Friday, February 25, 2011

Interview: Catholics vs. Gov. Walker?

I have done an interview with’s Kathryn Lopez about the protests in Wisconsin.  Here is an excerpt:


Lopez: Is there a Catholic position on the tea party and tightening the fiscal belt? If Congress starts really taking on entitlement reform, will the Church be protesting?

Fr. Sirico: Of course there is no specific Catholic position on the tea party or the specifics of entitlement reform. As the social-teaching tradition has stated consistently, the Church has not specific economic or political policy prescriptions to offer. The Church offers principles such as freedom, human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity. The application of these principles is largely up to the lay faithful who must prudently apply them in real life, and maintain a spirit of charity when the disagree on their respective applications. Beware anyone who tells you what “the Catholic position” is on the tea party, the specifics of budget debates or entitlement reforms. These are matters of prudence, not dogma. In fact, it’s often the case that the person trying to tell you that this is the Catholic position on a prudential issue turns out to be an incorrigible dissenter on the true non-negotiables of Catholic faith and morality! They know who they are.

In terms of entitlement reform and fiscal belt-tightening, much will depend on what they consist of. Catholic social teaching is not blind to the excesses of the welfare state and has underscored the damage it can inflict upon a society’s moral ecology and economy. Obviously the Church must pay attention to how entitlement reform affects the least among us, but with attention to the common good of society. Indeed, it might even be an opportunity for the Church in America to reflect upon how we can better help our brothers and sisters in need without simply assuming that yet another government program or unaffordable entitlement will help resolve the problem in the long term.

Read the entire interview at

Thursday, February 17, 2011

2011 Acton Lecture Series: Inaugural Lecture on Christian Poverty

I recently spoke at the inaugural lecture of the 2011 Acton Lecture Series on February 3rd in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  My talk was titled “Christian Poverty in the Age of Prosperity.”

Appearing on EWTN Discussing the Federal Budget and the Deficit

Raymond Arroyo, host of EWTN’s World Over program, has invited me on the show tonight (Thursday, February 17, 8:00 p.m. Eastern) to discuss the federal budget as a “moral document” and the mounting federal deficit.  I am sure the conversation will also explore other important faith and policy issues of the day. 


Please check your local cable listings or tune in live online here.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'Social Justice' is a complex concept

A column by Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, a Catholic writer for the Washington Post, makes the claim that "Catholic social justice demands a redistribution of wealth." He went on to say that "there can be no disagreement" that unions, the government and private charities should all have a role in fighting a trend that has "concentrated" money into the hands of the few. In this conjecture Stevens-Arroyo confused the ends with potential means.

What Stevens-Arroyo is promoting is an attenuated and truncated vision of "social justice" that has fostered a great deal of injustice throughout the world. This path, he should know, has been decisively repudiated by the Church.

He also betrays a strange split in thinking common to those on the religious left, who are quick to denounce the profit motive and commercialism. Yet, they seem to think that the key to happiness is giving people more stuff — by enlisting the coercive power of government. This perverse way of thinking holds that "social justice" demands that we take money from those who have earned it and give it to those who have less of it. That's not social justice; that's materialism.

A friend and colleague, Arthur Brooks, a social researcher who is now president of the American Enterprise Institute, has shown that what makes people truly happy is a system that "facilitates earned success among its citizens and does not create disincentives to achieve or squash ambition." That's the market economy.

The incredible growth of economies in places like China and India isn't happening because wealth was being shifted around, but because wealth is being created.

What happens when wealth is "redistributed" is obvious now.

We're seeing the train wreck of the "social assistance state" in Europe.

In his 1991 social encyclical "Centesimus Annus," Pope John Paul II warned that a bloated state "leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase in public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concerns for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending." I call that prophetic.

Let's also be clear that the Church's teaching condemns the idolatry of money and material goods.

The Church finds another way, neither condemning market activities nor exalting them beyond their rightful place in the grand scheme of things. It asks us to work for the highest good and to contribute as we can our time, talents and wealth that we have earned for the betterment of the world. The Church also demands that we build just systems of trade that enable the poor to be the agents of their own betterment.

So let's drop these false notions about what constitutes the Church's understanding of social justice.

A system that pits the haves against the have-nots, with politicians and bureaucrats acting as referees, should be rejected by anyone sincerely interested in building a just social order.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Civility, not just after tragedy

The tragic shootings in Tucson that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded and a score of others dead or wounded have sparked a national discussion about how we conduct our public discourse.

This is something we should all welcome, in an age of instantaneous media and its often vitriolic political and social debate.

For those of us who are Christians, our guide should always be to speak the truth in love. That is, we witness to the truths that are revealed to us by the Lord, without shying away from critical issues or glossing over important differences we have with others. This is especially important in an era of globalization and the need for greater interfaith relations, where words or phrases can so easily be misunderstood. And it’s possible to have this dialogue in a reasonable and respectful fashion.

Yet, I find it not a little strange that many of the voices calling now for civility and temperance in our political discourse were, not long ago, either silent in the face of hateful language or participants.

I speak, of course, of the religious left, which was so much a part of the “Bush derangement syndrome” in recent years and, with the rise of the tea party movement, seems to have shifted its fire in that direction.

Take, for example, the Rev. Jim Wallis, the self-appointed chaplain to the Democratic National Committee, who in recent weeks has become an apostle of civility. This is the same man who said this in response to the “shellacking” that the Democrats got in November: “There was very little values-narrative in this election. And there was almost no attention to the faith community and its concerns.”

Really? This was true of those millions of Americans who were pushing back against out-of-control government spending, ruinous debt, an intrusive and badly flawed health care bill, and a general sense that our nation was losing its moral bearings?

Remember, if you will, the invective and hate hurled at former President George W. Bush over the Hurricane Katrina response. Entertainer Kanye West famously said at the time that Bush “doesn’t care about black people.”

Where was the hue and cry from the liberal pastors and priests over West’s outrage? In fact, former Sen. Bill Frist, a physician, said the Bush administration funding for AIDS relief and malaria eradication programs for Africa probably saved 10 million lives worldwide.

Following the election of Bush in 2000, the Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a “civil rights explosion.” He stood in front of the Supreme Court and vowed to “take to the streets right now, we will delegitimize Bush, discredit him, do whatever it takes, but never accept him.” I had my differences with Bush on a number of important issues. But he endured eight years of attacks, some of them vile, like this and the “social justice” ministers said nothing about it.

We all need to raise the level of public discourse, and not just as it applies to our political favorites. The Christian’s calling is to purify the heart, because it is the seat of the passions. And all actions begin there.

St. John Chrysostom, in a famous homily on fasting, warned us not to be too legalistic in its observance. More important than the foods we are abstaining from are our actions and the “disgraceful and abusive words” which we sometime use to “chew up and consume one another.” In this he echoes the words of Jesus Christ, who taught us that “what goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean” (Matthew 15:11).

The point here is to remind us that our words have weight and effect. Yes, let’s proclaim the truth, and do it in a civil and even a loving fashion. That’s the civility that both the left and the right deserve.