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placeholder March 24, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
Pope seeks to find ways to help the poor out of poverty

Rev. Robert Sirico

Headlines asserting that Pope Francis is opposed to capitalism are far from an accurate portrayal of what the pope sees and wants, according to Acton Institute head Rev. Robert Sirico, who points out that the pope also said business "is a noble vocation."

Pope Francis sees the disaster of poverty "and puts himself right in the middle of it." He wants society to find ways to help the poor out of poverty.

Significant in Father Sirico's view, Pope Francis "does not say how to do it, he says it must be done!"

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis spent much of his time with its poorest and came to know the extremely difficult lives they lead. He focuses on helping change the conditions under which the poor live, Father Sirico points out.

Acton is an independent Catholic think tank whose purpose is "to promote virtuous free economies." Father Sirico spoke recently to a Catholics@Work breakfast in San Ramon.

In his encyclical "Evangelli Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel") last November, Pope Francis said, "As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems."

Rarely quoted, Father Sirico noted, is the pope's further comment that "Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all."

"This is the whole thing that people miss" in the pope's thinking, Father Sirico said, "that profit is good" as long as it serves the common good.

He suggested that the pope's tough language likely flows from his experience with capitalism in Latin America, where it often restrains growth through corruption and favoritism, making a few rich but bringing little benefit to the poor. In the United States the free market is much more balanced.

Father Sirico says Pope Francis is not changing Church direction but continuing the views of his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. It reaches back to Pope Leo XIII's landmark 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum," ("Of New Things," understood as "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor") where he said "remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class" but also strongly rejected socialism.

Sirico grew up Catholic in Brooklyn, then was "away" for 13 years in California where he lived in the counterculture, even meeting Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. When a friend challenged him as "delightfully dumb" about economics Sirico began reading substantial economists. "I began to see private property as the basis of human rights." He returned to the Church and entered a seminary.

Acton, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, aims to promote a free and virtuous society with individual liberty sustained by religious principles. It is named for Lord John Acton, best known for observing "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

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