Bishop Barron at His Best and a Lament of a Growing Rift

The video below shows Bishop Robert Barron at his best. He is a master at decoding the deeper currents in our culture, and his analysis goes a long way toward showing how things have reached this point. He gives an in-depth review of the ideologies that are behind the rioting and unrest, pointing out the continued influence of the ideas of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault.

The video is fifty minutes long, and some parts of it can be difficult to get through if you’re not schooled in philosophy, but no one can break it down the way Bishop Barron can. (If your time is limited, I’d suggest at least listening to the portion of his talk beginning at 37:05.) The Bishop explains why the assertions of these philosophers that there is no meaning in the external world other than what we humans put there, God has to be removed. The will overturns reason and man asserts his power to ascribe whatever meaning he wishes to all that is. Hence, reality and reason are replaced by raw power. This explains the bizarre assertions of the transgender movement and others who espouse views that deny obvious reality. It also explains the increasing violence we are seeing and the seeming inability to disagree or even converse in a civil manner. It is the tyranny of relativism. Power replaces reason and discourse. Those with the most power do not merely assert their views, they compel others to adopt and approve of them: “Bake me a cake, you bigot, or else we will destroy you.” Nietzsche is walking our streets.

Reality used to be something that we studied, learned from, and whose norms we obeyed. It’s the entire basis of the physical sciences. Beginning with the rise of nominalism in the 14th century, we have increasingly been living in our heads rather than in reality. We do not discover meaning; we project and assert it.

Scripture says, [A bishop] must hold firmly to the word as it was taught, so that he can encourage others by sound teaching and refute those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). Many long for our bishops to do more of this, especially at the deeper level of faith rather than just through policy statements aimed at the political order. I think Bishop Barron is to be commended for his effective teaching that helps people to identify errors, to recognize the hidden trends in our culture, and to celebrate the truth and beauty of Catholicism.

I must, however, also express a lament.

Many traditional Catholics have a tense relationship with Bishop Barron:

1. Traditional Catholics are concerned with what they describe as Barron’s puzzling views on universalism (the idea that most or all will be saved).

Word on Fire (Bishop Barron’s Evangelizing Organization replies: Bishop Barron does not hold to universalism, described here as “the idea that most or all will be saved.” He has explicitly denounced that view, which is heretical, and it’s both unfair and unhelpful to accuse of him holding it. You can read more about position here: https://wordonfire.org/hope

2. Traditional Catholics also lament his recent description of Jesus as a privileged way rather than the only way to the Father (cf. John 14:6).

Word on Fire replies: Bishop Barron affirms that Jesus is the only way to the Father. He has written and preached endlessly about the uniqueness and centrality of Christ for the salvation of the world. The phrase he used in the Shapiro interview (“privileged way”) was pulled out of context and interpreted in the worst possible way by critics. See what he actually said here, in its full context: https://www.wordonfire.org/hope/#shapiro

3. Traditional Catholics also wonder at his recent project on Vatican II, which though seemingly aimed at traditional Catholics did not address their concerns.

Word on Fire replies: The specific concerns he was addressing were those of extreme, radical traditionalists (not ordinary traditionalists) who claimed that Vatican II taught heresy, was not binding, and should therefore be “dropped and forgotten.” He adequately addressed all those criticisms in several places, including here: https://www.wordonfire.org/vatican-ii-faq

4. Finally they express concerns that requests for direct discussions with Bishop Barron seem, in general, to have gone unanswered. This is unfortunate. The Bishop shows great solicitude for many in our culture who are troubled by Catholic teaching; he’s good at listening and at responding effectively and charitably. This same solicitude seems to be lacking, however, toward some of his own flock who are troubled by certain trends in the Church.

Word on Fire replies: He’s talked with several traditionalist Catholics over the years, both privately and publicly…. Also, he’s an incredibly busy man and this isn’t his fundamental mission. His two main tasks are to shepherd the people of his Santa Barbara region and to evangelize people outside the Church, introducing them to Christ and all the gifts he wants to offer them. That isn’t to say traditionalist Catholic criticisms aren’t important to Bishop Barron, only that he has limited time and that’s not his top priority.

Traditional Catholics and Bishop Barron should be natural allies in the battle for souls and for our culture. Word on Fire claims that “90+%” of traditional Catholics are with them and that only a small vocal minority is concerned. I wouldn’t be so sure about that; I think the numbers are higher than they think and are growing, at least from my interaction and the reactions I get when I quote the good bishop.

The rift is both painful and harmful. I hope that Bishop Barron will become more open to direct discussions with some of the unofficial leaders and commentators from the more traditional wing of the Church. Without this we all tend to caricature and simplify each other’s positions. These discussions could be private at first and have the goal of crafting a strategy to heal the divisions that have set up. If Bishop Barron can sit down with Ben Shapiro, why not with Dr. Peter Kwasniewski or Dr. Ralph Martin?

