Timothy R. Busch is an attorney, philanthropist, and entrepreneur based in Orange County, California, known in Catholic circles for helping found Magis Center and the Napa Institute. In 2016, the Busch Family Foundation gave the Catholic University of America a donation of $15 million—the largest single donation in school history—to assist with the operational needs of the School of Business and Economics and related academic programs.
More recently, Busch has been working to increase lay involvement in helping root out abuse and expose corruption within the Catholic Church. In a February 19, 2019, commentary piece in The Wall Street Journal, Busch lamented that “bishops are not subject to the reforms in the Dallas Charter.” And in a more recent commentary piece for National Catholic Register, Busch wrote:
Right now, lay review boards are generally banned from investigating bishops. But as we saw with McCarrick and in Pennsylvania, bishops can be complicit in the protection of abusive priests — if not abusers themselves.
To increase accountability, protect children and prevent cover-ups, the faithful need the Church’s approval to examine allegations against bishops. The laity’s role would not be to dole out discipline — that’s the Pope’s exclusive authority, absent a criminal act — but, rather, to shine a light on wrongs that need to be righted.
Mr. Busch recently corresponded with CWR about church reform and what the role of lay people might be in that important work.
CWR: You have worked closely with various bishops over the years. It’s understandable that bishops will have certain perspectives that lay leaders may not completely share and vice versa. How can various sides come to appreciate better the other’s perspectives and concerns?
Busch: When it comes to building bridges between the bishops and the laity, there’s no substitute for cooperation. Dialogue isn’t enough; the hierarchy and the faithful have to work hand-in-hand to keep the Church healthy, accountable, and orthodox. Vatican II issued a strong mandate to involve the laity in the Church’s governance. By better heeding this call to action, we will not only foster better understanding between bishops and lay Catholics. We will also strengthen the Church for whatever trials lie ahead.
CWR: What do you think is the biggest misconception that laity have about the hierarchy? What about the biggest misconception that hierarchy has about the laity?
Busch: The problem isn’t that the laity has misconceptions. The problem is that we can’t figure out if our misconceptions are right or wrong, which comes down to transparency. Wherever possible, the hierarchy should be more of an open book, especially on matters of finance and abuse. If we let in even a little more light, it will build new bonds of trust between the laity and the hierarchy.
CWR: What are some specific, concrete things you think the laity can or should be doing to address the sexual abuse crisis?
Busch: First, pray. We need the prayers of the faithful more than at any point in my lifetime. Second, speak out. Talk to your deacons and priests. Write or call your bishop’s office. They need to hear from us so we can work together to heal our Church. And finally, the laity needs to be wary of clericalism, which is an easy thing to slip into. We need to respect the magisterium that Christ instituted while being mindful that we all still slip and sin, even our priests and bishops.
CWR: Despite limitations on hierarchical accountability built into the very structure of the Church as Christ founded it, what things can laity do to exercise their “co-responsibility”, to use Benedict XVI’s term, for the Church’s life and mission?
Busch: I’ve called for the USCCB to expand the Dallas Charter’s diocesan lay review boards, which have already proven remarkably successful at holding regular priests accountable for abuse of minors. To protect further abuse and cover-ups, the boards should be empowered to examine accusations against bishops and priests who break their vows of celibacy. The Pope would continue to retain the exclusive power to discipline bishops. Many bishops support (or have implemented) similar reforms precisely because they know it will lead to a healthier, holier Church.
CWR: One difficult topic: on the one hand, there is much talk about clericalism as the problem behind the clergy sexual abuse crisis—either with clerics using their office to abuse people sexually, engage in other forms of sexual misconduct, or clergy using their office to cover up abuse/misconduct by other clergy. On the other, there is the fact that we’re taking about sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, not simply an abuse of power. The tendency to speak only of clericalism as the problem suggests the only issue is the abuse of office/abuse of power, when in fact there are specific ways in which abuse/misconduct occurs—in the area of sexual morality. Do you think we should speak of the problem as due to clericalism alone? Or to sexual misconduct/abuse only? Or both?
Busch: Both. Everyone condemns clericalism but then most people follow it. We need to do a better job of explaining what clericalism is, why it’s bad, and what we can do to move past it. But we also need to speak directly to the sins and crimes committed. Sexual abuse and misconduct would surely exist even without clericalism, although not nearly on the same scale. As with so much else in our faith, the answer is both/and, not either/or.
CWR: How should we understand the high percentage of same-sex misconduct by male clergy?
Busch: It appears from studies this is a serious problem. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have said people with strong homosexual tendencies should not be in the priesthood. They have also said that we need to better screen seminaries who have this tendency and form them on these issues. I follow this papal guidance. As a Church, we also need to call our priests to holiness. Whether heterosexual or homosexual, they have taken a vow of celibacy and they should keep it.
CWR: Since the hierarchical constitution of the Church is of divine origin, what limits are there to what laity can do when it comes to holding the hierarchy accountable? Are there risks that efforts of laity to hold clergy accountable will foster a certain kind of Protestant view of church leadership?
Busch: What we’re asking for is accountability and transparency, and we’re working prayerfully, tirelessly, and respectfully to make it happen. We’re working from within the Church, as all great reform movements have done over the past 2,000 years. Frankly, the easier approach would be to leave the Church entirely and start something new. That’s the Protestant way and it’s the wrong way. Instead, we’re faithful Catholics of every background who love our Mother and want to heal her.
CWR: Finally, last year there was controversy over the role of Archbishop John Nienstedt with the Napa Institute. What happened, and what is his status now in relation to the Institute?
Busch: Archbishop Nienstedt worked as an independent contractor for Napa Institute for two years until September 2018. Before he started, we inquired with Archbishop Hebda as to his status as a priest in good standing, which he was and to my knowledge still has such status. We also inquired with the Papal Nuncio, who knew of no credible evidence of misdeeds. After the case against him resurfaced, we chose to disassociate with him so we could focus on our mission of Church reform. If he is innocent this is a great pity and I pray for him daily. If these allegations have credibility, then the appropriate authorities should try the case and discern if he is guilty or not. I know he welcomes that opportunity.
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