Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron addresses the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia Sept. 22. CNS photo/Jeffrey Bruno

Bob Brehl: Bishop urges Catholics to fight, not flee

  • September 6, 2018

Amidst the sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests around the world — in particular the revolting crimes of 301 Pennsylvania priests over 70 years unearthed in an August grand jury report — a prominent U.S. bishop is calling for the laity to stay and fight, not abandon the Church.

In a passionate YouTube commentary, Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, says he understands why people are vacating the pews and saying “enough is enough” as they leave the Church.

“The feelings of anger and frustration, I share them … I get it, I get it,” Barron says. “But can I also suggest that this is precisely the wrong strategy at this moment in the Church’s life. Leaving is not what we ought to be doing. What we ought to be doing is fighting.”

He compares today’s abuse crises within the Church to the U.S. Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln, who felt slavery was repugnant and diametrically opposed to the principles and ideals of freedom and equality. Instead of abandoning the country, Lincoln chose to fight to save the Union and its principles. Catholics should choose a similar path, Barron pleads. 

“It’s not the moment for cutting and running. It’s the moment for getting into the fight,” he says.

“We are not Catholics because of the moral excellence of our leaders,” Barron says. “We’re Catholics because of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. We’re Catholics because of the Trinitarian love of God. We’re Catholics because of the mystical Body of Christ. We’re Catholics because of the sacraments. We’re Catholics especially because of the Eucharist.”

So, what exactly does the bishop propose Catholics do by staying and fighting? Write letters to bishops and the Pope. Express outrage and demand change. Fight, not with weapons, but with their presence at Mass by keeping priests accountable. Despite this “terrible blight” and cancer, the ideals, principles and faith of Catholicism are worth fighting for, Barron says.

While viewing his heartfelt commentary, one cannot be a little disappointed by his lack of clarity on what things he believes should change. We must have specific reasons to fight, beyond the higher ideals of the Church.

Real, meaningful change within the Church must take place to bring Catholics back and stop others from leaving. 

Having better checks and balances in place, like reporting abuse to police and having bishops never again protecting known perpetrators, may curtail the crimes, but are such measures enough? The abuse and the coverups are a tipping point, but they’re not the only areas of concern. There are questions about women’s role in the Church, clericalism and power, money and accountability.

With his call to arms for lay Catholics to save their Church, one senses Barron believes more must be done than stricter rules on abuse. With Church leaders like him and others speaking out, it’s as if formerly taboo topics are about to be discussed and debated throughout all levels of the Church.

For example: Should women be ordained, not only as deacons, but priests? Should clerical celibacy be optional? Should there be tighter lay oversight of finances, abuse cases and overall Church administration? Should priests be freed for the ministry for which they’ve been prepared and trained?

These are big questions with no simple answers. But we’ve crossed the Rubicon; or more accurately the years of systemic abuse and coverups have pushed the Church to face these questions lest more of the flock leave. Because Church leaders like Barron and others are publicly advocating dramatic change, let the debates begin.

Barron is becoming a social media celebrity with 1.6 million followers on Facebook and hundreds of thousands more on Twitter. From a simple Google search, one can surmise he is not particularly liked by conservatives in the Church. But his voice and views cannot be ignored.

On his Facebook page he writes: “In this time of crisis, I beg you not to flee, but to fight — not violently, with the weapons of the world, but with the weapons of the Spirit. We need you.”

As Jesus says in Matthew 12:25, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Hopefully, the Church can find a way get past the current desolation.

(Brehl is a writer and author of many books.)

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