Claiming that the fight against climate change is an urgent moral duty, Pope Francis in June urged the world to phase out 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. In Oklahoma City, church officials have signed three new oil and gas leases since Francis’ public statement on the environment.
"There may be some kind of inconsistency here between what the pope has said and what the Church is doing in U.S. oil and gas country," said Mickey Thompson, a consultant and former director of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.
Oklahoma and Texas have been at the forefront of a boom in energy production, often through the controversial hydraulic fracturing production method known as fracking. Pat Svacina, a spokesman for the Diocese of Forth Worth, Texas, said the diocese received $31,661 from its leases so far in fiscal year 2015. "The way the leases are written, it is very difficult to cancel a lease that is in production," Svacina said.
Church authorities receive a royalty ranging from 15 to 25 percent of the value of what is taken out of the ground. The Vatican does not have direct power over investment decisions taken by dioceses in the United States, a responsibility reserved for their bishops.
Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley signed the most recent deal on Sept. 3, giving privately held oil company Comanche Resources rights to operate on 160 acres in Major County in exchange for 18.75 percent of the value of the oil and gas produced.
A spokeswoman for the archdiocese declined to comment, and efforts to reach Coakley were not successful.