What Should We Make of Bishop Barron?

In a recent essay in this magazine, I gave a basic, and somewhat oversimplified, taxonomy of priests and prelates in the Church. In this article, this has been slightly revised and expanded:

Type A are the Zeitgeist Puppets. In America, Cardinal Cupich and Fr. Martin come to mind; across the Atlantic on the continent, no one fits the bill like the recently deceased Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium, who put Cupich and Martin to shame and never met a tenet of Modernism he didn’t like.

He encouraged King Baudouin of Belgium to sign a bill legalizing abortion in 1990 and refused to remove sexually explicit materials related to sex education from Belgium Catholic schools. He also said that the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in his native country was a “positive development.”

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

After his retirement, he was entangled in a major scandal in which he covered up for a protégé bishop, who admitted sexually abusing a minor (his own nephew). This was all caught on an audio recording where Danneels told the victim to keep quiet and not create trouble for his uncle, Bishop Roger Vanheluwe, who was soon to retire. Taking a page from the “blaming the victim” manual, Danneels told the victim to “ask forgiveness.”

Type B are the hit-and-miss prelates and priests. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is a good example.

When I came into the Church fifteen years ago, a priest friend let me borrow Dolan’s fine book that came out in 2000: Priests For The Third Millennium. I was impressed by both his insights and orthodoxy.

However, Dolan’s batting average has plummeted in recent years. He served as Grand Marshal for Manhattan’s St. Patrick Day’s Parade that allowed an openly homosexual activist group to march in it.

He also appeared at and supported the blasphemous, “Catholic”-themed fashion show sponsored by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. More egregiously, he got canon law completely wrong in the wake of the unspeakably evil New York abortion bill.

Type C are the good, orthodox prelates and priests who remain silent. The faithful laity long to hear their voices in protest against, for example, the almost untethered ministry of the homosexualist Fr. James Martin, the weaponized ambiguity of Amoris Laetitia, and, in recent days, all the priests and prelates dancing around the Golden Calf of Modernism at the 2019 Los Angeles Religious Education Conference (REC).

Type D are the rarest of all priests and prelates: those who are both orthodox and courageous. A good man isn’t hard to find, but one who is both faithful to the Magisterium and willing to speak out against heterodoxy and ecclesial malfeasance is.

The recent sex abuse summit in Rome was a dog and pony show where the root causes of the scandal were denied. The prelates not only wouldn’t talk about the elephant in the room, they averted their eyes from an entire herd.

Athanasius Schneider, O.R.C., auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, one of the truly great prelates of our troubled era, in an interview with Life Site News, identified those root causes with great precision. Don’t expect him to move up the ecclesial ladder under this pontificate.

Bishop Barron: The Hit-And-Miss Prelate
Years ago, I was introduced to the ministry of Bishop Barron through two DVD series of his that were offered through the Adult Education department of my parish: Catholicism (2011) and Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues. The DVDs were excellent in every way, and I found Barron to be an affable and articulate communicator who wisely eschewed canned and ham-fisted approaches in reaching the Catholic, the non-Catholic, and those outside the Church.

It’s therefore no surprise to me that Bishop Barron is one of the most popular Catholics in the world on social media with over 1.5 million Facebook fans, 168,000+ YouTube subscribers, and 100,000+ Twitter followers. And, if you peruse his archives on YouTube through Word on Fire and what he has written in the print media, most of it holds up under the scrutiny of Scripture and Tradition.

However, there are significant departures and missteps that render Barron a hit-and-miss prelate and sometimes make him an apologist for the status quo created by the present pontiff and carried out by many in the American episcopate. He is adept at packaging his message, but sometimes his content departs from the sacred deposit of the faith or fails to call out the heterodox.

His response to the slaughter of 12 people in Paris in 2015 by Islamo-fascists, in an interview with EWTN, was telling. He described it as “poignant”—not monstrous—and though he did make a passing reference to Just War Theory, his primary emphasis was responding to violence with love.

He exhorted Catholics to take a “nonviolent stance.” There wasn’t much there about bringing perpetrators to justice and using lethal force if required.

It left you wondering if he would have advised Jews in the Warsaw ghetto in the early 1940s to be nonviolent all the way to the gas chambers. Someone needs to tell Bishop Barron that, in a situation like this, we’re not in 1965 Selma anymore.

When the McCarrick scandal initially came to light, I was heartened by Bishop Barron’s response. He was noticeably angry and had the zeal of a reformer in talking about the necessity of a thorough, mostly lay-led, forensic investigation into the scandal.

This zeal dissipated quite a bit when the same issue came up in an interview with Ben Shapiro a few months later. He still was genuinely concerned about the issue, but, at the same time, trotted out the 4 percent statistic in saying that the rates of abuse are no worse in the Church than other institutions.

I doubt the victims of abuse found much comfort in such a debatable assertion. “Everybody else is doing it, too” is not much of a plan for reform and renewal.

On Father Martin and Pope Francis
James Martin regards Barron as a “friend” though he admits they have some disagreements. They both were featured speakers in the recent (appropriately named) Los Angeles REC.

Because he has such a large public platform and is not afraid to speak out on controversial issues (e.g., Amoris Laetitia and universal salvation), I’m a bit surprised that the prelate hasn’t had much to say about the controversial priest, who has been given almost carte blanche by his overseers in spreading his lavender gospel. Though he tries to adhere to Church teaching in his recent book, it’s instructive to recall some of Father Martin’s public statements.

