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.