EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FATHER ROBERT A. SIRICO – Are we perverted by money?

– Aurelio Porfiri

Money is one of the favorite topics of discussion around the world, one of the few that really connect people of every race and religion. We know very well that money creates the wealth or the poverty of people and countries. So also for Catholics there is always a certain ambivalence when talking about money. I wanted to ask Father Robert A. Sirico, an American priest of Italian origins who has studied  and written about the danger and the opportunities that money can offer. Father Sirico is the founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, an institution for education and research.

Father, what is your opinion of Donald Trump?

I have mixed feelings about President Trump.  On the negative side, I think he is a man lacking in humility and a moral sensibility.  In this regard, I am fearful of what his tenure as president will do to the overall cultural fabric of the American Republic, which even before Trump has had its problems in this regard.

Of course, I did not have a high regard for Mrs Clinton’s humility or moral standing either, but Trump is more obvious about his failings.  (Who knows, perhaps this is to be preferred).

On the positive side: I think President Trump’s nominations to the judiciary (not just the Supreme Court, but also throughout the judiciary) has been nothing short of excellent.  Also in this regard, I admire his fearlessness in the face of ferocious opposition in supporting his nominations.

Elsewhere in the administration I see some good appointments as well, notably in the Secretary of Education with whom (in the interests of full disclosure) I am personally acquainted.

Why he is facing so strong opposition?

Part of the opposition he faces is what he brings upon himself;  he is a provocative New Yorker (which I fully understand, being from the same city).  He is not a thoughtful man, so he opens himself up to criticism on his extemporaneous and imprecise remarks. However, I like what one observer said: “Don’t take Trump literally; take him symbolically.” When seen in this light, it explains a lot. 

But I also think he is facing opposition from serious leftists who are beginning to realize that he is unafraid of their disapproval and is moving to dismantle, as best he can, much of the state-controlled systems they have worked for many years to put in place.

Do you think one reason may be that in the mind of people a capitalist cannot be also a good and ethical person?

People may think this but I do not think this is necessarily the case;  it may be true in terms of Trump, but there are many notably ethical and decent business people in the US and around the world.  For some of them it is precisely their decency that keeps them out of politics, and who can blame them?

Do you think that someone who is morally not irreprehensible (from a Catholic point of view) can be a good leader also from a Catholic perspective?

First off, I do not think a person needs to be a saint in order to be a good leader;  in fact, some saints would never have been great leaders or statesmen.  Could you imagine if St John Cupertino  or Mother Teresa were the president of a major country?

On the other have, you had someone like the late François  Michelin (who I knew personally) who I think may one day very well be canonized a saint. As you know he headed one of the great multinational corporations of the modern age.

There is an emergency for migrants in your country …

It is understandable that many more people want to immigrate to the United States that we are able to accept, more so now with so many desperate economic and political problems.  So we must develop some way to do this rationally for the benefit of as many people as possible both inside and outside the US. And there has been a longstanding problem in the US over migration to our country, owing largely to the acrimonious relations over the last 20 years or so of our political parties.  In this sense, yes, there is a great problem in the US related to migration.

I am not sure, however, that I would called this an “emergency” in the sense that drastic and immediate measures need to be taken. He needs to be thoughtful, deliberate and prudent in finding a just and sane solution to this urgent problem.

In the state of the union he defended the unborn child. What to make of this?

I thought the president’s words were inspiring and encouraging.  Children die in great numbers every day in the US because of our unjust laws – which I might add – the majority of the American people do not support. His words were powerful and overdue.

But to be honest (because I am not a man of politics, and not a member of a political party), I wish the president’s words were spoken from his heart, based on a deep conviction.  I suspect they were, rather, the words of a man who understands the political reality that most Americans find abortion distasteful.

Please note, I can accept his actions over his sincerity if it will save the lives of babies and the mothers who suffer after those abortions.

Is the free market the solution for all problems?

It most certainly is not the solution for all problems.  It is only the solution for economic problems, and it does not set out to be a full scale solution to human needs.  This is because human needs transcend economic needs; we are more than material beings.  We have social and spiritual needs that cannot be purchased in any market.

A child that is provided with everything it needs materially (food, clothing, medicine, shelter, etc.) will die if it is not held and loved.  On the other hand, a child who is greatly loved but whose parents do not have access to work to provide the material things to sustain biological life, will also die.

The human person is made up of the “dust of the earth and the breath of life” (to cite Genesis); that is, we are corporal and spiritual and we dare not neglect either reality.

Do you think there is a good Catholic view about globalization?

Not only do I think there is a good Catholic view of globalization, I think Catholicism invented globalization when Jesus sent his apostles out into “all the world to preach the good news.”  By its very name Catholicism is a universal religion; we are global.

The problem arises when this term is employed in two contradictory ways: one economic (which means people being able to trade with one another through the division of labor); and the other essentially political, whereby political leaders utilizing regulations and manipulations of markets and cultures, extend their control across borders internationally.

The former has had positive effects (as is easily demonstrable) and latter has been negative.

Catholics have an ambivalent relationship with money. What is a good solution for that?

The solution to this ambivalence is for Catholics to read their own tradition, especially the Scholastic theologians of the School of Salamanca in the mid-16th century.  Before Adam Smith, these were the founders of the modern science of free market economics. It is frustrating that so many good people, including theologians and the hierarchy, are simply ignorant of their writings and how liberal economics (rightly understood) is rooted in the Catholic tradition.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Can you offer your interpretation of this passage?

I receive this question more often than any other and I always ask the questioner if he knows how the dialogue in the gospel ends.

When Jesus says this to his disciples they respond by asking, “Then who can enter the kingdom of God?” and Jesus says, “With man it is impossible. But not with God. With God all things are possible.”

The peril of wealth is the peril of opportunity and freedom; as our opportunities, our options and our liberty expand, so does the possibility and we will opt for the wrong things or use our freedom for what destroys us, rather than for what gives us life.

This is not a condemnation of wealth or prosperity – as the constant teaching of the Church makes very clear.  St Augustine summed it up well when he said, “Lazarus was not in the bosom of Abraham because he was poor, but because he was humble.  And the rich man was not in the flames of hell because he was rich, but because he was proud.”

 

 

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