Category: News and Events

Blog author: bwalker
Monday, September 21, 2015

bob dylanWhen it comes to addressing the latest hit-piece in Rolling Stone regarding the Acton Institute, Rev. Robert Sirico is front and center, top of the charts, so to speak. I’d like to take a whack at it, myself, if readers will indulge me.

“Pope Francis’ American Crusade” appears in the same magazine (in)famously trumpeting liberal causes for nearly 50 years, and the very same publication with a boss worth more than $700 million, earned primarily from a magazine that applauds the conspicuous lifestyles of thuggish actors and “musicians;” and the same magazine that has celebrated unabashed materialism while bashing capitalism since its inception. The very same magazine that could be accused of white, American capitalist imperialism for ripping off its very name from the titles of famous songs by Muddy Waters (a black man) and Bob Dylan (Jewish and Minnesotan) as well as a British rock group.

It seems the article’s author – one Mark Binelli – succumbs to the tried-and-true tactic employed by the magazine’s editorial contributors since time immemorial, which is to quote anyone regardless credibility or integrity if they support the Rolling Stone writer’s agenda. For example, famed scofflaw Rep. Charles Rangel is quoted: “People can distort the Bible any way they want to, but when you have science and religion on the same side of a question, there’s no place for fundamentalists to go. You speak against the pope at your own risk.” Apparently, according to Binelli, readers should consider Rangel a martyr because he “says he has had invitations to speak at Catholic high school graduations rescinded by local religious leaders, apparently because of his pro-choice views.” (more…)

Pope Francis has described himself as having an “a great allergy to economic things,” admitting that he doesn’t understand it very well. Does this “allergy” cause him to miss the good that the market economy has done and can continue to do for the world’s poor?

Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg examined that question today with host Hoppy Kercheval on Talkline on the West Virginia MetroNews radio network. Gregg discusses the impact that the market economy has had in cutting poverty rates worldwide in recent decades, and looks at the Pope’s statements on the market in light of his experience of a corrupt market economy in Argentina. You can listen to the interview via the audio player below.

The film The Shawshank Redemption is already a classic. Based on a novel by Stephen King, it tells the friendship story between two inmates from the most disparate walks of life who are bonded by their dreams of freedom (indeed, in Argentina, the film was titled Sueños de libertad –Dreams of Freedom).

For what we are about to say, the plot (which the reader may find in the Internet) is not relevant. What concerns us here is this: at a given moment, one of the oldest convicts, the one in charge of the library –Brooks– becomes eligible to be released on parole. But Brooks does not want to leave. Having become accustomed to his 50-year prison life, prison is now his home, what he knows, what he is used to. Still, he has to leave.

The world outside, “freedom”, is completely and utterly odd for him. Not hostile, though. He is given a job at a supermarket, and housing –humble, but decent… Still, he is definitely out of his world. He cannot stand it. And he kills himself.

The character played by Morgan Freeman, Ellis (alias Red), clarifies what has happened. His thesis holds that Brooks was “institutionalized”. He was so deeply accustomed to the prison institution, that he could not conceive any other life. What we regard as freedom, he experiences as a prison, and vice versa. It is as simple as it is tragic. (more…)

RS cover from 2014

RS cover from 2014

On Sept. 10, Rolling Stone magazine published a long article titled “Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics.” From the title alone you could tell where this was headed. Predictably, the magazine asserted that “deeply alarmed by the power of Francis’ message, an entire network of -right-wing Catholic organizations has been increasingly willing to push back against the Vatican.” In ticking off members of this “network” it said this about the Acton Institute and yours truly:

Then there’s the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which is run by a Catholic priest named Robert Sirico — he’s the brother of actor Tony Sirico, best known for his portrayal of Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos — and hosts forums with titles like “Government: Less Is More.” Sirico recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal attacking “Laudato Si'” for its “decided bias against the free market and suggestions that poverty is the result of a globalized economy,” though he failed to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations Acton has received from extraction-industry giants such as Exxon Mobil and the Koch family.

I wrote a response to this article and sent it to Rolling Stone editors but they, not surprisingly, declined to publish it. Here it is in full:

To the Editor:

News Flash! Admitted pro-market think tank accepts donations from pro-market supporters. (“Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics,” Sept. 10).

Of course this revelation is presented in Mr. Mark Benelli’s – what was it, op-ed, news analysis, hit piece? – as something far more sinister, implying, but not saying, that somehow The Acton Institute is controlled by the dark financial interests of evil capitalists, instead of the reality that (1) we hold to a position and (2) we invite others who hold to the same or similar positions to support us.

The deeper journalistic problem with this piece is its sheer superficiality in understanding Catholicism or what the Acton Institute (which, incidentally, is an ecumenical organization that works with people ranging from like-minded Evangelicals to observant Jews) does. This is understandable given that Mr. Benelli relies to a great extent for his research on the hyperbole from the fainting couch of one M.S. Winters who writes a breathless blog for the Rolling Stone of Catholic journalism, the National Catholic Reporter. (more…)

Blog author: sstanley
Thursday, September 17, 2015


Morning Panel at “Judaism, Christianity, & the West.”

On September 9, leading scholars of the world came together to discuss the ways in which Judaism and Christianity have contributed to building the foundations of liberty. “Judaism, Christianity, and the West: Building and preserving the institutions of freedom” was the fourth conference in the “One and indivisible? The relationship between religious and economic freedom” conference series. Sponsored by the Acton Institute and the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, this day-long event was a first for Acton, as the Institute has never held an event in the Middle East before.

Throughout the world today, freedom is often taken for granted. Yet freedom is the exception rather than the norm in human history. It is also the case that the institutions of freedom, and particular liberties such as political freedom, religious liberty, civil freedoms, and economic liberty in the West, were decisively shaped by Judaism and Christianity. Knowledge of these contribution, however, is dangerously absent from many public discussions of freedom, and its relationship to other important values, such as dignity and solidarity. How do we bring knowledge of these truths back into public discussion? What are the new threats to these forms of liberty in modern societies whose primary religious roots lie in Judaism and Christianity? (more…)

When governments have followed the sort of environmental and free-market admonitions Pope Francis gave us in Laudato Si, negative results often follow. This struck your writer this past week as he read a piece reporting the unforeseen consequences of one specific wrongheaded environmental effort.

In his encyclical, Pope Francis writes:

Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor [italics in original].

Yet, the Pope’s analysis mostly responds to earthly matters when he praises biodiversity and ecosystems as well as:

… marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population … affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species. Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated. Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately depend on them.


Anyone not touched by Pope Francis’ appearance on ABC television earlier this month may want to have their pulse checked for signs of a heart. Quite frankly, he knocked it out of the park in this writer’s humble opinion. Whether speaking to the plight of immigrant children, obviously enjoying a young girl’s vocal rendition of a hymn, or offering encouragement to a single mother of two, Francis was in his element.

As I marveled at the Pope on primetime, national network television, I also considered his declining U.S. popularity ratings. According (subscription required) to National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru:

In 2014, 76 percent of Americans viewed him favorably. American conservatives have led the downward trend, with only 45 percent now positive about him. By comparison, 68 percent of liberals like him.

Much of this drop in popularity may or may not be attributed to the too-easy politicization of the Pope’s Laudato Si encyclical as well as very public pronouncements, much of which has been repeated devoid of context. (more…)