Tom Roberts, author of Joan Chittister: Her Journey from Certainty to Faith and The Emerging Catholic Church, is executive editor of National Catholic Reporter.

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The Rise of the Catholic Right

by Tom Roberts 01-23-2019
How right-wing billionaires are attempting a hostile takeover of the U.S. Catholic Church.
Photo: Composite/Reuters

TIMOTHY BUSCH IS A WEALTHY MAN with big ambitions. His version of the prosperity gospel, Catholic in content and on steroids, is a hybrid of traditionalist pieties wrapped in American-style excess and positioned most conspicuously in service of free market capitalism.

Busch’s organization, the Napa Institute, and its corresponding foundation are among the most prominent of a growing number of right-wing Catholic nonprofits with political motivations. Such groups, some more extreme than others and all on the right to far-right side of the political and ecclesial spectrum, have in recent years muscled in on territory that previously was the largely unchallenged domain of the nation’s powerful Catholic bishops.

What Busch calls “in-your-face Catholicism” is often expressed amid multicourse meals followed by wine and cigar receptions, private cocktail parties for the especially privileged, traditional Catholic devotionals, Mass said in Latin for those so inclined, “patriotic rosary” sessions that include readings from George Washington and Robert E. Lee, and the occasional break for a round of golf.

Busch’s Catholic Right brand of American libertarianism aligns with some far-right leaders based in Italy who oppose Pope Francis and appear interested in joining forces to fashion an alternative to official Catholic leadership structures, which in this country means the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Last summer, the Napa Institute sponsored a birthday soiree at the Rome residence of Cardinal James Harvey, a far-right American cleric. There, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, a German philanthropist-turned-conservative Catholic, rubbed shoulders with American arch-traditionalist Cardinal Raymond Burke, who, according to The New York Times , “ate birthday cake in the shape of a red cardinal’s hat, held champagne in one glass and blessed seminarians with the other, and watched fireworks light up the sky in his honor.”

Princess Gloria also introduced German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, fired by Pope Francis from his position as the church’s doctrinal watchdog, to Steve Bannon. Bannon subsequently invited Müller to Bannon’s Washington headquarters, better known as the “Breitbart Embassy,” according to The Times. All done under the watchful eye of Timothy Busch.