Tuesday, September 13, 2005

John Allen Jr.'s Proposal for Dialogue . . .

Browsing the web I stumbled on this old story in John Allen Jr.'s column "Word from Rome" (National Catholic Reporter Oct. 4, 2002, which included details on his lunch with Fr. Sirico:

I was invited to a lunch Oct. 2 with Fr. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is devoted to the relationship between religion and liberty. Sirico is a leading Catholic defender of a free market and limited government. He and the Acton Institute recently collaborated with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on a compendium of Catholic social doctrine.

The lunch took place at the apartment of Gaetano Rebecchini, a councilor of the Vatican city-state and the son of a former mayor of Rome, on the Via della Conciliazione. (The view of the Vatican is truly spectacular.) Rebecchini is the founder of the Centro per Orientamento Politico, a kind of think tank with a conservative flavor, and Sirico was in town to speak at one of its conferences.

I ended up seated across from Sandro Magister, a talented Italian Vaticanista who leans somewhat to the right, and this arrangement led to predictable jokes about how with Magister and I both present, all the Catholic bases were covered. (Actually, in my experience, journalists tend to regard one’s “nose for news” as a far more fundamental value than ideology, which Magister and I confirmed by revealing that we are avid readers of one another’s work).

Though Sirico struck largely predictable notes, such as the perils of the United Nations and the need to distinguish Catholic social thought from liberation theology, I found him open and thoughtful. His analysis of how the crucial inter-religious conversation of the future will be between progressive Muslims and “faithful” Christians was especially penetrating.

A suggestion for Martino, incoming president at Justice and Peace: It would be fascinating to sponsor a public event in Rome that would bring Sirico into conversation with Catholic social thinkers from other points of departure – the Catholic Worker movement, for example, or even a liberation theologian such as Gustavo Guttierez. Given the polarization that too often poisons conversation in the church, there’s urgent need for dialogue, and this would be a marvelous model.

I expect that Fr. Sirico would welcome a good, civil, public dialogue with the Catholic Workers (I have in mind the Zwicks @ Casa San Diego, Houston TX). Although I'm compelled to wonder if they would respond with the same degree of enthusiasm?