The Beiging of Bishop Barron

[Photo Credit: Jeffrey Bruno/Catholic News Agency]

This article by Eric Sammons at Crisis Magazine refers to a piece written by Bishop Barron entitled ‘The Evangelical Path of Word on Fire‘:

Bishop Robert Barron first came to fame in the Catholic world for his fight against what he called “beige Catholicism.” The founder of Word on Fire rightly saw that a milquetoast, flaccid expression of Catholicism—so common in parishes across the country and embraced by the liberal elements of the Church—is a death knell for the Church. Barron wrote eloquent articles and produced polished videos reminding Catholics that the Faith is more than the insipid liturgies and watered-down teachings they were being fed each week. Justifiably, his influence grew and eventually he was named the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles. 

Yet since being named bishop, Barron has pivoted his ministry, presenting Word on Fire as navigating between the Scylla of beige Catholicism and the Charybdis of “extreme traditionalist Catholicism.” In doing so, however, Barron misses the changing face of the traditionalist movement while falling prey to the very beige Catholicism he originally opposed.

When you read Barron’s descriptions of traditionalist Catholics, you find the words “extreme,” “radical,” and “angry” peppered throughout. Apparently, in his view traditional Catholics are a fringe movement of socially-inept people who desire to overthrow the Church and install their own 1950’s-style religion in its place. Clearly the good bishop hasn’t kept his finger on the pulse of this movement. Traditionalism is booming (in this country, at least), and it’s a diverse, joyful group of people who want exactly what Barron first promoted: a faith that’s no longer watered-down to conform with the surrounding culture. 

Why is Barron so wrong in his assessment of the traditionalist movement? Some of his error is understandable; it’s true that traditional Catholics have long had a reputation for being mean and judgmental. This reputation is partially justified. From the early 1970’s until Pope Benedict’s motu proprio liberalizing the use of the traditional Latin Mass (what Benedict called the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass), traditional Catholics were truly on the peripheries of the Church. 

Traditionalists endured persecution from Church officials and fellow Catholics, all because they wanted to practice the faith as countless generations had practiced it before them. Labeled “schismatic,” they were given less respect by far than heretic theologians. While most Catholics ignored the growing abuse crisis among bishops and priests out of a misplaced sense of loyalty and obedience, traditionalists were among the few who spoke out…and they were attacked for it. It’s no surprise that perhaps they had a chip on their collective shoulder. 

Much has changed in the Church since those days. In Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict acknowledged the key point that traditionalists had long argued: that the traditional Latin Mass had never—and could never—be abrogated. In addition, the abuse scandal went public in 2002, showing that traditional Catholics had been right all along in calling bishops to account for their terrible mismanagement of that crisis. 

And that’s not all that’s changed: the 2018 McCarrick scandal demonstrated to the world that the episcopacy is still horribly corrupt, in spite of PR-driven efforts to address the abuse crisis. Church leaders were still covering up their sins and illegal activities while doing little to nothing to boldly proclaim the Gospel to the nations. Catholics realized that this wasn’t just beige Catholicism, it was black Catholicism. Yet bishops—including Bishop Barron—still speak about the McCarrick affair like an English gentleman who sees someone picking up the wrong fork at dinner. It’s unfortunate, but let’s not get too worked up, shall we?

Because of all this, traditional Catholicism has boomed as an alternative to the status quo—beige—Catholicism that Barron now represents. The movement has become far more diverse than it was back when you had to drive hours to find an underground Latin Mass to attend. Catholics from all backgrounds are now being drawn to traditional expressions of the faith, and while perhaps it was anger at events like the McCarrick scandal or the bishops’ sycophantic response to state COVID-19 restrictions that originally motivated them, they fell in love with tradition and now stay because they believe traditional Catholicism is the fullest expression of the Catholic Faith.

Traditional Catholicism is no longer monolithic, either, if it ever was; it encompasses a variety of opinions and views on how best to practice the faith and reform the Church. There are only two unifying threads within traditionalism: a love for the traditional Latin Mass and a suspicion about making Vatican II the sole key for unlocking the mysteries of Scripture and Tradition. Consider some of the public figures who attend the Latin Mass regularly, such as Scott HahnJanet Smith, and Leah Darrow. These figures are not the “mean, angry traditionalists” that populate Bishop Barron’s caricatures. They are joyful Catholics who have simply found a deeper devotion to Christ through the practice of traditional expressions of the Faith.

There lies the irony of Barron’s negative views of traditionalism. Catholics are fed up with beige Catholicism, but they don’t want the half-measures that Barron recommends in response. Instead of replacing felt-banner 1970s liturgies with slightly less gauche ones, they want liturgies that give all the glory to God. Instead of substituting heretical teachings with orthodox yet oh-so culturally-relevant homilies, they want unadulterated, politically-incorrect, and unapologetic proclamations of the Faith. And instead of a half-hearted, cover-your-*ss response to the abuse scandal, they want a deep cleaning of the hierarchy, from top to bottom. They see that Catholicism as practiced since the 1970’s is far worse than beige, and Barron’s response itself has lost all color. Give us that ol’ time religion, they say.

It’s clear that Bishop Barron is far and away one of the most talented members of the American episcopate. Unfortunately, it’s also clear that he’s missing the new pulse beating within the Church: the strong and joyful beat of traditional Catholicism. Instead of considering it his enemy, he should recognize it as the fulfillment of what he’s been striving for all along.

