Prominent philanthropist wants more lay involvement in governance, fighting abuse

“The problem isn’t that the laity has misconceptions” about the hierarchy, says Timothy R. Busch of the Napa Institute. “The problem is that we can’t figure out if our misconceptions are right or wrong, which comes down to transparency.”

More than 100 young adults pray in front of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minn., Aug. 20, 2018, during a vigil for survivors of clerical sexual abuse and healing for the church. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

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.

Timothy R. Busch (Napa Institute)

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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  1. Bravo to Mr. Busch, and may the Lord guide all good Catholics together to stop the corruption of The McCarrick-Danneels Establishment in the Catholic Church.

  2. With all due respect, and with Thanks and Gratitude for all you do for Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, The problem is that so many members of the laity, who deny Christ’s teaching in regards to sexual morality, and thus deny that which a Catholic must believe with Divine and Catholic Faith (Catholic Canon 750) have not been informed by The Bishops that they ipso facto have excommunicated themselves from Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Since it is not The Faithful who are responsible for the heinous abuse crisis, the bullying and sexual harrassment in various seminaries, and the cover up of sexual crimes, by including the unfaithful who have not been Anathema, among the laity, no doubt, the unfaithful laity, who are part of the problem, cannot serve in the capacity required to fix the problem, as the unfaithful deny Christ’s teaching in regard to sexual morality.

    It is “Through Christ, With Christ, And In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost”, that Holy Mother Church exists. The Faithful belong to Christ’s Church, while the unfaithful, those who claim it is possible to have Sacramental Communion, without Ecclesial Communion, have ipso facto separated themselves from Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church, outside which, there is no Salvation, as our Salvation comes Through Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.
    “No one can Come To My Father, except Through Me.” – Jesus The Christ.

  3. Glimmer of hope is better than none. In reference to E Pentin’s article on Bishops Lori and O’Malley that cites a process that would greatly benefit the Am church if adapted Nationwide. Timothy Busch’s expertise and assets, promotion of laity to assist the Church including the abuse issue is a welcome addition. All should consolidate their efforts employing third party EthicsPoint. Although Archbishop Lori was mandated by Rome to investigate Wheeling as apostolic administrator that function of investigating bishops is of course crucial, a must to be incorporated in a National policy. All depends on the Pontiff’s authorization and his response to findings. Laity, faithfully Catholic, credentialed and proven competent are the key to objectively serve the interests of their Church.

  4. The NAPA Institute always strikes me as a bunch of wealthy Catholics, not exactly people who should presume to speak for most of us laity. Just a different sort of big shot.

    • Mark,
      If the wealthy can’t speak for the laity, I guess the poor can’t speak for them either. What exactly does economics have to do with it?

    • American elites do not constitute an aristocracy, even if they are Catholic.

      Accountability starts with the laity of the local Church, who have skin in the game, not someone far off, cleric or lay.

  5. The task of regaining trust in the Catholic clergy seem insurmountable. Would it be possible to investigate the success of Protestant Consistories where the lay group has a much greater say in church affairs?

  6. The Catholic Church will need to adopt Presbyterian polity (or equal), or this (the abuse) will happen again. And thank you Tim for allowing our Ordinariate parish to use Queen of Life Chapel, Irvine for the past several years.

    • Except that there is also apparently quite a bit of sexual abuse of children going on in the Presbyterian world, too.

      And I heard on a news program the horrifying statistics on the number of children abused at school in the US (I can’t remember which one, and I haven’t been able to find the statistics).

      We are living in a sad, sick world in which everything is sexualized and much of it perverted. We are wallowing in it, and it poisons even the Church.

      It seems to me that the problem is not lack of lay involvement, it’s shepherds who are acting more like businessmen than shepherds (I’m referring to the cover-ups and failures to act, not the actual abuse). And the constant use of words like “accountability” and “transparency” and “empowerment” and other business-speak, psychobabble and moderisms, gets really old, really quickly.

      “Whether heterosexual or homosexual, they have taken a vow of celibacy and they should keep it.”

      Father Stravinskas pointed out (in a column on CWR last month) “Celibacy refers to the unmarried state; chastity is the virtue by which one lives out fidelity to the sixth and ninth commandments – according to one’s state in life.”

      “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. ”

      Meanwhile, though, you’ll treat hiim as if he’s guilty. If he’s innocent and being treated that way, too bad, so sad, seems to be the cavalier attitude.

      • Indeed. We studied this stuff fairly extensively back in the 80s, before the first big scandal (here’s gratitude to state school Sociology and Fr Greeley).

        Abuse, in exceedingly rough terms, runs 2-4% through institutions. What we find is that it’s likely (emph, ‘likely’) less given certain structures of oversight and accountability. The reality is that it’s worse here in the Church we love; and less so among others with polities that provide accountable oversight (and authority).

        It is a pity it’s come to this, but it has. St Benedict pointed to this in Chap 64 of his Rule, and we should have developed what he directed us to then. But this is now.

        So it will need to be Session, Vestry, or choose your favorite (or least favorite) term for a governing body. I wish it didn’t have to be done, but it does. Or this will happen again.

        • “So it will need to be Session, Vestry, or choose your favorite (or least favorite) term for a governing body. I wish it didn’t have to be done, but it does. Or this will happen again.”

          I disagree.

  7. Can we expect a new form of “trusteeship” in the American Church? The governance of the Church derives from the Sacrament of Holy Orders and it is of divine origin. No pope or council can change this. Cardinal Burke, who is one of the Church’s best canon lawyers, has stated that the Church already has the long standing canonical procedures to investigate bishops. Yes, lay Catholics could have a subidiary role in such investigations, but the Pope would normally appoint some cardinals to carry it out and they could call in lay experts. The problem is that Pope Francis does not want such an investigation. I get the impression that the so called “lay boards” can be a kind of kangaroo court. It is not clear to me what their canonical standing is. As for the so called Dallas Charter, it is a one size fits all unjust knee-jerk system. Zero tolerance is a fancy slogan, but it is the source of great injustices. WE don’t need new boards and other such bodies.

  8. Listen to Dr. Ed Peters and re-establish the rule of law in the Church.

    Until 1983, sodomy (and I certainly hope and assume adultery and fornication) were considered canonical crimes, and any violators (like adulterer Bishop Kieran Conroy, or sodomizer Fr. Maciel and ex-Cardinal McCarrick) could be put on Canonical trial for these offenses.

    End the “Consensual Sex Cult” promoted by frauds like Cardinal Cupich, and restore moral seriousness, and return to following Jesus, instead of surrendering to the perverted sex revolution.

  9. Control of the church through the faithful laity has to be the next step in church history, but I’m afraid Timothy R. Busch is part of the problem and not the solution. His massive donation to Catholic University strengthens the attack on faithful teaching of church dogma and traditional teaching. The laity must work with bishops faithful to the apostolic mission and not with heretical supporting organizations such as the USCCB. The hope of the church is in a nucleus of faithful hierarchy and laity working as one. This is the new era of Catholicism.

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