Vow of Poverty means challenging Goldman Sachs

Blog Published: April 5, 2011
By Sister Julie

Here at A Nun’s Life Ministry, we’re often asked about what the vow of poverty is and how it is lived both personally and as a congregation. While a significant aspect of the vow is that we hold all things in common and don’t personally own anything, there are other dimensions too. The recent news story about nuns challenging Goldman Sachs over pay, for example, highlights in bold relief the justice nature of the vow of poverty.

According to The Guardian, four orders of Catholic sisters, investors in Goldman Sachs, have requested a review of the bank’s remuneration policies. The orders are the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Boston, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia (who also recently questioned McDonald’s about its responsibility for child nutrition), and the Benedictine Sisters of Mount Angel.

As shareholders, the nuns requested a report that would include:

“1. An evaluation of whether our senior executive compensation packages (including, but not limited to, options, benefits, perks, loans and retirement agreements) are ‘excessive’ and should be modified.

2. An exploration of how sizeable layoffs and the level of pay of our lowest paid workers impact senior executive pay.

3. An analysis of the way in which fluctuations in revenues impact: a) the company’s compensation pool; b) the compensation of the company’s top 25 senior executives; and c) the company’s shareholders.”

So what does this all have to do with vowing lifelong poverty in a religious community? In this case, the vow of poverty compels us to call into call into question — responsibly, as the sisters have done — business practices that are unjust. We, like others who choose to live the Gospel, are committed to the just distribution of goods, to caring for those who are economically disadvantaged, and to changing structures that perpetuate the disparity of rich v. poor. (This of course takes us into yet another dimension of the vow of poverty and that is living simply and care of God’s earth … but that’s for another blog post).

I am encouraged and challenged by the sisters for taking a stand and calling the company to accountability — not with unkindness or rashness — but with a genuine sense of care and respect both for the company and for those who work for the company. This civil discourse is notable, especially when various reporters sensationalize the story by using uncivil language such as “a pack of angry nuns” … trash-talking indeed. The sisters call us to expand how we understand stewardship to not just how we handle our own money but how we as a human community care for one another.

What are your thoughts on this story? What questions and thoughts does it raise in you?

Archived Comments

Marsha West April 5, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I would not have seen this connection between poverty and social justice without reading this blog entry, Sisters! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! And once again – it’s the nuns who are living the gospel in the world today!! Go, women in the church!

Sister Julie April 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I’ve had the vows a lot on my mind since we started talking about them in the last few podcasts … well of course the vows are always on my mind! 

Joyce Durosko IHM April 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Great insight and again ‘all is connected’. And thanks to the gutsy women religious who with Gospel sensitivity risk ridicule from the ‘powerful’. I really like expanding our personal and community “poverty” to global poverty. My deliberate simple choices do have a global impact. Thanks Julie and well expressed.

claire April 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm

With you, I am really proud of the sisters’ stand, a stand that is truly needed by all those who love the Catholic Social Teaching. While I regret they have to go through a firm like Goldman Sachs for their investments, their social conscience will surely be a guiding light to some…

Sister Susan Francois, CSJP April 5, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Two of the communities – the Benedictine Sisters of Mt Angel Oregon and the Sisters of St Francis of Philadelphia, are part of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (a program of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center where I minister).

Marsha West April 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm

The sad thing is that their request is being ignored by Goldman. Here is their response. “Shareholders already have access to the information necessary to understand and assess the compensation decisions made with respect to our senior executives, and the firm as a whole. Our board believes that the preparation of the requested report would be a distraction to our compensation committee and our board, would entail an unjustified cost to our firm and would not provide shareholders with any meaningful information.” Wonder what it would take to change their minds . . . ???

David April 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm

This is a great opportunity to address the responsibilities of Christians when they fund (invest in) a corporation. The whole point of a publicly traded company is that the shareholders (the public) have a responsibility to hold management accountable for their actions, unfortunately many shareholders see pushing for larger profits as their only responsibility.

I wonder: How much GS stock are the sisters controlling? What percentage of GS stock is owned by Catholics? Did the sisters become shareholders specifically so that they would have standing to make this request? Are they ready to take their money elsewhere? Could more orders and lay people be organized to take their approach to a higher level of magnitude?

Redbud April 5, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Anyone with investments in Goldman Sachs can write to the firm. We can flood them with emails about this. I think the nuns did all of us a good service.

Leslie April 5, 2011 at 10:36 pm

It is absolutely appropriate, in fact necessary, for those committed to the Gospel to call for an accounting of industry economics, especially remuneration of workers across the spectrum of management and labor. Bravo Sisters for insisting on corporate transparency. Blessings!

marla April 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Goldman Sachs’ response to the nuns is typical of huge corporations who really only care about their own bottom line, shareholders be damned. I hope challenges are made to their stand on this issue and they are not allowed to get away with their cursory dismissal of the nuns’ requests.

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