Acton Institute’s Fr. Sirico comments on Pope Francis’ remarks on money

Did you see the comments which Our Holy Father made about money, capitalism, etc?

Fr. Robert Sirico of ACTON INSTITUTE is well situated to add some comments of his own about money, capitalism, etc., to build on what the Holy Father said.

This originally appeared in the Italian publication Il Foglio.  The translation was sent to me by the kind folks at ACTON INSTITUTE (with some little adjustments):

The Pope and the Condemnation of Money. Father Robert Sirico shares his thoughts.

Rome. “It certainly would be absurd to criminalize money if one’s sincere concern is the well-being of the poor. Lamenting the struggle of the poor is not the end goal of moral compassion. Ameliorating their concern is. And at least at the material level, this requires the production of wealth,” said Father Robert Sirico, president of the American think tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which aims to promote a free, virtuous and humane society.

Fr. Sirico shared his thoughts with ll Foglio following the Pope’s long speech delivered last Saturday before an audience of charismatic lay movements leaders who had come to the Vatican for their third world gathering. During the audience, Pope Francis accused money as being “an idol that rules instead of serves, which tyrannizes and terrorizes humanity.”

It is money, continued the Holy Father, “that rules with the whip of fear, inequality, economic, social, cultural and military violence. [It] generates ever more violence in a seemingly unending downward spiral. There is a basic [form of] terrorism stemming from the global control of money on earth and which threatens all of humanity.”

And “all tyranny is a terroristic,” the pope added.

“When this terror, sown in the peripheries by way of massacres, looting, oppression and injustice, erupts in [urban] centers with different forms of violence — hateful and cowardly – citizens, while still clinging to some rights, are tempted by the false security of physical or social walls.”

“Of course”, observes Sirico, “wealth can be abused, both in its production and in its use. Of that there is no doubt. But so can many other gifts entrusted to human being.”

“I think of sexuality in this regard, yet when directed toward God, sexuality becomes a Sacrament. So too wealth can have a moral origin and a moral finality. I would trust that the Holy Father doesn’t disagree with any of this, for to criminalize such a process would abandon the economically vulnerable.”

Bergoglio’s attack on the capitalist system itself was harsh. Yet, terms of what is meant by the “capitalist system”, Fr. Sirico said, ”I would ask for clarification.”

“I find [clarity] in the encyclical Centesimus Annus, specifically number 42, where St. John Paul says that if by capitalism is meant ’the free economy’, rooted in a moral and religious foundation and situated in a juridical context, then this is commendable.”

The problem, if anything, is to reconcile the idea of a free economy with the Church’s social doctrine.

The president of the Acton Institute thinks that this is a difficult undertaking because “there is a general confusion as to what it means, especially if one is only familiar, not with free economic actors, but with business people who exclude people from the circle of economic exchange and place money, rather than human being, at the center of their concern.”

[NB especially from here to the end…] “This is ‘the economy that kills’, not competitive markets,” said Sirico.

“When people do not understand economics and markets, it is easy to ascertain that successful economic actors become wealthy at the expense of others. This is known in economic as the ‘zero sum fallacy.’”

The Church’s social doctrine, Sirico observes, does not teach us this. Nonetheless, according to Sirico, the sad fact is that sometimes “people love their own political positions so much that they advocate policies that will produce more poverty.

The risk is to look at the problem in the wrong way, he said, from an erroneous perspective, as one might conclude, for example, that fundamentalism is a consequence of the idolatry of money.

“If you begin with the definition that all global markets by their very nature ‘exclude people’, then of course, this is unethical and to be rightly condemned, as is any form of the worship of money, which is what the idolatry of money means,” he said.

“There is, however, two other forms of what might rightly be called economic fundamentalism: This is, on the one hand, when one demonizes the rich simply because they are economically successful, or when one canonizes the poor simply because they are not economically successful. The former is known as the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ and the latter is known as ‘Liberation Theology.’

“I prefer,” admits Sirico, “the insight of St. Teresa of Calcutta, who said: ‘We do not take it upon ourselves to have the right to condemn the rich. We do not believe in class struggle or class warfare…We believe rather in class encounter where the rich save the poor and the poor save the rich.’”

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27 Responses to Acton Institute’s Fr. Sirico comments on Pope Francis’ remarks on money

  1. arga says:

    The quote from the pope is almost unbelievable — so extreme and revealing such a profound ignorance of basic free market economics as to be deeply embarrassing to Catholics. He goes well beyond what I am used to hearing from confusing, leftist Catholics about the evils of capitalism

  2. Gilbert Fritz says:

    Well, money, as opposed to wealth, is a way for middlemen, governments, etc. to commodify and take a cut of everything. Also, once everything is monetized and commodified, it can be easy to forget the real people and real places and real objects behind the dollar signs.

