knights of Columbus Asset Advisors, which also seeks to invest money in organizations that are edifying to the human person and pursuing the common good. In addition to strictly Catholic investment companies, there are many secular financial advisors and investment firms that are trustworthy and will listen to your concerns and desires for your investment portfolio. Be open about how you want to invest your money and allow the experts to provide you with helpful guidance in areas that can be difficult to navigate. If you currently have investments, consider making a few small changes in order to support companies with foundations in Christian values. If you do not have extra money for investing, consider making a goal to set aside a small amount for a fund at Ave Maria Mutual Funds or a similar investment company to help Catholic-focused businesses grow. You can also simply make it a point to shop, whenever possible, at businesses that share your values.