By Claire Giangrave
VATICAN CITY — Big oil companies in the United States and Europe were forced to come to terms with their role in climate change last month after shareholders, including large mutual funds and private equity firms, pressured the companies to shift their long-criticized environmental policies.
The shareholder rebellions at Chevron and Exxon made front-page news; what has been less reported is how Catholic groups, from the Vatican to orders of nuns to Catholic youth organizations, played a key role in holding Big Oil accountable, influenced by Pope Francis' advocacy for justice and the environment.
On May 26, environmental activists teamed up with institutional investors to push two sympathetic members onto Exxon's board. The same day, Chevron's shareholders passed a measure requiring the company to work to track and reduce emissions by its customers. Chevron, the second-largest oil company in the U.S., had already promised to reduce CO2 emissions by 35% in extraction, refinement and distribution.