Getting Religion Back into Our Economic Lives
Freedom depends on it.

Fr. Robert A. Sirico


LOPEZ: “We confuse facts with meaning, and imagine we can Google our way to wisdom.” What do you have against Google? It might help find this interview for someone somewhere sometime!

FR. SIRICO: I have nothing at all against Google. My serious point in writing this was to make the distinction between accumulating data and obtaining wisdom. Data is a good thing, but it is only so if we know what it is for. Human beings do not just seek the facts; we seek the meaning behind the facts. We are beings designed with purpose and intentionality and can only find meaning in our existence by seeking the core of that purpose.

LOPEZ: How does “retrieving a right understanding of the human person” help the economy?

FR. SIRICO: Economics is not essentially about finances but about human reason, free will, choice, and action. In short, understanding who human beings are in their totality is indispensable in understanding and acting positively in terms of economics. If we simply view reality through the lens of “economic man,” we come up with an attenuated vision of the human person, the well-known caricature of the “homo economicus,” a bloodless abstraction that fails to take into account the fact that the economic dimension of human life is an important, but only one, aspect of who we are and what motivates us to act.

LOPEZ: “Ultimately the aim of freedom must be the truth, and the Truth.” But don’t we have the freedom to reject it? The freedom the Catholic bishops are fighting for, for all Americans, isn’t quite the freedom to believe everything they do, right?

FR. SIRICO: God has placed within our hands the capacity to turn from Him. Free will is an awesome thought that underscores human dignity. But we need to be clear that freedom is only a capacity — it is not the end or the consequence of our choices. It is a vacuum, and by its nature must be ordered and directed to something beyond itself. The truth is not some subjective whim; it is an objective fact, and in theological terms it is the very orientation of the human person. The opposite of the truth is a lie, and a lie has no existence or meaning in itself; it is the dissembling or breakdown of meaning. So it is literal nonsense to say anything other than the aim of freedom is truth.

LOPEZ: What’s a priest like you doing running a think tank?


FR. SIRICO: Throughout the ages, priests have done all kinds of work associated with various dimensions of the Church’s apostolate, such as being professors, or scientists, heads of universities, etc. My concern about a proper understanding of the moral potential of the market economy within a free and virtuous society led to my co-founding the Acton Institute. I hasten, however, to add that in the 22 years of Acton’s existence there has never been a period when I have not been engaged in the traditional pastoral work of celebrating Mass, baptisms, weddings, hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction or retreats, visiting people in hospitals, working with the poor, and so on. That is the core of my identity as a priest. Often my parishioners do not know of my activity in the world of ideas, but sometimes there is an overlap.

LOPEZ: You’ve gotten some grief for having been on the opposite side of some issues in your past, namely gay marriage. Are we not welcoming enough to converts? How do we balance trusting but verifying, as Christians, discerning who is being honest and credible?

FR. SIRICO: I am a revert to the Catholic faith, having abandoned it when I was 13 and returned to it about 13 years later (over 35 years ago now) when I was about 26. Those were the years of the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. I am very sorry to say that was a period of great personal, intellectual, and spiritual confusion for me, during which, as you indicate, I was involved in things that quite frankly embarrass me today. I describe some of my conversion in Defending the Free Market. In brief, it was initiated by thinking about economic matters, which in turn led me to ask more fundamental questions about who human beings are, which is when I returned to the Church.

When Saul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, the early Church was initially skeptical of him. After all, he had been rounding up and killing Christians. Those who were closest to St. Paul eventually testified on his behalf, and Paul, of course, lived a consistent, accountable, and transparent Christian life and made an incalculable contribution to the nascent Church.

Now, I am no St. Paul, but I don’t know of any other way to proceed. I had a real conversation many years ago, and I gave a full and honest account of my sins, in detail, first to my confessor and to each of my superiors and close friends over the years. When honest people ask about my past, I speak of it. On the other hand, I have no interest in simply living off the stories of my past. Saints Paul and Augustine did not spend their respective lives’ work recounting over and over again their transformation. They gave an account of themselves, consistently lived the life, and got on with their work for the Kingdom. That is what I have been trying to do.


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