    For instance, a small family farm on the outskirts of a city might be an inefficient use of land economically. Economically, it makes sense if the family farm is developed for a new subdivision. Yet emotionally and socially, this may not make sense at all. Sure, the farmers could buy another piece of land elsewhere; but that is just the fallacy of money, looking only a the price tags. That is what the economy is designed to do, to compare price tags. But there is so much more to life the price tags.

    Economists generally support the destruction of the rural economy and the move of the population into cities; it is what naturally happens, since larger, more efficient farms outcompete smaller, less efficient ones. Farms get bigger and more mechanized, while the surplus rural population flows into the cities. The Amish and other holdouts are seen as economically irrational. But are they morally and socially irrational?

    Finally, if we all used some sort of informal, local credit based economy, big central governments would have a hard time taxing our wealth, and would wither away.

    You will notice that Fr. Sirico made a big mistake when he seemed to equate money with wealth.

    “It certainly would be absurd to criminalize money if one’s sincere concern is the well-being of the poor. Lamenting the struggle of the poor is not the end goal of moral compassion. Ameliorating their concern is. And at least at the material level, this requires the production of wealth,”

    Production of wealth, yes. Production of money (i.e. production of tax fodder and oligarchy fodder) maybe not.

  3. Polycarpio says:

    Money is idolized to the extent that we treat it like a real thing and elevate it over other things. Fiat money is an abstract thing, without use per se; its sole utility is in its acceptance as a medium of exchange. But there is an inherent unfairness built-in to the monetary system, and that, itself is real: not everyone is born financially equal. I think that’s what the Holy Father–who is not an economist–is trying to deal with. In fact, the Pope generally does not talk about the market or the world economy as a system, nor does he offer a critical analysis of that system. He does not have the competence to do so. Instead, his arguments on this point turn on our response to the market: “ethics,” he tells us, “leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace.” (E.G., 57, emphasis added). When he says that money is an “idol,” he is referring to the way we treat it through excessive consumerism. When he says that the market is “deified” (E.G., 56), he is talking about our attitudes toward economic infrastructures. And when he says it is a “tyranny,” he is referring to the iron grip it exerts over many hearts. Perhaps it will help if we think of it using the old paradigm, which tells us that money itself is not evil (Fr. Sirico’s point), rather the love of money is evil (Pope Francis).

  4. KT127 says:

    “We do not take it upon ourselves to have the right to condemn..”

    Doesn’t that just sum up the problem with our society today? Everyone wants to have the right to condemn. To tell someone they are the wrong class, the wrong race, the wrong sex, have the wrong political views, etc.

    At the heart of it all- it is all about condemning. You can’t grow from that. You can’t build relationships out of that.

    Condemning has its place. But it has to be based on truth and goodness not on resentment and revenge.

  5. Lucas Whittaker says:

    I too prefer the insight of St. Teresa of Calcutta, as it calls immediately to mind the teaching of sacred scripture (for me, Lk 16:19-31 and Mt 25:35-40, among numerous others that could be found).

    I once heard a speech at a certain university, which I will not name so as to avoid sinning, but it was in Collegeville. An economist spoke about an innovative economic system that he had devised, such that that diverse economic systems could essentially speak to one another. The professor ended up behind me at the refectory, asking what I thought of his “talk”. My reply was simply that until we begin to observe everything that Jesus taught (cf. Mt 28:20) we will not have a stable world community. But, surely, I am a simpleton to imagine that only saints can set the world on fire for God, and with Good News goodness.

    And I challenge the comment that implies that the Holy Father speaks only on matters in which he has competence, since Pope Francis spreads confusion in abundance. From the standpoint of the philosophy of language, we cease to communicate anything when we use our words to manipulate others. According to Josef Pieper, basically what happens is speech without a partner, because artful speech intends not to communicate but to manipulate. As Pieper puts it, whoever speaks (or writes) using well-considered words, guided by something other than the truth, no longer sees the audience as a partner in the dialogue: “In fact, he no longer respects the other as a human person” (Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, pg. 21). Reports have been given in various interviews by the priest-secretaries who were tasked with putting certain Papal documents together that Pope Francis joked about phrasing things in a purposefully unclear manner so that the perrenial teaching of the Magisterium could be neglected during the confusion. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict sought council, even though he has a resume that speaks on its own to Benedict being a scholar and an eminent theologian. It should be as straightforward as handing on to others what has been handed on to us by our predecessors in the faith (cf. Lk 1:1-2 & St. Paul 1 Cor 11:23, from the Koine Greek “paradidomee” in the original we derive the Latin word that gives us the English “Tradition”. Souter’s Pocket Lexicon To The Greek New Testament defines it: “handing over, generally concrete, that which is handed down, a tradition (whether of written or of oral teaching). That leaves little room for innovation or putting a new face on a Church whose mission has always been one of reconciling man with God.

