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Mass appeal? S&P launches 'Catholic Values' index

S&P Dow Jones Indices have launched the first "Catholic" index on a major stock benchmark. But it could run into trouble with current Pope; while it excludes investing in areas such as weaponry, it runs afoul of Pope Francis' recent warnings on climate change by including energy firms.

The S&P 500 Catholic Values Index is based in the S&P 500, with all index constituents' members of the S&P 500 which are then screened for their suitability based on guidelines provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

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Vincenzo Pinto | AFP | Getty Images

As well as exclusion to arms dealing and general military-related products and sales, the index also excludes activity relating to abortion, contraception, adult entertainment, and the employment of child labor.

Nonetheless, some of the largest American Catholic groups have millions of dollars of exposure to energy and fossil fuel companies, which help fund church operations, according to Reuters.

But this is apparently at odds with what Pope Francis urged earlier this year. In an encyclic, or circular letter sent to all Catholic bishops, at the end of June he said immediate action was necessary to tackle climate change.

Controversially, the Pope added that destroying the natural world for benefit is a "sin" against God and future generations.

Top 10 stocks in the S&P Catholic Values Index by index weight
S&P Dow Jones Indices
Top 10 stocks in the S&P Catholic Values Index by index weight

The Archdiocese of Chicago, America's third largest by Catholic population told Reuters earlier this month it may look to re-examine its large exposure to fossil fuel investments.

"Sustainable issues represent one of the most important cost and revenue drivers in the modern corporate world,"Julia Kochetygova, head of sustainability indices at S&P Dow Jones Indices said in a statement.

"By selecting stocks that comply with the US CCB, the S&P 500 Catholic Values Index aims to include companies with resilient business profiles by addressing the ethical challenges that can make a stronger investment case."

Included in the top-weighted stocks in the index is the world's largest publically traded oil and gas company, Exxon Mobil. Energy makes up around 7 percent of the group's Catholic index, which adheres to the USCCB guidelines.

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One of the leading Catholic funds is the Oblate International Pastoral Investment Trust, a professionally managed investment fund which invests on behalf of more than 200 Roman Catholic organizations around the world.

Father Seamus Finn, chief of faith consistent investing at OIP Investment Trust said he welcomed the creation of the index and supported its "specific selection rules".

"It is important that investors now have a representative measure of the performance of those S&P 500 companies that adhere to the Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines as outlined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops," Finn said in a statement.