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In response to Pope’s comments about the global wealth gap, the Acton Institute’s founder says the poor are better off than they were 10 years ago

February 17, 2020

Earlier this month the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, addressed a group of global financial leaders, calling out the growing wealth gap around the world.

The Vatican News posted a summary of the Pope’s comments directed at those who have a great deal of power to direct global economic matters. The Pope’s comments came during a a seminar entitled, New Forms of Solidarity: 

“The world is rich, and yet the number of poor people is swelling all around us.”

Hundreds of millions of people, said the Pope, are struggling in extreme poverty, and are lacking food, housing, healthcare, schooling, electricity, and drinkable water. Around 5 million children will die this year of causes related to poverty, he said.

The Pope went on to acknowledge that there are solutions, stating:

Poverty can be overcome, said the Pope, if an economic system is put in place that includes, feeds, cures, and dresses those left behind by society. “We have to choose what and who to prioritize,” he said. Our choice will lead either to increased social injustice and violence, or to “humanizing socio-economic systems”.

Pope Francis then identified what he referred to as Structures of Sin:

Currently, the 50 richest people possess the equivalent of US$ 2.2 trillion. The Pope said that, on their own, they could finance “medical care and education for every poor child in the world, either through taxes and/or philanthropy” and save millions of lives every year. And he condemned recurrent tax breaks for wealthy individuals as “structures of sin”. “Every year hundreds of millions of dollars – which should be collected as taxes and go to finance healthcare and education – instead end up in offshore accounts,” he said.

Acton Institute Founder Rev. Robert Sirico responded to Pope Francis’s comments in a recent Acton podcast. Rev. Sirico says that the Pope’s claim that poverty is growing is wrong, yet the Acton Institute founder offers no countering evidence, other than to say that all of the organizations that analyze economics have a different take on the matter. Sirico goes on to say that, “the poor are better off today than they were 10 years ago.”

The Acton founder then respond’s to the Pope’s comments about Structural Sin. With a sort of mental jiu jitsu, Sirico states that there is an unfair tax burden on the poor, because it doesn’t allow them to be creative with what they have. Sirico then goes on to say that the tax burden on the rich is also a problem, since, “the rich own the means of production and are the ones providing the poor with jobs.” The Acton founder thinks that businesses shouldn’t be taxed.

Sirico continues the be dismissive of the Pope’s comments, which included his comments about welfare and social services as being problematic. The Acton founder completely avoids any real challenge to the wealth gap that the Pope addressed or any serious policy discussion about capitalism or other forums of solidarity.

Of course, for anyone who is familiar with the Acton Institute’s history, they would know that the organization founded by Rev. Sirico acts as an apologist for capitalism. This defense of capitalism is underscored by who sits on the board of directors and the regular attacks against an economic policy that threatens the system of capitalism. Interestingly enough, in looking at the 990 documents for the Acton Institute, the most recent being from 2017, Rev. Robert Sirico made $259,269.00 as the President. I guess making over a quarter of a million dollars in annual salary is a good reason to be an apologist of wealth and capitalism. 

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