Laity led reform raises question: Can Catholic Church be bought?

laity reform

Two news stories last week gave ample justification for my repeated warnings this summer to be careful about viewing an increased role for the laity as some kind of panacea for what ails the church.

Both stories indicated that there is a kind of clericalism unique to the laity that has emerged and which bodes ill and heretical.

And, most worryingly, both stories demonstrated the ugly power of money that lay leadership entails, raising the question, unique to the American Church: Can the Catholic Church be bought?

The first story was Tom Roberts’ account of a meeting at the Catholic University of America to launch the “Better Church Governance Group.”

The means for accomplishing improved ecclesial governance was to form a kind of posse of ex-FBI agents, academics and conservative activists to probe into the lives of all cardinal electors, compiling dossiers “in the manner of political opposition research.”

That characterization was frightening enough, but as you read the rest of their literature, (some of their protestations and walk backs notwithstanding,) it seemed that Roy Cohn was their model: This is reform with an ideological agenda.

How else to explain the warm citation to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s “testimony,” which has been demonstrated to be filled with mistakes and unsubstantiated rumors, or the derogatory references to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to whom no whiff of scandal has attached itself.

Most of the organizers of the effort were unknown to me but Jay Richards was listed as a “research editor.”

Mr. Richards is a professor at the Tim & Steph Busch School of Business at CUA and also hosts a weekly TV show on EWTN in which he spouts capitalist agitprop.

I debated Richards at the Cato Institute in advance of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States.

He pretends to be an aficionado of Catholic social teaching but, in fact, he and the school at which he teaches are committed to undermining that teaching. After this, why is he still on the staff?

The Catholic University of America makes much of its mission and the fact that it holds a pontifical charter.

But, apparently, if your ecclesiology and your politics are conservative enough, the fact you are talking breezily about influencing a conclave is no big deal.

Richards should be sacked.

According to a news account at Crux, a spokesperson at CUA said, “A space on campus was reserved by a student in accordance with our space reservation procedures.

The event was not sponsored by The Catholic University of America nor a university-sponsored organization.” Karna Lozoya, the Executive Director for University Communications confirmed that to me by phone but that misses the point.

Whether or not the event was sponsored by a university-sponsored organization is immaterial.

The policy for reserving space opens with these words: “University staff, faculty and students representing University offices, departments and registered student organizations for University-related activities in accordance with the mission of the University and the requirements set forth in this policy.”

Once the CUA officials signed off on this event, they owned it as “in accordance with the mission of the University.”

I know Provost Andrew Abela was a bit big for his britches, thinking he can re-make Catholic social doctrine, but influencing the next conclave? Wow.

We will see what comes of this effort.

The organizers said they had already recruited some 40 researchers, and I know of one former FBI official who was contacted about working on the project.

Conversely, surely someone knows, or should know, about the sad history of the jus exclusivae, the right of Catholic monarchs in France, Spain and Austria, to veto papal candidates.

It was last exercised in 1903 against the candidacy of Cardinal Mariano Rampolla, after which outside attempts to influence a conclave were prohibited by canon law.

The other, related article was Heidi Schlumpf’s report on the “Authentic Reform” conference sponsored by Tim Busch’s Napa Institute with, as she indicates, a large role by the Denver-based and horribly misnamed Augustine Institute.

Just like the poorly named Cardinal Newman Society, the Denver shop exhibits none of the intellectual reach of its namesake.

They may be geniuses when compared to Busch, but that is a pretty low bar.

How low? Just read the opening comments he made:

“We’re not going to forget about it [sexual misconduct by the clergy],” he said.

“We’re going to bring them to justice, move them out and restore our church to holiness.”

“It needs to stop. And, we, the laity, are going to stop it. And we’re going to do it regardless of what the civil and canon law says,” Busch said.

“If we don’t tolerate this in our own businesses, we can’t tolerate it in our church,” Busch said, adding that he will have respect for priests and bishops “to the extent they are compliant with normal business acumen and behavior.” Continue reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.