Bishop Barron’s Pitiful (But Honest) Response to a Church in Crisis

Photo credit: Catholic News Agency

By Auguste Meyrat at Crisis Magazine:

Across the developed world, ignorant mobs and anarchists are tearing down statues of saints, defacing church monuments, and setting the churches on fire. Not to mention that in the developing world many Christians continue to suffer martyrdom by the thousands at the hands of secular and religious extremists. This has caused many people to finally ask: what are the bishops doing?

The famed Bishop Robert Barron recently answered this question with another question: What are you laymen doing?

On June 24, Bishop Barron published an article on his Word on Fire blog tersely titled, “Why ‘What Are the Bishops Doing About It?’ Is the Wrong Question.” According to His Excellency, many lay Catholics like to complain that their leadership does nothing about the problems happening in the world while doing little themselves. Although he grants that the bishops could do more (though not much more), he claims that these concerned Catholics “are putting way too much onus on the clergy and not nearly enough on themselves.”

Rather, he argues that it is the laity, not the clergy, who must fight the legal and cultural battles in the public square. To support this claim, he cites the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, which states that “the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God.” In Bishop Barron’s reading, this means that the bishops need to attend to Church matters more or less exclusively while laypeople live out their Catholicism in the secular world.

It is difficult to know what the bishop has in mind for how this looks. Do clergy busy themselves with discussing theology, attending synods, and filming award-winning documentaries about Catholicism while all laypeople proselytize at their jobs, guard church property in their free time, and debate enemies of the Church online or in person whenever possible? Perhaps. At the end of his essay, Bishop Barron offers the example of the Catholic Action movement, an initiative which, “sadly and surprisingly, fell into desuetude after Vatican II,” where a member of the clergy would work with a group of laymen to study Scripture and consider ways to live out the gospel. So, there.


Overall, Bishop Barron’s response is sadly, though unsurprisingly, inadequate. While he intends to channel President Kennedy in his call to service—ask not what your Church can do for you; ask what you can do for your Church—he fails to explain what laypeople should actually do. The majority of Catholics, and people in general, aren’t sure how much they should resist the current anti-Christian iconoclasm, or if they should even resist it at all. This is probably due to the fact that most Catholic clergymen have been notoriously mealy-mouthed in the pulpit, hardly going further than preaching platitudes and raising money for the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

And this in turn stems from a lack of leadership from their bishops. Bishop Barron’s description of what constitutes the responsibilities of a bishop is tellingly deficient: “We can indeed lobby politicians, encourage legislative changes, and call community leaders together.” He doesn’t mention that bishops also ordain priests, preach to their diocese, and lead programs in faith formation. No, for Bishop Barron and most of his colleagues, their title and duties are primarily political. They are public figures who happen to represent the Church, not the other way around.

As such, they would never dream of risking their good standing among society’s elite by denouncing any popular movement—unless it’s associated with President Trump, as Archbishop Wilton Gregory demonstrated a few weeks ago. This is why Bishop Barron completely ignores the question of whether destroying statues of Saint Junípero Serra is right or wrong. Instead, he references a weak statement on the issue, made by the Californian bishops, which tries to appease both sides, teach a little history, and ultimately settle nothing.

By sidestepping the issue and choosing to focus on what the laity should be doing, all the rest of Baron’s essay is sheer deflection. He demonstrates perfectly how today’s bishops have led the Church into decline: he takes no responsibility for problems, presents no solutions to those problems, and places the burden of leadership on others. It would be funny (one thinks of the bad bosses in The Office or the comic Dilbert) if it were not so depressingly true.

This situation has persisted for many decades now. What Bishop Barron and the framers of Vatican II intended as a greater role for laypeople has mostly resulted in a diminished role for clergy. No longer do they imitate the original Christian apostles from whom they spiritually descend; they prefer to imitate corporate managers and politicians who avoid controversy at every turn.

For their part, Catholic laypeople have sought spiritual and moral guidance elsewhere—in politics, entertainment, academia—and find little reason in upholding their obligations to the Church. In no small way has this affected Western culture at large, which continues to become more irrational, destructive, and divided.

