The NYT DealBook had a recent story about the Vatican’s new initiative with an international group of private sector, governmental and NGO leaders. Called “The Council for Inclusive Capitalism,” the group was formed in response to Pope Francis’s challenge to “build inclusive and sustainable economies and societies.” The DealBook article notes that the group’s members represent $2.1 trillion in market cap and 200 million employees, and that, with the Pope’s blessing, they’ve made pledges toward achieving “environmental and sustainable-business goals that fit into the E.S.G. movement.”
I’m pretty cynical about this kind of thing, and I’d ordinarily conclude that an initiative like this would likely involve more spin than substance. But my money’s on the Pope here, if only because I’m not sure that these folks fully realize with whom they’re dealing. You see, Pope Francis is a member of the Society of Jesus — better known as the Jesuits — and I’m very familiar with the capabilities of that particular organization.
I spent nearly a decade as a student at a Jesuit high school and a Jesuit college. Over the ensuing years, I’ve been very impressed at how adept these guys are at extracting financial & other commitments from a wide variety of sources in support of their projects. You don’t have to take my word for it – just ask the family who owns everybody’s favorite supermarket about my own high school’s powers of persuasion.
Over the past 500 years, the Jesuits have educated everybody from Rene Descartes to Stephen Colbert. As a result, they’ve become highly skilled at cozying up to the upper crust in order to prevail upon them for assistance in doing “the Lord’s work.” And as this anecdote from a 2013 Guardian article illustrates, they have a reputation for getting things done:
An old joke tells of a Franciscan, a Dominican and a Jesuit who are arrested during the Russian revolution for spreading the Christian, capitalist gospel, and thrown into a dark prison cell. In a bid to restore the light, each man reflects on the traditions of his own order. The Franciscan decides to wear sackcloth and ashes and pray for light. Nothing happens. The Dominican prepares and delivers an hour-long lecture on the virtue of light. Nothing happens. Then the Jesuit gets up and mends the fuse. The light comes on.
As the payoff suggests, the Society of Jesus has always been known for practicality and unflappability in the service of its motto: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (for the greater glory of God) [AMDG]. Equally well known is the Jesuits’ reputation as educators – giving rise to the adage: “Give me a child of seven, and I will show you the man.”
My guess is that during his 55 years as a Jesuit, some of this probably rubbed off on the Pope. So, if any of these companies or investors signed on to this project thinking they could commit to some ESG softballs in exchange for a “green sheen” and a photo op at the Vatican, they may be in for a bit of a surprise from the Pontiff (with whom they’ll meet on an annual basis). That’s because the Jesuits’ reputation as disciplinarians is also pretty formidable. “AMDG” isn’t the only acronym associated with the Jesuits — just ask any Jesuit high school student or alum what “JUG” is all about.
By the way, the Catholic Church isn’t the only religious group that’s decided to get in the ESG game – the Church of England is playing too, and as the English might put it, they’re “throwing a bit of stick about.“
-John Jenkins, TheCorporateCounsel.net December 24, 2020