Women Religious as shareholders and proxy governance of corporations

Now this is interesting.

From the nice people at Acton Institute comes this fascinating piece of the puzzle that I hadn’t ever considered but, now that I know about it, it makes so much sense.

Nuns vs. Managers in the Proxy Wars

posted by JOE CARTER on

For many nuns in the U.S. April is a busy month. Not only do they have the liturgical season of Easter but they have the proxy season of corporate governance.  [“April is a cruel month…”]

The proxy season is the time when many companies hold their annual shareholder meetings. During these meeting any shareholders who own more than $2,000 in stock or 1% of the company can recommend the company take a specific course of action or institute a policy change for the betterment of the company. As the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy reports, Catholic orders are among the most active of these shareholder activists.

As far as activism goes, shareholder activism is rather inert. To date shareholders have introduced only 1.43 proposals per company in the Fortune 200. The most active religious organization, the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, submitted a total of 21.


Since managers work for the shareholders, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with investors in a corporation trying to encourage specific policies or levels of disclosure. If the management of Starbucks can decide what social causes they choose to support, why shouldn’t the people who actually own the company have a similar say?

The Sisters of Mercy should have the right to pressure the managers (who work for them) to do what they want, which is “actively promote changes in corporate practices to achieve social and economic justice, a sustainable Earth and the common good.” In order to get their way they have to convince other shareholders to go along with them—and so far they haven’t been all that successful. (Not surprisingly, the Sisters aren’t interested so much in advancing a Catholic position as they are principles that could be accepted by any secular liberal. That is why “availability of arms” concerns them but a company’s support of abortion would not.)

The only concern I have which such activism—particularly by religious groups—is when they are less than forthright about their motives. If you want Lockheed-Martin to beat their F-16s into plowshares, …

As far as I can tell, though, the Sisters of Mercy are effectively walking that line. They may be “shareholder activists” but they aren’t too radical. For example, while they want Halliburton to “review its policies related to human rights” they are also happy to keep owning shares in the company. The conscience of these nuns may be liberal but when it comes to investing, they’re rather conservative.

I think it would be fascinating to see what corporate stocks are held by the community of Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, or of Sr. Carol Keehan, DC.

Read the whole piece over there.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Rich says:

    “April is the cruelEST month.” [Sorry, the geeked-out Engligh major in me just had to…]

  2. James Joseph says:

    Fr. please forgive me for being short… but isn’t owning stock on the open market a sin that cries to Heaven in that it is usury…. [I don’t believe so.] I am just saying, I avoid keeping a 401K or any other retirement plan just for this reason. I figure the Blessed Virgin will be good to me and let me work until I drop.

  3. jcr says:

    Opposition to abortion is not a specifically Catholic position. It does not require any supernatural faith, just a bit of dispassionate common sense.

  4. Philangelus says:

    Oooh, now I want to write a story about a group of nuns that quietly buys up shares in a nasty world-wide corporation and then forces them to give their employees a living wage and decent benefits. :-)

  5. acricketchirps says:

    I can’t even see what owning shares in a company has in common with usury. Owning bonds, maybe.

  6. Southern Catholic says:

    Why would owning stock be considered usury? Usury by definition is making loans with excessive and abusive interest rates. Owning a stock isn’t a loan, and most states and countries have laws that limit the interest rates.

  7. Sissy says:

    “but isn’t owning stock on the open market a sin that cries to Heaven in that it is usury”

    I always thought that Jesus’s parable of the talents would argue against this position.

  8. Michelle F says:

    Nuns own stock in Halliburton? Holy Cow!!!

    To chime in on the usury question:

    1. Owning stock probably doesn’t qualify as usury, but owning bonds might.

    2. Usury IS NOT charging “excessive” interest, but the charging of ANY interest at all.

    Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) wrote a short encyclical on the subject. The title is “Vix Pervenit” (“On Usury and Other Dishonest Profit”), and it is available in English on Papal Encyclicals Online, here:


  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The entire early Irish clan economic system consisted of the land owned by the clan, the stockholders (people who owned cows – the nobles were those who owned lots of cows), sharecroppers (people who raised cows for cow owners), and folks living off the stockholders’ trade or in their households. Oh, and cows, which were basically money on the hoof.

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