There aren't many men who can say they advised a pope, much less a pope who became a saint. Rocco Buttiglione is one of them. Earlier this month, I sat down with the Italian philosopher and politician while attending a Transatlantic Christian Council conference in Washington, D.C. We discussed his faith, his friendship with John Paul II, liberation theology, and what book he thinks Pope Francis ought to read.
RealClearReligion: What is your faith background?
Rocco Buttiglione: I was raised a Catholic in the sense that all children in Italy are raised Catholic. At the age of 11 or 12, I thought I was no longer interested in my faith. My family was not particularly Catholic. My father was a liberal and my mother was Catholic, but without any particular enthusiasm.
RCR: What changed for you?
RB: I met a group of young people. They were always together and very good friends with one another. I thought that my life was boring, but with them life was more interesting. They said that prayer was the element which gave strength to their friendships. They invited me to pray with them and I'm not sure even today why I did that, but I did.
Then, I met a girl. Women are the most important thing in life, you know? To be taken seriously by her, I had to take seriously her religiosity. It was another important step.
RCR: And eventually, you met Karol Wojtyła who would become Saint John Paul II. How did you two become friends?
RB: The group of young people I referred to belonged to a Catholic youth movement, which later became Communion and Liberation. There was Fr. Francesco Ricci, a very tall man, who was called Don Ricci. He had an underground network of people going behind the Iron Curtain to support the persecuted Church and also to free intellectuals. I worked with him and I smuggled books.
RB: We smuggled 15,000 Bibles, but I mainly smuggled philosophical books, which were forbidden. We also brought back manuscripts. We had a small publishing firm near Bologna, and we published these manuscripts. We were the first to publish Karol Wojtyła in a Western language.
RCR: What was it about Karol Wojtyła's philosophy that inspired you?
RB: It's completely traditional and absolutely modern. He cannot be captured through abstract concepts, and his is a philosophy that rises out of life. He was a poet, and you cannot understand philosophy without poetry. What was extraordinary about him was that he had friends. What I mean by that is: He had a real passionate interest in your life. At the same time, he completely respected your freedom of choice. I like to think that I was a friend of Karol Wojtyła long before I even met him.
RCR: Does Pope Francis have the same kind of philosophical heft that Wojtyła had?
RB: No. He is a different man.
RCR: Is that problematic for the Church?
RB: I don't think so. We have had a pope who was a great philosopher, we had a pope who was a great theologian, and now we have a pope who has a great pastoral spirit. The Church needs all. I dare say that after those two popes we surely need a pope like Francis because the Curia is a mess and you need someone who has the capacity of clearing that mess.
RCR: You're often credited for bringing Wojtyła to free market ideas, especially in the context of Centesimus Annus. How did you seem to persuade him?
RB: I would not put it that way, but I was a friend. As Don Ricci had done with me, I talked to Wojtyła about my friends and the things I saw in the world. Sometimes he asked me to do this or that for him, and that's all.
RCR: Do you think Pope Francis needs a similar education on economics?
RB: Well, you had a pope from Poland who came to understand and love North America much more than anybody could imagine. Now you have a pope who comes from Latin America and in dialogue with him, we must try to explain other things. He is a pope that cannot be only Latin American, but he has to enlarge his horizons. How will he do that?
One of the first things John Paul II did when he became pope was go to Latin America. There he gave a series of homilies, which are a kind of regional encyclical. This encyclical is not against liberation theology, but it is an encyclical that says: We want a theology that is from the point of view from Latin American people. Fine. We want a theology that is written from the point of view of the Latin American poor. Even better! You think that you can produce this theology by using Marxism? That's wrong. You need a different instrument to approach socio-economic realities from a point of view of a true liberation theology.
I remember one day Don Ricci and I were in Lima, Peru and we were talking with a group of liberation theologians. It was the day of the feast of Señor de los Milagros, and all the people were in the streets. I told the theologians: You talk about the people? Please open the door and look on the streets. They are the people! They are people who are not Marx's proletariat; they are a people of culture and religion.
Then we started working in Latin America to create groups that wanted to make a true liberation theology. Some wanted to condemn all liberation theology, and there was the first instruction from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which was very harsh.
I went around visiting different countries and when I came back, John Paul II invited me to one of his "working dinners." In the end, he asked me: There is the theoretical side, but how is Gustavo Gutiérrez as a man? Does he say Mass? Does he pray the Rosary? Does he confess people? Yes? Then we must find another solution.
After that came the second instruction on liberation theology, which made a distinction between true liberation theology and Marxist liberation theology.
RCR: Which liberation theology is Francis influenced by?
RB: He is not a Marxist. Politically, he is a Justicialista. Westerners might call it populist. Justicialismo in Argentina has been a tremendous movement, giving for the first time to the people the idea that they have dignity. They are anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist. There is an Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism, which is the "self-made man." That's American. But that's not capitalism in Argentina. Capitalism there is where a few people use the contracts given by the state without taking the risk of the market make an enormous amount of money and oppress other people. It is a capitalism created by the State.
If I could suggest to Pope Francis the reading of a book, I would suggest he read Friedrich Hayek's The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason. This might help him.
RCR: If you could give any advice to Pope Francis, what would you say?
RB: Well, I must defend him for three reasons: He's the pope, he's a friend, and because he told me, "Oh, I have read all your books!" But, that's not true!
The problem of the Church is the question: Why am I a Catholic?
The Church taught me the right way to fall in love, to be faithful in love, to let love grow, and to have children. The Church taught me what it means to be a man, and allowed me to find a woman who knew what it means to be a woman. Don Ricci taught me to watch women. He said: First the head, then the heart. Try to imagine that girl carrying a child, your son. Would you like to have that mother?
It is important to help young people understand the real meaning of sex and marriage. If you learn to make use of perhaps the most important force of life, there is nothing that can move you.