  6. gracie says:

    Liberation Theology is based on envy – the rich are evil; why should they have money when we don’t; they DESERVE to have it taken from them (hopefully, ripped from them) and given to us; so that’s what we’re going to do now let’s watch THEM suffer as we have suffered! As such, LT is a diabolical attack on the Tenth Commandment, which forbids us to covet our neighbors’ goods. Funny how no one ever mentions the 10th C – at least, not in polite society.

  7. kiwiinamerica says:

    Every day……every single day, somebody has to refute, clarify or question Francis’ shtick and point out out its discordance with traditional Catholic teaching.

    The good Lord must have truly had to here with His faithless, disobedient Church, for Him to inflict upon us this pestilence.

  8. bombcar says:

    Money is a tool, and Christ Himself reveals that it can be used for great good; nay, must be used. We are to give alms, and almsgiving forgives sins, and gets us closer to God. The love of money is evil, but so is the love of anything given to us by God to be used in His Name.

    And nobody even talks about real money evils anymore, such as usury, which is to right use of money as contraception is to sex.

    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/usury-faq-or-money-on-the-pill/

  9. Grumpy Beggar says:

    Fr. Sirico said, “I would ask for clarification.”

    Hmmm . . . Fr. Sirico just might have to get in line for that one.

    :)

  10. Agathon says:

    Polycarpio, in regards to this comment: “But there is an inherent unfairness built-in to the monetary system, and that, itself is real: not everyone is born financially equal. I think that’s what the Holy Father–who is not an economist–is trying to deal with.”

    The idea that inequality is unfair or unjust per se is an idea that needs to be smashed alongside the many other economic and moral fallacies preached by the left. It is very dangerous to use inequality as a reason for fostering ill will and conflicts between rich and poor. The Church ought to be speaking powerfully in favor of the benefits rich and poor naturally bring to one another through cooperation and harmony, as Fr. Sirico does here.

  11. Gilbert Fritz says:

    bombcar,

    Right on about the usury thing!

    But I still think it would help if we stopped using the counters called money so much; I think it leads to many problems, as outlined in my post above.

    Money Does Not Equal Wealth!

    This is something many economists tend to forget, with disastrous consequences.

  12. Polycarpio says:

    @ Agathon

    One of the “new things” (Rerum Novarum) contemplated by Leo XIII in the preamble of his magisterial letter was “the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses,” which St. John Paul II did not shy away from calling “the unjust distribution of wealth” (Centecimus Annus, 12)–and neither do I.

  13. Kathleen10 says:

    I have overdosed on this kind of talk from him and his cohorts and am now allergic.
    Is he ever going to get around to mentioning Jesus Christ?

  14. Gilbert Fritz says:

    Polycarpio, great point.

    It should be pointed out that if everybody is happy and content, and one person has more then another, the situation is fine. But if one person has more then they need, and another is starving, that is not fine. It is stated pretty clearly in the Gospel that our excess property belongs in justice to our starving brethren. If some people have multiple mansions, private jets, and 3 enormous meals a day, and others are living in cardboard shacks scrounging food from dumpsters, something is very wrong. If Christians support this sort of thing, they are not following Christ.

    Now, when the government gets into the act of redistributing wealth, no good will follow. But that does not mean that some wealth does not need redistributing.

  15. Gilbert Fritz says:

    We can’t let Pope Francis’s defects blind us to anything he might get right. For instance, he supports the veneration of relics, devotion to the saints, and confession, all things that are under fire right now.

  16. Deo Credo says:

    While generally not a fan of most papal comments these days I don’t see anything to get upset about. People can get offended about our comfortable first world problems when they are pointed out. Argue about good economic systems, if he was talking about money or wealth, who cares. If someone dies of hunger but I still have my cell phone bill paid is Jesus really going to be proud of me? Money/wealth and the various ways people live their life on order to pursue it is indeed the best traveled road to perdition. No I am not proposing or supporting communism socialism or any other ism. But if you fail to realize the siren call money or wealth has on people then you just aren’t living in reality. Comment typed in the finest form of hypocrisy on a $700 smartphone with a big fat data plan.

  17. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    Go into any hospital.

    Walk around, and find people on their death beds.

    Ask how many of them want to see their bank statements before they take their last breath.

    That’s how important money is in the grand scheme of things.

    Money. Good to have it. Not the end of the world if I don’t.

    And personally… I’d much rather leave this world the way I entered it: Penniless. Naked. Scared and Helpless. I don’t want to meet the Almighty Trinity and get asked the question: “So, you died with all this wealth… And how much did you use to try and help people?”