I understand WOF’s retort about his external mission but I am concerned that ignoring this growing rift may make his external mission more difficult. Bishop Robert Barron is one of the great evangelizers and bridge-builders of our day, and I commend him for this. But it is also time to recognize that the traditionalist part of the Church is growing, and it is ill-advised for anyone to simply wave it off as a fringe movement. There are extremists in every sector of the Church, but there are also many faithful and joyful traditional Catholics who need to be kept close to the bosom of the Church and who deserve thoughtful interactions with our bishops. I and others have sought to initiate such discussions with Bishop Barron; I hope he will consider this.

Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy and learn from what Bishop Barron does and pray for an end to this unfortunate rift. He does so much good; please don’t write him off just yet. Pray for unity and for a healing of the divisions that currently exist but should not.

 

10 Replies to “Bishop Barron at His Best and a Lament of a Growing Rift”

  1. I have watched his video and agree he is a brilliant teacher. Can simplify anything down so even a plank of wood could understand but agree his recent statements are worrying. I am neither Trad nor Progressive, just someone who laments the loss of the sacred at Mass. I see a slick guy who’s trying hard to ride the fence. At that point he makes me very suspicious. Not to mention the crew at Word on Fire. Can’t express how sorry this makes me.

  2. Bishop Barron has done wonderful things for the Church and society. His Catholicism and Pivotal Players videos are thought provoking and visually stunning. He always explains things with a depth yet simplicity that are great. I, like Msgr. Pope, do not understand the universalist or Jesus as the preferred cause positions. I wish he would sit down with Ralph Martin and discuss those things. Martin is hardly a wild eyed bomb thrower and it would be nice to have some light shed on how he developed those positions

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful article, Monsignor, and the kind words about Bishop Barron’s talk. But I feel obliged to correct a few misstatements:

    1) Bishop Barron does not hold to universalism, which you define as “the idea that most or all will be saved.” He’s explicitly denounced that view, which is heretical, and it’s both unfair and unhelpful to accuse of him holding it. I encourage you to read more about position here: https://wordonfire.org/hope

    2) Bishop Barron affirms that Jesus is the the only way to the Father. He has written and preached endlessly about the uniqueness and centrality of Christ for the salvation of the world. The phrase he used in the Shapiro interview (“privileged way”) was pulled out of context and interpreted in the worst possible way by critics. See what he actually said here, in its full context: https://www.wordonfire.org/hope/#shapiro

    3) You say, “His recent project on Vatican II, which though seemingly aimed at traditional Catholics did not address their concerns.” I strongly disagree. The specific concerns he was addressing were those of extreme, radical traditionalists (not ordinary traditionalists) who claimed that Vatican II taught heresy, was not binding, and should therefore be “dropped and forgotten.” He adequately addressed all those criticisms in several places, including here: https://www.wordonfire.org/vatican-ii-faq/

    4) You say, “Requests for direct discussions with Bishop Barron seem, in general, to have gone unanswered.” Again, this is untrue. He’s talked with several traditionalist Catholics over the years, both privately and publicly. But he has no interest in dialoguing with those Catholics who reject an ecumenical of the Church and/or seem more interested in religious provocation and polemics than serious, charitable dialogue. Also, he’s an incredibly busy man and this isn’t his fundamental mission. His two main tasks are to shepherd the people his Santa Barbara mission and to evangelize people outside the Church, introducing them to Christ and all the gifts he wants to offer them. That isn’t to say traditionalist Catholic criticisms aren’t important to Bishop Barron, only that he has limited time and that’s not his top priority.

    In the end, I agree with you that “Traditional Catholics and Bishop Barron should be natural allies in the battle for souls and for our culture.” But the reality is, many are! In my experience, 90%+ of traditional Catholics are on mission with Bishop Barron. It’s the loud, vocal, very-online minority that has tried to drive a wedge between the two, often out of their own personal interest. You shouldn’t fall for that trap. Posts like this only inflame that attempted division.

    (Full disclosure, as you know, I’ve long worked with Bishop Barron in his Word on Fire ministry.)

  4. Monsignor Pope,
    Thank you for your even-handed treatment of this topic. It reminds me of watching married friends slowly drift apart, then become distant from each other and then finally, in dismay, seeing the whole fabric of the relationship deteriorate.

    I listened to Bishop Barron’s entire video presentation and it, indeed, gave me a better understanding about what is going on around us today. Let me just say that I’m 70 years old and the entire video is worth the time for anybody of my generation so that you can get a perspective on the events we’ve seen unfold around us. I just hope that Bishop Barron (or any other priest or bishop) would keep his promise at the end of this video and release a video about the Church’s position on the philosophical ideas presented here. We, the lay people, need help understanding what is going on and this was a good first step for me.

  5. There are ‘radical’ (as some of them like to call themselves) traditional-ist-ic Catholics, and then there are pious (or striving to be pious) traditional Catholic Christians.

