Observations on The USCCB’s Updated Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines

By now, most everyone’s aware the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – the USCCB – approved new investment Guidelines at its 2021 General Assembly. The updates, extensive by our account, were overwhelmingly approved by the full body of U.S. Bishops. 

Here’s a big point: This is the first update to the USCCB guidance in 18 years. 

We know the Guidelines help inform investment decisions of a countless number of Catholic religious communities, dioceses, colleges, church organizations, and individual investors around the U.S. 

It’s worth remembering that they don’t have to. 

The Guidelines are, in fact, intended for the USCCB itself– its operations, its funds, its monies. The Conference is not a regulatory agency. Even if a bishop voted for the Guidelines at the plenary session, he could still do something different in his own diocese. Catholic investors choose to align their investments with the Guidelines at their own discretion.

Key Takeaways from the 2021 Guidance

While the CBIS investment team is still analyzing the new guidance, we can already suggest there are FOUR notable attributes to highlight in the update. 

  1. The guidance was developed through a very thoughtful process

The new Guidelines were drafted by the USCCB staff under the leadership of a Bishops’ Working Group, chaired by the USCCB Treasurer, Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. 

The working group’s efforts began with a survey of all U.S. Bishops and included meetings with external subject matter experts as well as ESG research providers. The final document was sent out to every Bishop in the United States well in advance of the Conference. Any bishop could offer a modification he wanted to see individually. A good number did.

  1. The Guidelines emphasize a holistic policy approach 

The new Guidelines incorporate teachings of both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis and they intricately connect five major categories of USCCB policies:

  • Protecting Human Life, 
  • Promoting Human Dignity, 
  • Enhancing The Common Good,
  • Pursuing Economic Justice, and
  • Saving Our Global Common Home. 
  1. The USCCB will periodically review the Guideline’s relevance 

In carrying out its investment strategies, the USCCB will now review the Guideline’s relevance every three years. We think this is a huge breakthrough. Remember, the last time the Guidelines were reviewed was 18 years ago. A regular review will keep the guidance fresh and relevant. 

The Bishops are still figuring out exactly what the review will look like – when it will happen, how it will be done, and so on. 

  1. The updated Guidelines reaffirm and expand prior investment strategies 

The final attribute to note is that the Guidelines reaffirm and expand a number of existing investment strategies. The USCCB investment strategies to avoid doing harm as well as to actively work for change as an investor were both reaffirmed and significantly extended. 

The Guidelines also again require a refusal to invest in companies whose products and/or policies are counter to the values of Catholic moral teachings or statements by the Conference itself. This guidance includes any decisions not to invest in the first place, as well as divesting. Likewise, the Guidelines again require the use of the Conference’s position as shareholder and part owner to engage companies through dialogue with management, voting at corporate meetings, and supportive resolution. 

What happens next?

CBIS will continue to comprehensively analyze the robust list of specific policies the USCCB has articulated.