Update: Check out what Fr Z has to say about Bishop Barron, Beige Church and Traditional Catholicism

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6 Responses to The Beiging of Bishop Barron

  1. Reblogged this on Zero Lift-Off and commented:
    “In His Presence”
    Yes this does indeed encapsulate the fact of the true Catholic faith still alive and well with the ever present heartbeat that grows stronger each passing day, and I quote; “The new pulse beating within the Church: the strong and joyful beat of traditional Catholicism. Instead of considering it his enemy, he should recognize it as the fulfillment of what he’s been striving for all along.”

    Something I wrote recently in response to your article here on CP&S regarding what Archbishop Arthur Roche had to say about his matter in his “the world has changed,” so it’s time to move-on attitude, which was another putdown, or more like saying “out with the old and in with the new” mantra; I see how what I said dovetails perfectly here today!

    “I know that my soul has been very moved and inspired when I partake in the Full Latin Mass; as I know from experience Jesus is there and I feel His Holy Spirit coming down from heaven with the Father to join us in the Mass, blessing those who are participating in this most Divine inspired true way of expressing our devotional love for our Lord Savior Jesus and the Father in heaven! I’ve had many tears in this traditional Mass at times and they are always tears of sweet joy that are coming to me from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because the Lord really touching my soul at that time most intimately and acknowledging His presence and love for me, as in no other setting can this occur to this degree; which nothing on earth can compare to this realization that my God is with me and will not abandon those who believe/worship Him in this way! Amen.”

    Those are my absolutely certain truthful observations and deepest feelings in this regard! And I should share what else I had to say just prior to what you read here to make it clear how certain I am about this. “And so far as his argument that the world had changed I totally disagree because it’s the people that have changed, and, God and Jesus are the same always so our communing with them in Holy Mass remains static, or plainly our souls are just that which we truly are; not our exteriors of body/flesh or daily life on earth; and therefore that is what we want to awaken to the mystical power of the Holy Spirit the focusing of our inner souls to the mystical presence of God and be totally receptive to Jesus Christ and through Him the Father to grow our deep heart felt faith not alter appearances or procedures as this New Age approach is planning to do! In this case especially in life, less is more; that which is not contrived or noisy but simple and peaceful coming from our core is all we need to bring to the ceremonial alter of the Mass!”

    God bless all of you! And may you be quite certain too what the Traditional Catholicism with its Latin Mass can provide for you in your faith; if you too haven’t already discovered this truth! Amen.
    Brother in Christ Jesus,
    Lawrence Morra III

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Brother Burrito says:

    Dear Lawrence Morra, have you ever considered whether you write too much?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mmvc says:

    Hey, BB. If Lawrence’s comment is too long for you to read, why don’t you just pick out a paragraph or two?
    The ones I highly recommend to you for today are paras 3 and 5.
    God bless!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Crow says:

    I read Bishop Barron ‘s article where he called us ‘self-devouring ‘ etc. This article as a response is very good and timely. Methinks however, BB may be a career cleric who knows that he has to keep clear of being labelled by those in the Vatican. He is very talented but the emphasis on the lame ‘new evangelisation ‘ by these people who promote Vatican ii (the instrument by which tens of thousands of vocations were completely lost and millions left the Church)- well, how’s that working for them?
    I just heard of one young man who was the president of the atheist society at a university (where my daughter attends). A young man who is a parishioner at our local parish invited him to attend the dawn Mass here on Christmas Day. He did attend and has approached our priest asking to convert. Nobody spoke to him – he simply attended the same Mass that has been celebrated for 2,000 years. It puts the ‘new evangelisation ‘ with their cheerfulness and in- your-face Protestant- style haranguing into sharp relief, doesn’t it?
    The person who attends the traditional Mass of the Church knows that God is present. They recognise that there is something missing in their lives. And it is more than the Word. It is more than the Gospel. It is the actual Real Presence of God. No matter how many happy ‘Christians’ there are proclaiming the ‘Good news’ in the market place, they cannot match the traditional liturgies of Holy Mother Church. The quiet, prayerful sanctuary where Christ dwells does not need to use words.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. @ Brother Burrito; What does that mean, “write too much?” When considered as a truthful question here pertaining to my or anyone’s writing it’s relative; as in point of view, depending on who the receiver is; what might appear as too much to you may very well be too little to another person, and often times is never enough to the author who pens his or her thoughts! The “real important question” is “do you have anything to say of substantive value to others” and if so; then expressing those thoughts to the best of your ability seems imperative and a worthy task to me. All the while, there are some individuals who never have anything to say, and when they do open their traps it only produces noise and insurrection or disharmony; the sort of person that is known to rabble-rouse, because such a person can’t accomplish much of anything that leaves an indelible impression in the Hearts and Minds of others; so out of sheer contemptuous frustration finds it necessary to lash out at others in a desperate attempt to find and assert his own ego!
    Remember this if anything here; practice makes perfect, and writing like playing a musical instrument or even digging ditches will always be vastly improved by Practice; actually doing it!

    Like

  6. Crow; Fantastic witness and evidence as I see your excellent commentary here! I must quote this profound event and you’re sharing of it here!
    “A young man who is a parishioner at our local parish invited him to attend the dawn Mass here on Christmas Day. He did attend and has approached our priest asking to convert. Nobody spoke to him – he simply attended the same Mass that has been celebrated for 2,000 years. It puts the ‘new evangelisation ‘ with their cheerfulness and in- your-face Protestant- style haranguing into sharp relief, doesn’t it?”

    Your final statements bring a tear to the eyes, of that deep joy; that can only come from above!
    “It is more than the Gospel. It is the actual Real Presence of God.”
    “They cannot match the traditional liturgies of Holy Mother Church. The quiet, prayerful sanctuary where Christ dwells does not need to use words.”
    Thank you for this most beautiful explanation and evidence you present here!
    God Bless you and yours.
    Lawrence

    Like

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