Richard Dowden The Jesuits are to hold onto their shares in Consolidated Gold Fields and other mining companies operating in South Africa, but have decided to monitor the social performance of these companies.
Mr Hugh Kay, the Jesuit information officer, said this week that the Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes, the fund set up to manage the £1 1m finances of the English province of the Jesuits, were having private discussions with a number of companies in which they held shares, but he would not disclose the nature of the discussions, who attended them or what requests were being put to the companies.
In a statement to the Catholic Herald Mr Kay said: "I understand that the Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes are agreed that the present situation in South Africa is one of grave social, economic and political injustice, and that they have a moral obligation to do what they can to help to reduce this injustice.
'From the moral point of view, they do not consider, as matters stand at the moment, that the best course is simply to disengage totally from all investment in South Africa.
"They have, however, taken a firm policy decision to continue to monitor the social performance of any company in which they are investing and, within the terms of United Kingdom trust law, to disengage from investment in any company whose social performance they consider to be unsatisfactory.
"The trustees are continually reviewing the situation and are in regular contact with the appropriate parties."
The Society of Jesus owns about £182,000 worth of shares in Consolidated Gold Fields, part of a £5 million portfolio which is invested in gold and diamond mining, largely in South Africa.
Last July the diocese of Westminster sold its shares in Consolidated Gold Fields for moral reasons. After more than two years of private and public pressure, the diocesan trustees decided they were getting nowhere after trying to get wage levels for black workers raised and attempting to persuade the company to recognise black trade unions and become less dependent on migrant labour.
Mr Kay said the trustees were not influenced one way or another by Cardinal Hume's decision to sell the shares. He said that the Jesuits had decided to look at the problem for themselves.
"It depends a great deal who is talking to these companies and with what weight," he said.
Mr Kay said he could not disclose what the Jesuits were asking the companies to do because if anything was said at this stage, it offered the cornpanics very reasonable grounds for refusing to continue talks.