So, where does that leave faithful lay Catholics who want to protect their heritage?

Although Bishop Barron and his fellow bishops are a large part of the problem, he is at least honest enough to tell his flock not to wait on their shepherds to act. Indeed, they really do need to take action and apply their faith in practical ways. This would mean speaking out against movements that threaten civilization instead of trying to make peace with them. It would also mean holding politicians—and, yes, bishops—accountable, and demanding that they uphold individual freedom while recovering law and order, and this would require them to become politically and culturally involved.

Some Catholics have already started this work even though they continually risk their reputation and livelihoods by doing so. Like all disciples who witness to the Faith, they know they will be tested and face some form of persecution. But, like Peter and the first disciples who saw so many others leave Jesus because of His “hard sayings,” most Catholics and orthodox Christians know there is nowhere else to turn: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”

It has become clear, especially in light of the passivity and complacency of Church leadership, that reforming the Church and Western culture will have to be a grassroots movement. Laypeople will need to have families, preserve tradition, form close communities committed to the gospel, and, yes, show some courage against the thugs attacking their property and freedoms, as Mr. Mark Williams did last week in Saint Louis, Missouri.

There is no alternative.

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11 Responses to Bishop Barron’s Pitiful (But Honest) Response to a Church in Crisis

  1. Listen to Vigano and dump Vatican 2. The bishops are only worried about money so you know how to get their attention.


  2. Sally says:

    I agree that reformation of the church will have to be done at the grassroots level.
    For sure, Bishop Barron’s response is pitiful, but honest.


  3. Mary Salmond says:

    Yes, it is up to us peons.
    I told my husband “look at all the saintly bishops of the past centuries who vehemently defended the church, shed their blood, were exiled”, so now that is no longer the bishop’s job or vocation.
    I guess we are no longer peons but have been elevated to do as in past centuries what the hierarchy did. I feel privilege coming on!!!! O happy death!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. johnhenrycn says:

    Indeed, Your Excellency, faintheartedness dwells in all parts of the Church – in the nave, the sacristy, the rectory, and in the cathedral – but is there not a particular and discrete duty laid at the feet of our priests and bishops, those having a right and holy claim as our “leaders”, to be the first and foremost standing athwart the tide of the times?

    Bishop Barron, I respectfully suggest you consider the Bible story of Jonah and the Whale. It’s about the prophet Jonah who God commands he go to Nineveh, warning them of their destruction. You will recall that Jonah tries to escape his divine mission, fleeing by ship to a distant land, but ending up being thrown overboard by his shipmates into a whale’s mouth during a fierce storm.

    Herman Melville’s novel contains an account of a sermon preached at New Bedford, Massachusetts by Father Mapples concerning Jonah, “an anointed pilot-prophet of the Living God”:

    “Shipmates [meaning the lay faithful] God has laid but one hand upon you; but both his hands press upon me [your pastor]. I have read ye the lesson that Jonah teaches to all sinners; and therefore to ye, and still more to me. I am a greater sinner than ye. And now how gladly would I come down from this mast-head [pulpit] and sit in the hatches [pews] where you sit, and listen as you listen, while some one of you reads me that awful lesson which Jonah teaches to me, as a pilot [priest] of the Living God. How being an anointed pilot-prophet, or speaker of true things and bidden by the Lord to sound those unwelcome truths in the ears of a wicked Nineveh, Jonah, appalled at the hostility he should raise, fled from his mission, and sought to escape his duty and his God by taking ship. But God is everywhere. God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed him down to living gulfs of doom.

    “Yet even then – out of the belly of hell- God heard the repenting prophet when he cried. Then God spake unto the fish; and the whale came breeching up towards the warm and pleasant sun, and vomited out Jonah upon the dry land; whereupon the word of the Lord came a second time; and then Jonah, bruised and beaten, did the Almighty’s bidding. And what was that, shipmates? To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it!

    “This, shipmates, this is that other lesson; woe to that pilot [priest] of the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, does not court dishonor! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation! Yea, woe to him who as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway!

