Over 250 attendees gather at the "Authentic Reform" conference, Oct. 2 in Washington (Heidi Schlumpf)
Washington, D.C. —
A gathering of conservative Catholics who want "Authentic Reform" in response to the church's latest sex abuse scandals ended with plans for a statement and a call for like-minded organizations to band together to force church leaders to act against sexually active priests and bishops, as well as those who abuse minors.
While some called for changes in canon law to allow more lay oversight in church governance, others admitted that was unlikely and instead urged attendees — many of them wealthy donors — to use their moral authority as baptized Catholics to effect change by withholding donations and pressuring bishops to demand an independent Vatican investigation of the U.S. church.
"We can't wait around for the leadership of our church to kick this can down the road, hoping we'll forget about it," said Timothy Busch, the millionaire businessman who co-founded the Napa Institute, sponsor of the "Authentic Reform" event in Washington, D.C.
"We're not going to forget about it," he said. "We're going to bring them to justice, move them out and restore our church to holiness."
"It [i.e. the current church scandal, vis-à-vis former Card. McCarrick] 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.
A bishops' panel featured Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin; Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, and Cardinal Gerhard Müller of Germany, the controversial former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The three were introduced as "the new papal posse."
During that panel, Morlino expressed concern about the newly formed Better Church Governance Group, which plans a "Red Hat Report" after investigating and auditing each of the cardinal electors before the next conclave. Morlino later told NCR
he had spoken "off the cuff" and had only general concerns about "non-canonical" groups.
Presenters display a list of 10 lay apostolates at the "Authentic Reform" conference, held Oct. 1-2 in Washington, D.C. (Heidi Schlumpf)
Several speakers acknowledged that church leaders had done a good job of addressing sexual abuse of minors with the 2002 Dallas charter and norms, and thought reform was now needed to address sexual misconduct with adults. Concern about homosexual activity was key, with an entire session devoted to "The Problem of Homosexuality."
In that presentation, Janet Smith, who has taken a leave of absence as a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary
in Detroit to address the scandal, estimated, using various sources of varying credibility, that 5 to 60 percent of priests break their vows of celibacy and that approximately 30 percent of bishops are "active homosexuals." She also referred to "gay priest Harvey Weinsteins" who prey on other men.
"Almost every bishop has been complacent in some way. They've looked the other way," she said of what she calls "the elephant in the diocese": a network of active homosexual priests who protect each other, advance each other and control what happens in a diocese.
Yet, despite promises of "return on investment" and an emphasis on solutions, much of the daylong event focused on personal holiness and the need for universal penance on the part of Catholics, with nearly every speaker noting that "we are all sinners."
But some attendees responded negatively to calls for universal atonement. "I don't want bishops apologizing for me, I want them apologizing to
me," said one participant.
While [Augustine Institute's Tim] Gray called for an emphasis on reparation, perhaps during Lent, [Amazing Parish's co-founder, Patrick] Lencioni noted that public acts of atonement by bishops "felt like a smokescreen" to him.
In a provocative homily at the conference's opening Mass, Morlino called for a "zealous hatred of evil" to take hold in the church.
Although there were no direct or personal attacks on Pope Francis, a question from a representative of LifeSiteNews, a right-wing advocacy website, raised the issue of cover-up "from the top down" during a Q-and-A session with Gray and Lencioni.
Lencioni noted that "the moral authority of Pope Francis has been greatly tarnished and damaged, no doubt."
Busch also defended Viganò, who called for the resignation of Francis for allegedly covering up for McCarrick. Busch had initially told The New York Times
that Viganò shared his now-famous letter or "testimony" with him before it was published by a newspaper owned by EWTN. Busch, who is on EWTN's board, later denied having previewed that letter.
"We can't allow the Vatican to get away with this anymore," Busch said at the conference, adding that it didn't matter if Pope Francis "originated" or merely allowed "corrupt prelates" to operate in the Vatican.
"Viganò has given us an agenda. We need to follow those leads and push that forward," he said.