This is not an exhaustive list but a beginning: (1) the affirmation to LGBTQ people that “God made them [wonderfully] that way”; (2) “The Church needs to rethink its teachings about homosexuality—its dogmatic teaching. Instead of saying it’s objectively disordered, it should say it’s just differently ordered”; (3) same-sex couples should be able to kiss during Mass: “What’s the terrible thing?”; (4) the Church should reverence homosexual unions; and (5) being against same-sex “marriage” is like being racist.

In contrast, Type D prelates, such as Bishop Joseph Strickland and Cardinal Robert Sarah, have not been afraid to speak out against Martin. Though Barron holds the traditional Catholic view on homosexual behavior and same-sex “marriage,” his silence can easily be interpreted as tacit approval of Martin’s outreach.

Also, in his recent interview with Ben Shapiro, Barron was asked his thoughts on Pope Francis. His past public statements in video and print have always given the Holy Father glowing reviews regarding his emphasis on mercy, the Church being a “field hospital,” and the central message of Amoris Laetitia.

This laudatory tone was somewhat diminished in the Shapiro interview but there was nary a word of criticism. The good bishop commented that every pope has a different emphasis and Francis wears more the mantle of a prophet than a philosopher, theologian, or biblical scholar like the previous two.

He was from Latin America and therefore suspicious of capitalism. His prophetic edge meant that, like Jeremiah, he would often not govern in a constructive manner but more through uprooting (i.e., to “make a mess”) which is redemptive in its own way.

Bishop Barron would be well served to ask himself, among others things, one question: Who gets promoted under Francis? Answering this question honestly provides a clear window into the Francis papacy.

Indeed, when you look at the careers of such prelates and priests as McCarrick, Monsignor Battista Ricca, Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, and the defrocked Mauro Inzoli, homosexual activity and predation seem to be a resume-enhancer for the pontiff leading to promotion.

William Kilpatrick writes: “A recent article by journalist Marco Tosatti provides a list of prelates who have been favored, protected, promoted or rehabilitated by Pope Francis despite their record of covering up for abusers. The list includes: Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Cardinal Errazuriz Ossa, Bishop Juan Barros, Bishop Juan Jose Pineda, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and Archbishop Kevin Farrell.”

The bottom-line is this: if you’re a priest or prelate in America and have not yet been red-pilled on Father Martin and Pope Francis, you’ve either been living in a hermetically-sealed cave for the last six years or something is wrong with your heart. They are both like ecclesial Rorschach Tests: there’s enough information out there about them that is common knowledge and a matter of public record, and so to live in denial and conduct business as usual is very damaging to the Church and, like a sword, pierces Christ and his Mother again.

Amoris Laetitia and Universal Salvation
Bishop Barron was positively giddy with the publication of Amoris Laetitia, saying that Pope Francis maintained a beautiful balance in holding to the high, objective moral demands of the Church while extending great mercy to those who find themselves in “irregular situations.” He praised the Holy Father’s insights about how moral culpability can be mitigated in the life of someone, who is committing sin when they lack knowledge, freedom, or are dealing with certain extenuating circumstances.

Thus, over two millennia of Church tradition is swept away as Francis gives people permission to do something that our Lord did not. Some things in the New Testament are culturally relative (i.e., they evolve) and some things are not.

Five times in the New Testament we are told to greet each other with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16). This command is obviously not relevant for today, but Christ’s directives about marriage, divorce, and adultery are absolutely binding because our Lord has anchored his teaching in our primordial beginning: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8; emphasis mine).

It’s also interesting to note that, while Jesus clashed with the Pharisees about their view of divorce, the people today, who hold to Christ’s view, are accused of being heartless Pharisees. “Mercy” is now defined as dismantling one of the seven sacraments.

Bishop Barron’s view of universal salvation is well known and is influenced by Balthasar who was, in turn, influenced by Karl Barth. Though he is not sure that all will be saved, he thinks that we can have a reasonable hope of an empty hell. Once again, over two millennia of Church tradition gets deep-sixed.

Bishop Barron needs to listen to the words of Jesus and his Mother. If everyone is going to heaven, then why would Christ say that it would have been better if Judas had never been born?

It doesn’t sound like Judas is going to the “good place”; instead, it sounds like he’s going to the “bad place.” Ditto for the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 who are placed on the Son of Man’s left side and are sent away to everlasting punishment.

Everlasting means … well … everlasting. These are the same people who take the wide, easy way to destruction, and their number is great (Matt. 7: 13-14), while few find the path to eternal life.

We do well to recall the vision of hell Our Lady gave to the children at Fatima. Here is how Sr. Lúcia described the vision in her Fourth Memoir:

When the Lady spoke these words she opened her hands as she had in the two months before. The radiance seemed to penetrate the ground and we saw something like a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were the demons and the souls, as if they were red-hot coals, transparent and black or bronze-colored, with human forms, which floated about in the conflagration, borne by the flames which issued from it with clouds of smoke falling on all sides as sparks fall in great conflagrations without weight or equilibrium, among shrieks and groans of sorrow and despair that horrify and cause people to shudder with fear….

The devils were distinguished by horrible and loathsome forms of animals, frightful and unknown, but transparent like black coals that have turned red-hot. Frightened and as if we were appealing for help, we raised our eyes to Our Lady who said with tenderness and sadness:

“You saw hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If they do what I will tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace… (Memórias e Cartas de Irmã Lúcia [Porto: 1973], 340-341).

(Photo credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA)


  • Jonathan B. Coe

    Jonathan B. Coe writes from the Pacific Northwest. Before being received into the Catholic Church in 2004, he served in pastoral ministry in rural Alaska and in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...