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Institute president tells how rich men can get to heaven

Adrienne Ruffner | Friday, April 7, 2006

A rich man can go to heaven – but first, he must follow Christ and respect the dignity of other people, Father Robert A. Sirico said Wednesday in the Jordan Auditorium in the Mendoza College of Business.

In a lecture entitled “Can a Rich Man Go to Heaven?” Sirico spoke about economic responsibility and social justice to approximately 100 students, faculty and community members. Sirico is the co-founder and president of the Acton Institute, an organization whose mission is “to promote a free and virtuous society.”

The relationship between economics and society is a precarious balance, Sirico said. He emphasized that money is not “intrinsically evil” and can be used to promote good.

“The economy can be likened to a very powerful automobile,” Sirico said. “It can be used as an ambulance to drive people to safety, or it can be used to drive drunk and to hurt people.”

The responsibility lies not only in the hands of the rich to lessen suffering in poverty but also in the hands of the poor to work to secure what they need, Sirico said.

“Too often in these [economic] discussions, what we do too simplistically is to revere the poor and condemn the rich without considering personal characteristics,” he said.

Sirico said while economic justice is supremely important, there is not one particular system that can unequivocally provide both prosperity and fairness.

“The Church does not have its own economic model,” Sirico said. “It has an insight into human dignity and into the human person. … We have to look at prudential economic proposals and see how they best respect the human person.”

He also advised current and future business leaders to be aware of how their businesses affect society.

“Ask not what kind of capitalist [you] will be, but ask what kind of person you will be,” Sirico said.

The lecture’s title comes from a passage in the Gospel in which Christ and his disciples discuss the rich man’s ability to get into heaven. The rich man is often criticized in the Gospels, and in the story, Christ says a man who lives such a life of selfish depravity may not enter heaven.

“Everybody always remembers that story,” Sirico said. “Jesus says the man won’t get into heaven because he’s rich or poor, but because he has grace.”

Before he became a priest, Sirico said he “spent several years being involved in leftist social change.” Both political and spiritual conversions, he said, led him to become a priest and eventually to found the Acton Institute.

The Institute’s goal is to educate business leaders to form a more just society. Each year it sponsors programs such as Acton University, a summer symposium of classes and seminars.

Sirico lectures at businesses and schools across the country. His writings have been published in many major newspapers and magazines, and he has provided commentary for television and radio programming.