    THE END 😉


  5. The religion(s) of God survives under the promise of their owner, the God, that He shall stand by whatever inconvenience and interruptions by man(humans).

    Why will self appointed Priest(s), Pastor(s) and Church master(s) make these noises in the name of ‘protection’?


  6. johnhenrycn says:

    Oh, and Happy 10th Anniversary to the founders, past and present, of CP&S. Such a good Catholic place all this time. Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since this website was born on July 4th, 2010. Almost as memorable to me as my wedding day 46 years and 26 days ago.


  7. mmvc says:

    Thank you, JH! Couldn’t have done it without faithful readers like you who have enlightened, enriched and entertained us with your contributions over these years. God bless you and yours! x


  8. kathleen says:

    I join mmvc in my (belated) thanks to you JH, the most loyal and entertaining friend and commenter CP&S has enjoyed these last 10 years.

    And thanks for that brilliant comment above. Would just love to think Bishop Barron had read it too… might have got him thinking and then changing his tune somewhat, especially if he is as “sincere” as they say 😉 .


  9. johnhenrycn says:

    mmvc & kathleen:
    Such kind sentiments. We’ve all had some great times here; and by all I mean present company plus our companions in the Faith who used to enrich these pages but who now tread other Catholic roads, including (but not limited to) Burro, Raven, GC, Teresa, Benedict C., Tom Fisher, Rabit and (semi-honourable mention) Toad.
    Ad Multos Annos to all…and a hoped-for Happy Retirement to Pope Francis (Lord, hear my prayer).


  10. JabbaPapa says:

    Listen to Vigano and dump Vatican 2

    I have been banned at LifeSite News for daring to point out that Abp. Viganò’s latest post overtly calling for a revocation of this Ecumenical Council is not only completely schismatic, but is indeed formally Heretical.

    (I would actually be unsurprised if this banning were at the personal request of Viganò himself)

    Someone was motivated from Viganò’s latest to write :

    I’m essentially in schism from the man currently seated on the Chair of Peter and I’m fine with that

    … to which I responded :

    Then you are not a Catholic.

    I can’t stand the guy, but so what ?

    (now deleted)

    But apparently to defend the Church against Heresy and Schism is a bannable “offense” at that site.

    I wrote :

    I entirely refuse and reject this foul manner of heterodoxy against Holy Church.

    No good either apparently … also deleted.


    There is a certain type of “spirit of the anti-council” stuff that is equally as Modernist as the “spirit of the council” rubbish, and it is just as destructive, just as uncatholic, and just as inspired by the Enemy himself.

    The Heresy of Modernism is NOT simply whatever constitutes modernity in the present state of the Church, including BTW so much of it which is completely rubbish protestantising innovation for the sake of “in with the new, out with the old”.

    No, Modernism is the deeply erroneous belief that only my own personal opinions about what is true and what is false should determine the validity or not of what is taught in doctrine by Holy Church.

    The very worst kind of traditionalism (I mean the political movement, not the sublime beauty of ecclesial Tradition) is Modernist.

    I am deeply disappointed by Archbishop Viganò’s latest intervention — the Council of Trent was almost as divisive as the Second Vatican Council, and it took about a century for it to be fully accepted by Catholics generally.

    It may take a LOT longer than that for Vatican II to be accepted, indeed it almost certainly will — as these “spirit of the council” and “spirit of the anti-council” types are so zealous in their destructive modernisms that they would happily see Holy Church crash and burn into a major Schism if only they can then get to bask in the Pride and Vainglory of their own divisive ideologies.

    There is little more destructive BTW in was done in the immediate aftermath of the Council than the ghastly ambiguities, elisions, and deliberate falsehoods that were introduced into the English-language translations of the Council texts — and if you look at where all of the worst strife and hatred exists between Catholics, it’s in the English-speaking Church.


    I now fully expect that Archbishop Viganò will be excommunicated for Schism.

    It is hard to express the full extent of disaster that he has created for himself and for Holy Church in this most recent intervention.


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