In June of 2016, First Things published an article by David Bentley Hart titled, “Mammon Ascendant: Why Global Capitalism is Inimical to Christianity.” In his piece, Hart, an Orthodox (with a capital “o”) theologian at the University of Notre Dame, argues that the Reagan era coalition between fiscal and social conservatives has “largely collapsed” and big business is now allied with the political left.
Hart’s analysis of the alignment of much of the corporate world with the radical left is no shocker. Gay couples have become de rigueur for television programs and advertisements for everything from Coca Cola to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. However, Hart’s primary point is free market economics goes hand in hand with moral degeneracy.
As Professor Hart puts it:
“a late capitalist culture, being intrinsically a consumerist economy, of necessity promotes a voluntarist understanding of individual freedom and a purely negative understanding of social and political liberty. The entire system depends not merely on supplying needs and satisfying natural longings, but on the ceaseless invention of ever newer desires, ever more choices.”
An unrestrained capitalist system is predicated upon a fundamentally materialistic metaphysics, and a materialist metaphysics produces a hedonist ethics.
Therefore, we should not be surprised that in the same country in which corporations argue for “free trade” and “open borders,” Netflix cartoons should promote child drag queens.
Despite its salient points, Hart’s excellent essay prompted a blizzard of responses from those Catholics who still hold to the liberal capitalist credo. In The Public Discourse, a project of Professor Robert George, one of the last two remaining figures of the infamous “Four Horsemen” who led the Catholic neoconservatives to the heights of prestige and power during the reign of John Paul II and the presidency of George W. Bush, Samuel Gregg penned, “Global Capitalism versus Christianity? A Response to David Bentley Hart.”
Gregg’s argument, which is available for the reader’s perusal, is largely a reissuing of the neoconservative response to both traditionalist and left wing Catholic critiques of capitalism, which, in effect, for the past thirty something years, since Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, has amounted to a lecture that traditionalist and leftists simply don’t understand how capitalism works—as a side note, Catholic libertarian Tom Woods has used this argument to attack The Remnant’s own Christopher Ferrara.
Gregg is ensconced at the Acton Institute, a Catholic libertarian think tank located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is financed by the Protestant DeVos family of Amway fame and is headed by Fr. Robert Sirico, who, with the death of Michael Novak last year, is now the most vocal Catholic exponent of free market economics.
A brief examination of Fr. Robert Sirico reveals both serious theological flaws in his work as well as some very curious personal anecdotes from Fr. Sirico’s life that show that the poisoned spring of libertarianism has eroded much of conservative American Catholicism.
Fr. Sirico’s major work is Defending the Free Market: The Moral Cause for a Free Economy (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2012). Released at the beginning of Barrack Hussein Obama’s second term, Defending the Free Market is a mishmash of (as we will see) selective autobiographical musings melded with the deceptive bicameral assuring Catholics that capitalism as defined by neocons and libertarians was the most Catholic of economic philosophy and further instructing non-Catholics that Catholicism was not an outmoded intellectual dinosaur blocking the progress of global capitalism.
In Defending the Free Market, Fr. Sirico presents the old neoconservative old argument for capitalism as the most effective means of generating wealth for many (but not all and perhaps not necessarily most) members of a society:
“Rightly understood, capitalism is simply the name for the economic component of the natural order of liberty. It means expansive ownership of property, fair and equal rules for all, economic security through prosperity, strict adherence to the boundaries of ownership, opportunity for charity, wise resource use, creativity, growth, development, prosperity, abundance.”
Indeed, this statement is very similar to the argument that John Paul II provided in Centesimus Annus (after being coached, according to George Weigel, by neoconservative Italian politician Rocco Buttiglione) that it “would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs.”
Few would question that free market economics has made many people very wealthy. However, the Church has always taught that the market must be restrained by law and morality in order to serve the common good and protect the rights of the workers. Even John Paul II, notes that the free market must be “circumscribed within a strong juridical framework.”
However, it is precisely this strong juridical framework that Fr. Sirico seeks to undermine. In Defending the Free Market, Fr. Sirico argues against caps on credit card interest rates, which make debtors lifelong slaves of banks; attacks tariffs, which protect American industries and jobs; and even promotes libertarian degenerate Ayn Rand’s (whose writings inspired Anton La Vey to found the Church of Satan) “idea of man” as being “noble.”
Elsewhere, Fr. Sirico speaks even more strongly in favor of Rand.
Like many libertarians, Fr. Sirico’s argument is predicated upon the benevolent acts of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market, which will cause free market economics necessarily to produce positive social benefits without the regulation of Church and state.
Finally, like Michael Novak’s lifelong promotion of “small businesses,” Fr. Sirico hides his attempted Catholic support for global capitalism and predator lending under the guise of promoting “localism” and small scale economic relationships.
However, Fr. Sirico’s un-Catholic economic theories are not the only strange thing about Robert Sirico.
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Before he was Fr. Sirico of the Acton Institute, Robert Sirico was a charismatic Pentecostal pastor living in the Seattle of the 1970s. While such a conversion from Protestant preacher to Catholic priest should be a cause for rejoicing for Catholics, Robert Sirico was not the run of the mill conservative Pentecostal with a penchant for theatrics.
As the Seattle Times reported in May of 1972, Robert Sirico was living as an openly gay man performing what some consider the first public religious “gay marriages” in the United States.
In fact, Pastor Sirico was so enmeshed with the gay community that he became director of the Los Angeles Gay Community Center, which held a horrific “slave auction” on April 10, 1976, which was subsequently raided by the LAPD.
In response Reverend Sirico protested that the sadomasochistic event was a “harmless fund-raising event.”
It must be noted here that when this information was published by the National Catholic Reporter in 2010, Catholic League president Bill Donahue defended Fr. Sirico.
For some reason, Bill Donahue made no mention of the fact that Robert Sirico himself was openly gay, nor did Donahue mention the slave auction incident—both things are a matter of public record and are even contained on Fr. Sirico’s Wikipedia page.
Indeed, Donahue’s description of Fr. Sirico’s Augustinian conversion is extremely misleading:
“[I]n the early and mid-1970s, Sirico, who had quit Catholicism at the age of 13, became a minister and performed gay marriages. Then he had a conversion: he came back to Catholicism and eventually became a priest.”
Donahue does not mention that Fr. Sirico bounced around various religious orders and dioceses, nor does he account for how Fr. Sirico went on to garner support from the (at least officially) Protestant billionaire DeVos family.
In effect Robert Sirico traded sexual liberation for economic liberation—both of which, as Dante so wisely understood over seven hundred years ago, go hand in hand.
The point here is not to air the peccadillos of Fr. Sirico’s youth.
Rather, it is to note that, even with the decline of Catholic neoconservatism, the “poisoned spring” of liberalism still flows into the Church through the Acton Institute.
Secondly, we must pause to ask ourselves how a man so ingrained with the homosexual lifestyle could be ordained a priest and then promoted to such a high position.
Finally, we might wonder why so many conservative Catholics have defended not only Fr. Sirico, but many other clerics with very questionable pasts.
As Catholics faithful to tradition, we must recognize that the “errors of Russia” of which Our Lady of Fatima warned can take many forms, and it is not only among the Catholic left that the “smoke of Satan” has left its foul stench.