Protesters outside the Wells Fargo bank in San Francisco last week
When Father Robert Rien showed up at the Bank of America branch in California in 2009 to close out the church's account, all of $135,000, the only thing on his mind was the plight of two dozen families in his flock struggling with their mortgages against the $2.3-trillion behemoth, reports the Catholic News Service.
"We know it wasn't much," he said of the parish's savings. "But it sent a message and it started a movement."
Creating a movement was hardly on the minds of the parish council members who approved the divestment.
They simply wanted to see the parish's cash assets invested locally to help their middle-class city of 102,000 residents, Father Rien said. But word of the divestment spread quickly and soon other congregations were taking the same step as California's housing crisis careened onward.
Since then, religious congregations have withdrawn about $40 million nationwide from the country's largest banks, including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup, said Tim Lillienthal, lead organiser with the PICO National Network, the largest faith-based organizing network in the United States.
"We're trying to get the banks to listen to us to try to keep people in their homes," Lillienthal said last week. "People are asking, 'If they won't listen, what can we do? What level of action will get their attention?'"
The divestiture campaign has hardly placed a dent in the banks' deposits. In fact, one of the targets, Wells Fargo, which services more mortgages than any US bank, has seen deposits increase for several quarters running, a company spokeswoman said.
Still, Father Rien, the administrator of St Ignatius, justified the action, saying large banks must be held responsible for the "ruthlessness of what they have done to families."
FULL STORY Growing divestment campaign among churches targets biggest US banks (CNS)