New institute set up to help Catholic NGOs deal with legal challenges

New institute set up to help Catholic NGOs deal with legal challenges

New institute set up to help Catholic NGOs deal with legal challenges

U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Pixabay.)

The Napa Legal Institute seeks to help Catholic organizations deal with legal challenges in an increasingly secular society.

[Editor’s Note: Josh Holdenried is the executive director for the Napa Legal Institute, which seeks to help Catholic organizations deal with legal challenges in an increasingly secular society. He spoke to Charles Camosy about the aims of the organization.]

Camosy: Can you tell us a quick story about the background of the Napa Legal Institute? (NLI) How did this organization come to be?

Holdenried: In their private law practices, Tim Busch and John Peiffer, our co-founders, have worked with a variety of Catholic and other religious organizations on corporate, tax, and transactional legal matters. Additionally, the Napa Institute, which is independent but affiliated with NLI, acts as an incubator for new Catholic apostolates and other organizations by providing a venue in which strategic relationships are formed and apostolic partnership opportunities are explored. NLI complements this by providing substantive resources for founders and leaders of apostolates, as well as practicing lawyers who are interested in assisting such organizations, to address the start-up, ongoing administration, and succession planning phases in an organization’s life cycle, among other non-litigation issues.

There are tremendous resources already in existence, such as Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Becket, and others, to serve the litigation needs of organizations when they face challenges to their religious liberty. However, we were not aware of an existing organization focused exclusively on non-litigation legal issues, such as corporate governance and structure, entity formation, tax exemption and compliance issues, etc., with a particular focus on organizations aligned with the Catholic faith.

Apostolates are an important component of the New Evangelization called for by St. John Paul II. Often, such apostolates are founded by “spiritual entrepreneurs,” if you will, who have a great idea inspired by the Holy Spirit, but who lack significant financial and professional resources.

Tim and John have both encountered such organizations over the years in their representations of religious organizations and of donors to such organizations. They wanted to establish a repository of resources, contributed by themselves and other professionals, that will help to prompt important conversations between organizations and their lawyers (whether working on a pro bono or fee basis) so that such organizations are better positioned, from a legal and tax standpoint, to advance the New Evangelization. Our expectation and prayer is that, by implementing corporate, employment, and tax best practices, organizations may avoid some of the legal and compliance issues that can lead to litigation or distract them from executing on their mission.

When I think of your group I think about it helping out people like David Daleiden or Covington Catholic High School. Would these kinds of folks be the kinds of clients you are interested in?

NLI will not be accepting any clients to represent at this time. Instead, NLI will provide educational, spiritual, and networking resources for nonprofits aligned with the Catholic faith and professionals active in law and finance. If the Holy Spirit leads us in the direction of representing clients in the future, we do not anticipate that our representation would be focused on litigation or pre-litigation matters for individuals, such as in the case of Daleiden or Covington Catholic.

Through our resources, we are seeking to serve organizations that are in the start-up phase, dealing with issues such as incorporation, IRS exemption, and related matters or established organizations that are taking a fresh look at their corporate governance, internal policies, etc. For example, we might provide some sample bylaws language to a Catholic prolife group that is looking to do a review and amendment of its bylaws or provide a continuing education to lawyers who are willing to work with such organizations on a pro bono basis so that they are more aware of the specific issues facing religious organizations in the current legal and regulatory environment.

Your previous work was with the Heritage Foundation. Will NLI be primarily focused on more conservative causes–or will you be also serving the legal needs of those involved in more progressive causes? Here I’m thinking in particular about Catholic parishes and groups which adhere to the Church’s teaching on welcoming the stranger.

We are not approaching our work with that dynamic in mind. One of NLI’s core commitments is faithful adherence to all that the Catholic Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be revealed by God. For this reason, we will help equip those who are aligned with the Catholic faith and, as appropriate, will look to our Ecclesiastical Advisor, Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa (CA) to ensure that alignment is clear when necessary.

So in other words, the causes we seek to serve are those that reflect the body of Christ—be it protection of the unborn, dignity of the human person, serving the sick and the needy, and more. Those who seek our help do not necessarily need to be expressly Catholic, but their mission and values must be aligned with the Catholic faith in the areas that matter.

At Heritage, where I served as Associate Director of Coalition Relations, my focus was on policy promotion and strategic partnerships. Those are the skillsets I’m bringing to NLI as we begin our apostolate. We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and will operate as such.

Not all of the work is likely to relate to headline grabbing stuff, right? Much of it will focus on more mundane, though important, legal matters?

Correct. As noted previously, there are excellent public interest law firms that are already focused on defending our constitutional right to religious liberty in the courts. What we want to do is keep organizations aligned with our faith out of court by equipping them with the necessary education and resources that promote excellent nonprofit governance, transparency, and accountability — whether it’s dealing with a conflict of interest issue or ensuring that proper charitable solicitation registrations have been completed.

These issues may not be flashy, but they can make or break an organization, especially in the start-up phase. With that said, the issues that do capture headlines ultimately trickle down and affect us all. Take for example what’s been happening during some of the recent judicial confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. Certain members of that body have accused, with impunity, the Knights of Columbus of holding “extreme” positions that are the same as those held by the Catholic Church. [Editor’s Note: The Knights of Columbus are a principal sponsor of Crux.] If a judicial nominee is unfit to serve the public because they hold fast to the teachings of the Church, then we can expect more open hostility at every level towards Catholics and the nonprofits they serve. For this reason, the need for solidarity, organization, and sophistication among legal professionals and nonprofits faithful to the Magisterium is critical.

How can people who want to learn more about your services best do that?

Please visit our website at napalegalinstitute.org, where we will be uploading a number of legal and educational resources in the near future. You can also email us at info@napalegalinstitute.org.

The Napa Institute, our sister organization, was founded nearly a decade ago to equip and prepare Catholics for the “next America,” where increasing secularization undermines the ability of Catholics to practice their faith. That America is now here, and NLI stands ready to protect and advance the missions of Catholic culture-building organizations.

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