Today, a select number of American bishops endorse, serve on advisory boards, and offer financial support to orthodox lay apostolates, organizations, and media outlets.
Some of these lay entities are developing models of ministry that are, in fact, big business. Their vision of church is often ideologically driven toward a free market, individualistic Catholicism where personal holiness lacks engagement with the social Gospel.
The slickly marketed entrepreneurial apostolates are often pitched to bishop in exclusive, wealthy venues. Thus influential clergy and ideologically driven lay apostolates are forming partnerships in an attempt to define and influence the direction and mission of American parishes, dioceses, and the larger Church.
Recently the National Catholic Reporter's Heidi Schlumpf wrote a three-part series on the influence of money in defining Catholic life with her latest piece focused on Matthew Kelly and his controversial Dynamic Catholic program. Rounding off that series the NCR Editorial board wrote this:
We [National Catholic Reporter] have spent a great deal of time and effort during the past five years reporting on the effect of money on Catholic image and practice in the United States. It is a peculiarly American capitalist approach to problem solving that has swooped into the leadership vacuum created in an episcopal culture shackled by sex abuse and money scandals.
Our previous reporting documented how wealthy individuals and organizations, through non-profit mechanisms, are able to fund other entities such as think tanks and news outlets that are highly ideological and lie primarily on the conservative to extremely conservative side of the spectrum. With enough funding, they develop the clout to fashion a narrow and deeply flawed Catholic narrative for the wider culture.
Most of these orthodox lay apostolates share common roots and theological pedigrees that dismiss the richness and breadth of many other voices and viewpoints in Catholic thought, life, and tradition. These apostolates are also adept at setting aside the radical claims of the Gospel and the teachings of Vatican II while holding fast to cultural norms that minimize or are hostile to the voices of laity, women, people of color, LGBT+ people and other marginalized groups.
People affiliated with these programs are often hired, while those who are already properly theologically and professionally trained and working in the diocese or parish are dismissed from service. Oftentimes, these programs direct their efforts towards impressionable youth who lack the awareness to discern the efficacy and holistic needs of their own faith while attempts to attract and form new priests grounded in the elitism of the clerical state, a model that Pope Francis and Catholics around the world recognize as responsible for the much of the devastation the Church is facing today.
These apostolates, thru their efforts, could influence the Church for decades to come. Only by educating ourselves and voicing our concerns in our parishes and dioceses will we attain a Church focused on the breadth of Gospel mission, serving the needs of all the Body of Christ.
As Catholics come to a deeper understanding of how the Catholic landscape is being reshaped by ideological apostolates and their allied bishops, they will be able to equip themselves for discernment and action.
While certain sectors may cheer the efforts of these new apostolates, bishops crafting alliances with them with their systematic, ideological framework also leave a broad swath of unmet needs in their diocese and in the broader Church where the Gospel serves as a foundation for entering into the daily reality of people's lives while serving the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in our midst.
We must remain vigilant in order to carry out the work of the Gospel serving first those who are poor and vulnerable and upholding and honoring the fullness of faith and the radical nature of the Gospel that has been passed down to all of us as a central feature of our faith.
FutureChurch has developed some diagrams that show the relationships between some bishops and these entities. To see enlarged diagrams and the supporting documentation, CLICK HERE.