How U.S. churches are leasing drilling rights despite Pope Francis’s climate call – by Richard Valdmanis (Reuters/National Post – September 23, 2015)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

BOSTON — Casting the fight against climate change as an urgent moral duty, Pope Francis in June urged the world to phase out highly-polluting fossil fuels.

Yet in the heart of U.S. oil country several dioceses and other Catholic institutions are leasing out drilling rights to oil and gas companies to bolster their finances, Reuters has found.

And in one archdiocese — Oklahoma City — Church officials have signed three new oil and gas leases since Francis’s missive on the environment, leasing documents show.

On Francis’ first visit to the United States this week, the business dealings suggest that some leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church are practicing a different approach to the environment than the pontiff is preaching.

Catholic institutions are not forbidden from dealing with or investing in the energy industry. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) guidelines on ethical investing warn Catholics and Catholic institutions against investing in companies related to abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco, and war, but do not suggest avoiding energy stocks, and do not address the ownership of energy production interests.

A Reuters review of county documents found 235 oil and gas leasing deals signed by Catholic Church authorities in Texas and Oklahoma with energy and land firms since 2010, covering 56 counties across the two states. None of the Texas leases in the review were signed after the pope’s encyclical.

Those two states have been at the forefront of a boom in U.S. energy production in recent years, often through the controversial hydraulic fracturing production method, known as fracking.

It was not clear whether production on the Church leases was through fracking – a process that involves injecting sand, water and chemicals underground to crack open rock formations — or more conventional drilling methods.

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