Catholic values fund fires back at N.Y. Times

Dec 24, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Ave Maria Mutual Funds in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. is firing back at The New York Times editorial board’s recent attack on the investment strategy applied by the Catholic values fund family.

The Dec. 18 editorial chided the fund family’s investment adviser, Schwartz Investment Counsel Inc., also of Bloomfield, for standing “starkly on one side of the old, deep ideological fault line that divides the church’s conservative and liberal wings.”

The editorial took specific issue with investments in defense contractors such as United Technologies Inc. and “junk food giant” ConAgra Foods Inc. Omaha, Neb. while not investing in Playboy Enterprises Inc. of Chicago.

The Times’ perspective, which has also triggered a reaction from the Catholic League in Bakersfield, Calif., is being interpreted as a seal of approval from the $450 million fund family.

“The New York Times has a long history of biased reporting and an anti-Catholic bias, which is why we view such criticism as an endorsement,” said Bob Schwartz, vice president and director of marketing at Ave Maria Funds.

“We make no claims that our funds are anything but pro-life and pro-family,” he added.

“Our advisory board is focused primarily on screening out companies associated with abortion and pornography; we can’t be all things to all people.”

The editorial, which was sparked by Ave Maria radio ads running in the New York City area, also challenged the fund family’s logo of a cross, an open book and a Gothic window, as conveying “the implicit certainty its vision of Catholic teaching is the correct one.”

Mr. Schwartz, son of George Schwartz who launched the fund family in 2001, said the timing of the editorial was probably a result of the radio ads.

“Given their long-standing bias against conservative, pro-family values, we’re not surprised by their opinion,” he said.

“But I think our radio ads got their attention because that was probably the first time they had ever heard of us.”

Catholic League president Bill Donohue said the Times editorial is missing the point of the investment strategy applied to the five Ave Maria Funds.

“It should not matter to anyone if a private company has a cross, or a Star of David, or a crescent and star as its logo,” Mr. Donohue said in a statement.

“One might think that in a time when the American people are being routinely fleeced by unethical investors that everyone would applaud an investment house that stresses its commitment to religious values,” he added.

The flagship $86 million Ave Maria Growth Fund (AVEGX) has declined by 35.7% this year through Monday.

This compares to a 36.2% decline by the Dow Jones Industrial Average and a 61.9% decline by The New York Times Co. stock over the same period.

A call to The New York Times was not immediately returned.

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