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Father Robert Sirico of the Action Institute on Pope Francis

Friday, March 15, 2013

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HH: Right now, though, I’m joined by the founder of the Acton Institute, Father Robert Sirico. And Father, welcome, it’s great to have you. First, your overall reaction to the announcement of Pope Francis?

RS: Well, I was, you’re going to hear this a lot, I was completely surprised.

HH: Yeah.

RS: I mean, I really thought it was going to be somebody else. You know, the interesting thing, I’m sitting in a piazza, by the way, and so if you hear some noise in the background, that’s what’s going on. I was, eight years ago, I was on the BBC, and we were going down, I kind of had a little bit of a hostile reporter, and he was going on about Ratzinger, and he said well, what do you think his prospects are? And I said well, he’s certainly got the credentials, but perhaps, in fact, there will be a kinder, gentler Ratzinger. And he said who would that be, and I said Cardinal Bergoglio from Argentina. So I was just off eight years on my prediction. But it was a surprise. I did call the timing, because I did not think that it was going to be a long conclave. He is a humble man. We’re learning more and more about him. I don’t think that he has as liturgically as informed or precise as Pope Benedict was. I don’t think that he has his mind on a number of the kinds of big philosophical questions, especially as they pertain to Europe, and as important as they are. But I think he will be marvelous for the reform of the Roman Curia, which is the bureaucracy that gets his work done, or the work of any pope accomplished. And I also think that if he does one thing in his pontificate, namely reviving the Jesuit order, and making it what it was again, or at least putting it on that path, it will have been worth the whole thing.

HH: Now let me ask you, because the Acton Institute is so deeply understood to be a great force for good in making people understand where we get well from, so that it can be given to the needs of the world.

RS: Yes.

HH: People, he’s got this great, great record of saying use your wealth as Christ would use your wealth. But I don’t know what he thinks about the creation of wealth. Does he have a good sense of where it comes from, because we don’t need another letter from the bishops, circa the 80s, when they were clueless on capitalism.

RS: Right. No, I don’t think you’re going to get another letter from the 80s, because that letter from the 80s was in large part at the time inspired by liberation theology. It was falling into a mold. You’re not going to get that from him. I don’t think that he has an appreciation, or a particular interest in how wealth is created. That’s not what his formation as a Jesuit was. That’s what not what his life has been about. He lives a very simple life. You’ve heard the stories that he has an apartment rather than living in a palace, he takes the public transportation to work and that kind of thing. And that’s all authentic stuff. That’s not just stylistic stuff. So I don’t think that he has that appreciation. But what we do know about him is that he adamantly, and to the chagrin of many of his Jesuit brothers at the time, this is in the 70s, he was the provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina, prohibited them from getting involved in the activism and the work of liberation theology in Argentina. This man is no socialist. If you ask me is he a capitalist? Well, that’s a phrase that I’ve never been comfortable with as people have applied it to me, because capitalism is being involved in the life of business and enterprise. So I don’t think he’s that at all. But I don’t think he has a deep appreciation for these things, but I also don’t sense a hostility. His priority is orthodoxy, prayer, fidelity to the Church, those kinds of things.

HH: Well, one of the things that will matter a lot, Father Sirico, is, and you’re an old lefty who became quite a great orthodox…

RS: Right, right.

HH: …defender of orthodoxy, as well as someone who understands how wealth is created. It will matter who he adds to the College of Cardinals. I mean, the consistory will come up, and they’ll be, there are going to be 12, 14, 15 vacancies in the next year or so. To what kind of clues will you look? How will you read that first set of red hats marching in, because they…go ahead.

RS: You know, I think even before the red hats, I think the thing to look for more immediately are the appointments that he will make around him. You know, there’s a whole kind of staffing question that’s going to come up in the next few months. There’s going to be, and in Italy, we call this a bella segura. There’s going to be a good kind of face that you’ll put on things first. So he won’t be firing people right off the bat. But watch how he moves people around, who he puts into positions, who he doesn’t put into positions, and then you can read from there what his appointments would look like maybe in a year or two to the College of Cardinals. So I think that’s the first signal. And as I say, I think in that regard, he’s going to have certain priorities ahead of him with the cleanup up of the Curia.

HH: Because this is an old College of Cardinals. I mean, this must be renewed and renewed relatively quickly, because many will be retiring, and that’s the future, right?

RS: Right.

HH: This can’t be a long pontificate.

RS: Well, he’s 76, and I don’t know what his longevity is. He is living on one lung, but he’s been doing that for, he’s 70…he’s been doing that for 50 years. So I think again, as he chooses cardinals, he’s going to look for orthodoxy. And I think more often than not, the orthodoxy question is going to dispose a person to a knowledge of liberation theology and its errors, and dispose them to be more open to the market now. I spoke with a cardinal just recently who said, I said I don’t think he understands markets. And he said you might be right about that. I said here’s my question. Is he open? Is he the kind of person with whom you could have a conversation? He said absolutely. And I said well, maybe it’s just something he hasn’t considered. So I mean, we’ve got a new thing here. I’m not going to paint him in what I would like him to be. I want to accept him for what he is. And I have a confidence in him, and we’ll see.

HH: Now there’s a last question, which is the new evangelization George Weigel and others have talked quite a lot about this, about the willingness of a Pope to lead his bishops into an aggressive outreach on behalf of the truth of the Gospel.

RS: Sure.

HH: Is that what’s going to denominate this papacy?

RS: I think he’s going to come at this question differently. I think there are going to be a number of things he’s going to come at differently. He is not European-centric, and the new evangelization has been a very real reference point. On the other hand, some of the things I have heard him say and read that he’s written in the past really indicate that he wants to take Christ to the street, that Christ just shouldn’t live inside our hearts or inside a building. But we need to bring Him out into the real world and confront the real world with His message. So yeah, I think that will be a priority. I think getting the mechanism by which he can get his points across to the world, i.e. the bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, will be part of his agenda. And I’m sure he’s going to pay some attention to all of the scandals related to the infidelity on the part of priests on the sexual abuse crisis.

HH: Father Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, safe travels home to Michigan, and we’ll join you again. I hope you’ll come back soon and talk as we unfold the new papacy of Francis.

End of interview.

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