header icons

Fr. Sirico Uses the “S” Word to Win: Liberty Theology Not Free for Poor Workers

One of the most damaging influences in the discussion of workers’ rights and the application of Catholic social teaching is Fr. Robert Sirico, a member of the Oratorians and the director of the Acton Institute.

With great cleverness he eliminates any opposition to his laissez-faire economics by using the “S” word against critics and against those who approach economics in a different way then he prescribes.

If you disagree with him, you are a socialist. All opposition to whatever he says is written off because of the possibility of radicalness. The way to denigrate those who take the papal encyclicals seriously and are interested in social issues is to write them off as being socialists or proponents of liberation theology.

He does exactly this in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (12-31-2007), in which he calls laissez-faire, brutal neoliberal capitalism “Liberty Theology.”

Not long ago a colleague of Fr. Sirico was presented with a copy of the Houston Catholic Worker for his comment. “Pure Kremlin,” he responded, even though he knew very well that Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin (and the Houston Catholic Workers) were not socialists or communists but were most knowledgeable about the papal encyclicals, and that Peter Maurin said the purpose of the Catholic Worker movement was to make the encyclicals “click.”

In his Wall Street Journal article, Fr. Sirico tells us that the people who occupied the Cathedral in Mexico City—on Sunday morning no less—were from the left “collective militancy,” so we have to be careful about assisting the poor or being concerned about human rights. There may be socialists lurking in the shadows. There may be liberation theologians lurking in the shadows. The Church should avoid politics, “above all else there should be an independence from politics.”

Most people already know that Hugo Chavez is not a proponent of Catholic social teaching. But we cannot write off Catholic social teaching and concern for human rights simply because a socialist says we need to be concerned about the poor. We cannot let the “S” word dominate and destroy our concern for what recent Popes have called the globalization of solidarity.

Fr. Sirico contends that a “vibrant understanding of the market” will cure all ills. The “market” has been tied to policies that have hurt the poor around the world for decades, enforced by the actions of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and more recently the World Trade Organization. The economics he calls “Liberty Theology” is not liberty, not even libertarian. It is rather government sponsorship of multinational corporations and a lack of freedom for poorer countries who must follow the dictates of international institutions or “die” economically. Privatization by the fist and the sale of all government services by force to multinationals all through the countries of the South has not brought liberty.

One does not have to look too far to see that those who have followed Fr. Sirico’s Calvinist institute and the neoliberal economic model of Milton Friedman have caused untold harm to the poor of the world. Perhaps they are in many ways responsible for the resurgence of socialism in some countries in Latin America where the people are so disillusioned with neoliberal models (condemned by Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia in America ).

We have not seen in Fr. Sirico’s prolific writings any reference to concern for workers, the workers defended by Pope John Paul II as the center of the economic system when he said in Laborem Exercens that workers and their wages are the key to the evaluation of any economic system. How could anyone conceive of a “liberty theology” that left the workers almost as slaves?

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, March-April 2008.