    ›› “…his recent description of Jesus as a [perhaps: the] privileged way rather than the only way to the Father…”

    Not ‘a’ privileged way (among privileged ways), but ‘the’ privileged Way.

    I agree with the Bishop R. Barron on that. Many unbaptized people are Christians without them knowing it: at heart, by how they live (think of the parable of the good Samaritan). It’s in accord with what is written in the 1992 Catechism:

    The Catholic Church recognizes in [some (not necessarily all)] other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near, since He gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be Saved. Thus the Church considers all [partial] goodness and [partial] truth found in these religions[*] as ‘a preparation for the Gospel and given by Him Who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.’” (CCC 843)

    ‘Outside the Church there is no Salvation’: How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? . . . This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and His Church.” (CCC 846–47)

    (* For example, this is to be found among the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), as recorded in the Maha-sati-patthana Sutta (a text of the Ti-pitaka or Pali Canon):

    And what is right thinking? Thoughts directed to liberation from sensuality, thoughts free from ill will, and thoughts free from cruelty. This is right thinking.
    And what is right speech? Abstaining from falsehood, from backbiting, from coarse speech, from vain and unbeneficial talk. This is right speech.
    And what is right action? Abstaining from killing, from taking what is not given, from wrongful indulgence in sensual pleasures. This is right action.”

  6. You couldn’t have asked for a better synopsis on Bishop Barron than listed here.

    I get why some have a problem with him; I wish he would talk more about abortion and the culture of death. Nevertheless he seems to want to get at the root causes of these barbaric practices.

    How else do you knock the whole tree down?

  7. @Brandon Vogt

    1. That very FAQ says he disagrees with Aquinas and Augustine that the majority would be damned, and that while affirming that saying it is “infinitely improbable” that all be saved is “too strong” he does “agree with Balthasar’s main thesis… that all men be saved.” While this is not quite the full-throated Universalism of a David Bentley Hart, Msgr Pope is not unfair or unjust in his less strict “most or all” description, as even the FAQ shows.

    2. Within context it was still a bad reply that caused scandal that would be much better apologized for and corrected than explained and defended in yet another FAQ. Beyond the scandal within the Church, and confusion to those outside the Church, it also painted a target for criticism by our separated brethren (eg, Mike Winger’s critique), the real shame of which is that much–not all, but much–of it deserved.

    3. From professors like Thomas Pink to clergy like Card. Brandmuller, many people other than the type you describe have deep concerns about V2. Bishop Barron has done little to answer any serious criticism, and I would say even seems to deflect criticism as being unserious. I would recommend Reason and Theology’s recent podcast on V2 as a worthwhile example of reasonable concerns. None of the hosts are traditionalists of the type that you describe; all agree the Council is valid and that it did not teach heresy. But all are concerned by some of documents of V2, and find their concerns largely unaddressed by the hierarchy. Bishop Barron is mentioned specifically. The V2 FAQ does nothing to change this, and is in some ways part of the problem, as it is poor at answering the critiques that those concerned actually make.

    4. That he is always too busy to “dialogue” with a Dr Kwasniewski or Dr Martin, or other reasonable Catholics that seriously disagree with him on some important issue (eg, Martin on “dare we hope”, Kwasniewski on tradition/V2), but not with liberal Catholics (eg, Commonweal), or Protestants (eg, Capturing Christianity), or atheists, or secularists, or… is precisely Msgr Pope’s point. A point you underscored at length. Unless of course you meant to include both Dr Kwasniewski and Dr Martin in those people you say “reject an ecumenical [Council]” or consider to be “more interested in religious provocation and polemics than serious, charitable dialogue.” But if that’s the case, I would reply simply that it is “both unfair and unhelpful to accuse” them of that.

  8. As a former Barron admirer, when he was a Father, I have to very strongly agree with those who have become less enamoured with him and his ministry. Had Bishop Barron approached those bloggers he would silence with the kind of generosity you have demonstrated, Monsignor, perhaps the rift would be less ominous. As it is, Bishop Barron’s, as well as many of his ecclesiastical comrades’, apparent ‘orthodoxy lite’ would not go down very well with many of the ‘heroes of the faith’ he has touted in his recent videos, based upon their writings and the courage of their convictions during their lifetimes. The spectre of schism is only as real as the seemingly suicidal mission many of our Church have of conforming our Faith to the world rather than valiantly working to help the world conform to the Truth. It may be that the Church which Christ promised would prevail against the gates of Hell is not the one Bishop Barron and so many leaders in the ‘current version’ are presiding over. The Truth, unchangeable, will endure despite those who are neither ‘hot nor cold’.

  9. Frankly, I am not sure what is meant by “traditional Catholics”. Does that mean “traditionalist” in the sense of SSPX, or does it mean Catholics who still think of Church and State, marriage and family, etc., the same way Catholics were expected to think (and generally did think) in, say, 1950? (I do not mean how rich and powerful Catholics thought. The rich and powerful are rarely faithful in any age.)

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