Which church is making a buck on Google, oil and pharma?

Jessica Hartogs, Special to CNBC.com
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The Church of England, the centuries-old U.K. protestant church, has been investing millions of pounds into Google despite the controversy surrounding reports that the tech multinational avoids paying tax.

Alphabet Inc., Google's parent company – is listed in the church's annual Top 20 Most Valuable Equity Holdings. Google was accused earlier this year of tax avoidance in the U.K.

The Church of England, one of the largest charitable givers in the U.K., had previously stated that it would confront companies that are accused of tax avoidance, reported U.K. newspaper The Times. In 2011, the church's investment in Google was £15.7 million ($22.5 million), according to The Times.

The church also invests in pharmaceuticals such as AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as oil giant BP, according to its annual report – interestingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury was an oilman in his previous life before turning to religion.

The Church of England released its annual report Monday, which showed that its total return on investments in 2015 was 8.2 percent, exceeding their long-term target rate by 2 percent.

After taking account of expenditure, the fund grew from £2.4 billion at the start of 1995 to £7 billion at the end of 2015.

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However, the Church of England states in its annual report that due to the economic downturn, it has decided to offload a large portion of its real estate stock.

"Caution has been our watchword for some time," writes Andreas Whittam Smith, the First Church Estates Commissioner, in a statement accompanying the report .

"Some £102m was realized from our commercial property portfolio, including the sale of an office block in Kingsway, London for £40m. The Commissioners also reduced their large holdings of rural let land by £30m. With these sales and others our property portfolios generated more than £300m in capital receipts during the year, taking total sales since January 2014 to more than £800m."

Whittam Smith warns that the Church of England may have a hard time in years to come to keep up with its stellar performance. This will be largely due to interest rates hovering around zero, he adds, making investors nervous with "the feeling that governments have lost the power to reverse any slowdown in economic activity."

"In other words, the risk is that economic activity slows down across the world and remains stuck at a low level," states Whittam Smith.

CNBC was waiting for comment from the Church of England at time of publication.

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