The National Catholic Reporter recently published an exposé on the activities and impact of right-wing Catholic groups in the U.S., many of which have worked to suppress LGBT equality both in the church and in civil society.
The report, authored by Editor at Large Tom Roberts, details the rise of these Catholic nonprofits in recent years. It opens by featuring businessman Timothy Busch, a funder of such nonprofits who said last year that the beginning of the Trump administration was a “time of light” and “we pray [his presidency] will be for greatness to restore our country.” Roberts then wrote:
“There are others similarly motivated who are putting their money into advocacy groups and think tanks that aim to influence church institutions and to shape the Catholic narrative for the wider culture. . . .Catholic nonprofits, said Busch, are ‘what’s making a difference in the American church and why we’re so vibrant, and the rest of the world is not vibrant.’
“He described Catholic nonprofits, most of which have no formal or canonical relationship with the church, as ‘tethered to the church through a bishop’ and in that way, he said, ‘they’re following the magisterium of the church. But they have access to capital that the church doesn’t.'”
Stephen Schneck, who once directed the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, said these nonprofits seek to “claim some legitimacy as alternative Catholic voices” to institutional leadership.
Most of these nonprofits funded by wealthy Catholics promote both conservative theology and right-wing politics, and in both spheres attempt to stop the expansion of LGBT inclusion and civil rights. Sean Fieler, a hedge fund manager, has been described as an “ideologically motivated funder.” He has supported a number of anti-LGBT equality groups, reported Roberts, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Courage, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the Witherspoon Institute. Right-wing philanthropist Frank Hanna III also supports the Becket Fund, and has said “we lost the battle on gay marriage. . .we didn’t have credibility.”
Roberts’ investigation follows a similar report he wrote for NCR in June 2017 describing the Knights of Columbus’ political activities. The national leadership has provided extensive funding to stop LGBT rights in the last decade, including nearly $1 million for the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty campaigning and anti-gay workshops for bishops. In December 2016, Nicole Sotelo wrote in NCR about church worker justice and the Knights, which provides financial services for many Catholic institutions. Sotelo also reported in 2014 about the Knights’ extensive funding of anti-LGBT trainings for bishops. A 2012 report revealed the millions of dollars which the Knights leadership invested in anti-marriage equality campaigns, often without members’ knowledge. In 2016, the Knights co-sponsored a multi-day conference for bishops on bioethics which had several anti-transgender talks scheduled.
Roberts’ current exposé, which I recommend you read in full here, should deeply trouble Catholics concerned about equality and social justice. It is further evidence that wealthy, right-wing Catholics are unduly influencing the U.S. Church. They have access to and harmful influence on church leaders who rely on the funders’ vast resources. In addition, the funders, through right-wing Catholic media outlets, are able to challenge church leaders who oppose their positions.It is easy to see how wealthy Catholics’ anti-LGBT positions trickle down to bishops, many of whom, as appointees of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, are already receptive to homophobic and transphobic ideas and messaging.
How effective will these funders be? They can do a lot of damage, however, they seem to be moving in the opposite direction of much of the Church. The witness of pro-LGBT Catholics intensifies each day, leading to greater inclusion in the Church. Decades of faithful work have led to welcoming ministries at many parishes, the recognition by more and more church leaders of the need for LGBT inclusion, and even Pope Francis’ now famous utterance, “Who am I to judge?” In the civil sphere, Catholics have repeatedly been at the forefront of pushes for marriage equality in many countries. Against an organized and wealthy opposition, Catholics have shown that grassroots efforts fueled by a commitment to the Gospel of justice and equality for all people ultimately triumphs.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 11, 2018