  18. WVC says:

    YoungLatinMassGuy,

    I’m going to guess that you’re not married and have no kids (correct me if I’m wrong). I’m MiddleAgedLatinMassGuyWithKids and I can tell you that, while money certainly isn’t important when it comes to your deathbed it is actually fairly important all the years (hopefully) in between then and now. Homeschooling is expensive. Housing is expensive. Clothing is expensive. Feeding lots of kids (especially teenage boys) is expensive. Living on a one income family in this economy can be difficult. And having money to celebrate feast days, birthdays, and the rest is perhaps not in the “absolutely necessary” column but surely in the column right next to it.

    I hope to also die penniless, but that’s because I hope whatever money I have in my old age will go to my children and their families to give them whatever leg up they can get in this world. Never forget, it is you (and eventually your family) against the world, and right now the world has the upper hand (don’t panic, that’s usually the case). If you want to protect your family from the world that wants to destroy it (including social workers who want to steal your kids, educators who want to corrupt your kids, and employers who want to enslave your kids), money may not be as helpful as prayer, but it’s also pretty significant in its own right.

  19. JMody says:

    Obviously, the man needs our prayers every day.

  20. Pingback: THURSDAY EDITION | Big Pulpit

  21. Absit invidia says:

    It seems that Francis has likewise gone full tilt and has decided to join the chorus of the anti-Trumpsters. I have no doubt this is how he truly feels and that this time he’s not doing this merely for popularity. As an American, to observe the flock that the pope has decided to run with: the anarchist, anti-capitalist, Occupier Movement, menaces to civil society, and inciters of riots and public mayhem, it makes me wonder how ensconced in reality Pope Francis is, if he ever really held a real job to support others, and if he is that deluded into the outdated 1970’s liberation theology that has failed the world time and time again.

  22. Agathon says:

    Polycarpio, while it is true that an unjust distribution of wealth is wrong, Leo XIII also spoke forcefully against those who claim that inequality is itself unjust. See, for example, paragraphs 15-19 of Rerum Novarum.

    This great encyclical is too often read without sufficient appreciation for the context Pope Leo XIII offers us by stating up front that his teachings are firmly rooted in a society of order, liberty, economic harmony, subsidiarity, and inviolably respected private property rights. He has no patience for the socialist’s basic view that inequality is unfair and that it’s the state’s job to fix this “problem.”

  23. Gilbert Fritz says:

    Agathon;

    as was pointed out above, inequality itself is not a problem. Amusingly, there is told the story of a British socialist who, on a radio interview, stated that all wealth should be divided up evenly, one share per person. He was then asked what he would do with his share. So he outlined how he would spend it. He was then asked about a problem; the wealth would now be unequally divided again; somebody else would have his share, since he would have traded it for mostly consumable goods. He replied “Well mate, then we’ll divide it up again!”

    But, on the other hand, if people are starving and we have surplus wealth, that wealth no longer belongs to us, it belongs to them, at least according to Christ.

    It seems that the early Christians redistributed wealth pretty widely. In at least some Medieval societies, tithes were not voluntary, and out of them the Church supported the poor, so that would count as forced redistribution of wealth, I guess.

    The government should step out of the redistribution business, but that means we have to step into it. Don’t you suppose that the redistributionism of the early Church may have contributed to its rapid spread? Don’t leave the field to the liberals!

  24. Kerry says:

    Dear Holy Father,
    Saint Katharine Drexel.
    Sincerely, K.

  25. un-ionized says:

    WVC, I’m with you and Kerry. I almost became homeless once and ALMOST was enough for me! I surely would not have been able to survive. There are lots of families struggling financially because they are faithful to the teachings of the Church.

    I was fortunate to be able to get into a career that has made me very well to do compared to most people and I pray to St. Katherine Drexel to help me know what to do with my wealth and income. I have a relic of hers, a piece of her habit on a card with her picture. It is one of my most precious possessions.

  26. remindme says:

    The problem with the Pope’s speech (among others) is that it provides no real guidance either for the faithful or for the world at large. So what are we to do according to him? Chuck money and go to barter system? Let the state ration everything? – we know how well that serves the poor. You don’t have to be a Catholic or Christian to agree that money or wealth should not be pursued at all costs and should not be a goal of life by and in itself. However, we do need it for living in this world, and the great challenge is how to live out our faith in this world with respect to money, wealth, and everything else. The Pope’s speech gives exactly zero guidance. Also makes me wonder how he will ever clean up the Vatican finance.

  27. Gilbert Fritz says:

    I just noticed something further about the quotes from the Pope:

    He was talking about the global control of money being a form of terrorism. I don’t think any Trump voters who are angry that a global economic system shuttered their factories would have a problem with that.