AVE MARIA, Fla.—All you really need to know about the Ave Maria Mutual Fund is that, as CNBC noted today, it "began at the behest of the Catholic Advisory Board, a group that... is chaired by Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, who has been linked closely with Catholic causes."
Actually, to say Monaghan has been "closely linked" to Catholic causes is like saying Dick Cheney was "closely linked" to Halliburton. Monaghan is the patron saint of an extreme form of Catholicism that has never shied away from espousing anti-gay rhetoric and supporting anti-gay causes, along with an extreme view of reproductive rights that includes a blanket prohibition on contraception. That pornography is also considered by Monaghan to be one of life's most poignant sins is to be expected of a mutual fund that carries the same name as the "ultra-orthodox community and university" founded by Monaghan in South Florida about six years ago.
But there is no hint by CNBC of the extremist pedigree that forms the moral foundation of the Ave Maria Mutual Fund. Instead, the financial news network writes of the fund's co-manager, George Schwartz, "His five-star Ave Maria Mutual Funds focus on ethical investing and have performed strongly, usually approximating or topping their benchmarks. The fund is as its name might imply: An effort to profit through a thesis that follows moral guidelines consistent with those of Mary, the mother of Jesus, specifically and the Catholic faith in general."
While those guidelines eschew investing in "certain companies—about 150—that violate some of the core teachings of the Catholic," as Schwartz told CNBC, they do not prevent the fund from investing in "alcohol, tobacco and firearms" companies.
There are, however, a few core no-nos. According to the article, "Four practices... will get a company banned from the Ave Maria funds: Supporting abortion; supporting embryonic stem cell research (because it 'is closely linked to abortion'); contributing to Planned Parenthood; and involvement with pornography."
Needless to say, CNBC is less concerned with the fund's ethical constancy than it is with its performance, and in that regard Ave Maria appears to be a winner. According to the network, "Ave Maria's flagship Rising Dividend fund carries Morningstar's top five-star designation and is up 26.8 percent in 2013. That puts it in front of the S&P 500, which has gained 25.3 percent on a total-return basis. The fund has $642.2 million under management as part of Ave Maria's $1.4 billion total handle."
The article also quotes Schwartz as saying of the fund's 60,000 or so investors, "Virtually all of them are pro-life. Some people invest primarily because it's Catholic or because of our pro-life orientation. But the serious investors, the fiduciaries of institutional investors, have to look deeper than that. They have to see good investment results."
Domino's Pizza, by the way, which was sold by Monaghan in 1998, is still living down the rabid anti-gay beliefs of its founder. In fact, last year Queerty posted an article letting people know they could eat there again, and including a comment by the company that said, in part, "What Mr. Monaghan stands for and does is his business, but he does not represent Domino’s Pizza. He is the founder, yes, but he’s one individual, and he’s been gone a long time. The company has never been 'anti-gay' and in fact, we are going to be a sponsor of a Gay Pride festival in St. Louis later this summer."