From Catholic Clericalism to Pharisaic Elitism

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

Deep-Pocketed Catholic Conservatives and Bishops  Reduce the Message of Jesus to Evangelization by Money and Moral Legalism

In 2017, Tom Roberts, then the Editor of the National Catholic Reporter wrote an editorial entitled Conservative donors aim to shape Catholic narrative for the wider culture

His focus was to show how money and church intertwined “into advocacy groups and think tanks that aim to influence church institutions and to shape the Catholic narrative for the wider culture. Fox uncovered ”a report detailing Knights of Columbus spending on conservative communications outlets, political think tanks, and advocacy groups.” 


Another example of how wealth is influencing Catholicism is the Napa Institute, an organization co-founded by Timothy Busch and his wife, that espouses a mix of conservative theology and libertarian economics. 

Participants of a Conference at the Napa Institute

Busch, the founder of the Busch Legal Firm, spoke at a Mass in 2017 that was celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. for the opening of a conference at the Catholic University of America business school that bears Busch’s name. “This very, very important time of our nation, said Busch… a time when many of us as Catholics saw it as a time of darkness and now we see a time of light. It may be a challenging light, but a time of light,” he said in an apparent reference to the transition in administrations from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. Busch said the assembly would pray for the nation, and added, “We will in the next day learn more in our hearts and our minds where this next term will take us, and we pray it will be for greatness to restore our country.”

This was the beginning of the Catholic Church’s support for the 45th president, Other such groups and foundations lending their support by contributing to the “evangelization of the American culture are: 

The Knights of Columbus

Napa Institute 


Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, 

Catholic University’s Busch School of

Business and Economics


Ethics and Public Policy Center

Femm Foundation

Holy Family School of Faith

John Paul II Center for Women

Sophia Institute Press

Witherspoon Institute

“If Busch of the Napa Institute considers Catholic nonprofits a sign of church vitality and the real evangelizing corps in the church, Stephen Schneck, former director of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, sees the surge in growth as often providing an alternative structure to the church.”

Fox continues, “When the USCCB’s  letter on the economy, Economic Justice for All  was issued, Schneck said, “pro-market conservatives like Bill Simon, Michael Novak, Richard Neuhaus and others began a systematic effort to create a sort of parallel to the bishops’ conference — an array of non-profit organizations, media, clerics and academics that could claim some legitimacy as alternative Catholic voices, but that also were authentically conservative in the America, pro-market, pro-military style.”

In addition to Simon, Schneck was referring to Novak, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of numerous books on religion and culture. One of his best known is The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Novak died in February at age 83.

The network of organizations, however, is keeping his legacy alive. In 2016, Novak joined Catholic University’s Busch School of Business and Economics as a distinguished visiting fellow in the Arthur and Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship.”

There is so much more contained in this editorial by Tom Fox.

He concludes with comments by Stephen Schneck, former director of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies who says: “Deep-pocketed conservatives and their foundations were and remain very committed to funding these efforts at levels that cannot be matched by resources within the episcopacy,” said Schneck. Consequently, he added, the bishops are influenced by these organizations — “their academic and intellectual firepower, and their extensive media outreach.”

Schneck believes it is “increasingly difficult to identify the line between this conservative Catholic deployment of organizations and the official institutions of the church in America.”

SO, what we have here is the power, fame, and fortune that Jesus rejected at his great temptation in the desert, as the new evangelization of the Good News.

 Why do I call it Pharisaic Elitism? Well, let’s start with some definitions. Pharisaic= practicing or advocating strict observance of external forms and ceremonies of religion or conduct without regard to the spirit; self-righteous; hypocritical. Elitism= In political and sociological theory, the elite (French élite, from Latin eligere, to select or to sort out) are a small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power, or skill in a society. Defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, the “elite” are “those people or organizations that are considered the best or most powerful compared to others of a similar type.”

Since the Catholic Church has failed to influence the American culture with traditional evangelization utilizing preaching and catechesis, the next best way is the influence of power and fortune wrapped in the fame of entrepreneurs, media celebrities, and politicians even the likes of the former guy who was president from 2017 to 2021.

One caveat which is forgotten or ignored is that America is NOT a Christian or Catholic nation and never will be as long as We the People have any say. Maybe that’s why democracy appears to be giving way to autocracy!  These notable moguls and financiers believe that their holy vocation is to restore western civilization to what it was from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. They forget that those nations and empires failed, as did the patriarchy and authoritarianism of the Roman Catholic Church and that America was to be a nation free of religious influence. The ecumenism of Vatican II reminded us that there were other religions to be included in evangelizing the world to do God’s Will. America is an example of how these religions can live together in peace and harmony. Money and laws don’t bring about the Kingdom of God. Love, Compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and inclusion that leads to distributive justice do.

Shouldn’t the Magisterium remind itself and Catholics what Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Mt 6:24

Pope Francis is trying to remind the Catholic Church of this but many of the hierarchy and conservative financiers are opposed to his “heretical” compassionate and non-judgmental attitude. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, worked for a time as a bouncer and a janitor as a young man before training to be a chemist and working as a technician in a food science laboratory. After recovering from a severe illness, he was inspired to join the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1958. As a local superior for the Jesuits in Argentina during a brutal dictatorship, he was caught in the middle of some members of his order, who were helping the poor protest the oppression, and the survival of the Jesuit order there. He was criticized for not confronting the power of the regime while trying to protect those priests from the torture and execution that was imminent if they continued to voice opposition to the regime. That would all result in the absence of anyone to help the poor with their basic needs. In other words, Pope Francis knew then that power can’t be used to bring about the Kingdom of God. “They don’t understand the complexity of Bergoglio’s position back then when things were so dangerous,” Cox, a former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald says. “They can’t see how difficult it was to operate under those circumstances.”

At this, the leaders sought to arrest Jesus, for they knew that He had spoken this parable against them. But fearing the crowd, they left Him and went away.

Paying Taxes to Caesar

(Matthew 22:15–22; Luke 20:19–26)

Later, they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to catch Jesus in His words. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are honest and seek favor from no one. Indeed, You are impartial and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not?”

But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to inspect.” So they brought it, and He asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they answered.

Then Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And they marveled at Him. Mk 12

Shortly after that, they asked him, What was the most important commandment. He responded: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

“Right, Teacher,” the scribe replied. “You have stated correctly that God is One and there is no other but Him, and to love Him with all your heart and with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, which is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely, He said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Mk 12

In other words, LOVE, not power, fame, or fortune, is the Way to the Kingdom of God.

In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 23, Jesus attempts to set the Pharisees straight. One of his warnings is this: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin. But you have disregarded the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Mt 23:23

Catholic money, laws, and political influence may appear as solutions to the world’s and America’s problems, but it sure doesn’t measure up to the message of Jesus. The annual Napa Institute gatherings held at one of Busch’s California resorts regularly attracts leading conservative archbishops and cardinals from the U.S. and the Vatican. It is a gathering for those at the upper end of the economic spectrum, complete with gourmet dining, fine wines, and cigar smoking sessions. They must assume that they are doing the work of the Lord but remember what Jesus said, 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Mt 7:21

The final caveat is the fact that from the moment Constantine decided to make Chrisianity the religion of the Roman Empire, Catholicism was captured by the culture and power of empire after empire, country after country in Western Europe and now it is waning, even in America despite the “deep pockets” of Catholic Philanthropists who want the American culture to become Catholic.

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.

It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

G.K. Chesterton, in What’s Wrong with the Worldl

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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